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Atlantic 10 preseason poll
Nine Innings with Loren Hibbs
By Sean Ryan
college baseball fans to name some of the top programs by
winning percentage over the past four years, and Rice, North
Carolina and Arizona likely would come to mind. Powers like
Florida State and Virginia, and stand bys like Oral Roberts also
crack the top 10.
The ninth-best winning percentage since 2006
could come as a surprise. That belongs to Charlotte, which at
160-70 (.696) is right behind TCU and UC Irvine and just ahead
of Cal State Fullerton.
The 49ers again are the preseason pick by the
Atlantic 10 coaches to capture a conference crown. Charlotte
coach Loren Hibbs played and coached in the College World Series
while with Wichita State, winning a ring as an assistant for the
Shockers in 1989. Since arriving in Charlotte in 1993, all Hibbs
has done is guide the 49ers to more than 30 wins a season.
Hibbs took a few minutes to
discuss this year’s 49ers and look back on his time with Gene
Stephenson and Wichita State.
First Inning – The 49ers are shooting for
their fourth A-10 crown in five years (2007, 2008, 2010) and are
the coaches’ preseason pick. Any pressure, or do you enjoy being
the team with the bulls-eye?
Our league continues to improve. The overall talent level is
better now than when we entered in 2006. Winning is never easy
and winning when you are expected to win is even more
difficult. Honestly, we know we have a target on us every
weekend, and we embrace it. Our guys understand that preseason
predictions mean nothing….we must earn it on the field.
Second Inning – Your teams have been among the
best in the country in recent years in winning percentage. How
important is it to take the next step and win a regional?
Winning a regional is an overall
program goal but we attempt to stay focused on the daily
process. We must remain diligent in our recruiting efforts, and
we must develop the guys in our program….period. If both are
done at a high level, then we have a chance to win a regular
season championship, a conference tournament championship and
eventually a regional championship.
Inning – Your squad returns all three weekend starters and all
three starting outfielders. How important is it to have that
We have a solid group of returning
pitchers and position players…..guys who have played in just
about every environment. Experience is important because we are
not going to overwhelm our opponents with raw physical ability.
Fourth Inning – What was the key to Corey
Shaylor’s transformation from a .239 hitter to one of the A-10’s
best? And the emergence of Bryan Hamilton?
Shaylor just needed to get back to his
base swing and repeat it every day. He is limited physically
but has developed a good understanding of what he can and can’t
do in the box. He has made himself into a good player.
Hamilton has always had arm strength and is a great competitor.
The effort he put in to his arm rehab was outstanding and it has
allowed him to get consistent reps in practice.
Fifth Inning – You’ve had a lot of great pitchers at Charlotte.
If you had to name one, who’s at the top: Tim Collie, John Maine
or Adam Mills? (Or is there someone else?)
Maine, Mills and Steedley were all out at
practice the other day and boy, it would have been great to have
all of them together on the same pitching staff! I don’t know
that I can name one guy…..Collie, McWilliams, Walker, Baker,
Treadway, Stanford…..all were special guys. Lawson was really
good for us last year and we will have others as time goes on.
[Assistant coach] Brandon [Hall] does a great job with our
pitching staff, and we have a solid base of talent.
Sixth Inning – You’ve played and coached in
the College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium. What are your
feelings about the old park and the decision to move the CWS
downtown to a new park?
I don’t know how anyone can duplicate
the atmosphere of Rosenblatt Stadium. It is the best place I
ever played or coached, and we won a national championship on
that field in 1989. The CWS belongs in Omaha and I am glad they
made the decision to keep it there.
Seventh Inning – What was it like to play
under Gene Stephenson at Wichita State? And how about coaching
I would not be coaching at Charlotte
without the guidance Gene has provided over the years. He
allowed me the freedom to work and provide input from the first
day I started coaching. The two things that come immediately to
mind when I think of Gene are his intense desire to compete and
staff continuity. No one has accomplished what he has in our
profession….building a nationally competitive program, from
scratch, at a non-BCS school, in a cold-weather climate while
raising millions of dollars and developing multiple guys who
have gone on to play in the Major Leagues. Most people don’t
realize that Gene has only had four full-time assistant coaches
in 30-plus years at Wichita State and only one pitching coach
(Brent Kemnitz). Brent has been the anchor, the organizer and a
tremendous complement to Gene over the years.
Inning – Why did you decide to get into coaching after a short
professional playing career?
I wasn’t good enough to play at the
Major League level, and Gene offered me a chance to get in to
college coaching. It was a pretty simple decision.
Ninth Inning – What’s your reaction to the new
bats this season? Does your philosophy change at all?
I think the jury is still out on the new bats.
We are under contract with Louisville Slugger, and I like what
they have done. Our product seems to be competitive. We will
make slight adjustments to our philosophy, but we won’t
completely overhaul how we recruit or play.
(photos courtesy of Charlotte Media Relations