Feb. 4, 2013

CBI Atlantic 10 preview


Charlotte Prepares for Final A-10 Season

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

sean@collegebaseballinsider.com @collbaseball

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For many of its eight seasons in the Atlantic 10, Charlotte has been the team to beat.

That was the case entering 2012, when the 49ers were in the midst of an incredible five-year run: four regular-season A-10 titles; three A-10 tourney titles and the NCAA berths that went with them; a .714 winning percentage, which ranked eighth nationally of 297 Division I programs.

Yet, Charlotte stumbled with a rare down year, going from preseason favorite to missing the A-10 tourney. The 49ers will have one more chance to reign over their rivals before moving back to Conference USA, where they played for 10 years before joining the A-10.

“We’re doing everything we can to try to finish off our last year in the A-10 on a positive note, this go round this year and transition into Conference USA for 2014,” longtime Charlotte coach Loren Hibbs said. “It’s not very frequent that you get a chance to do something twice in life.”

Charlotte, predicted to finish fourth according to the league’s coaches, struggled to a 9-14, 21-32 finish in 2012. More than half the 49ers losses (18) came by three or fewer runs, including seven one-runners. Included in those 18 were seven losses to the likes of Georgia Tech (2), Dallas Baptist (2), Missouri (2) and NC State (1).

“Our whole program is based around being able to pitch and play defense,” said Hibbs, who was an all-tourney player for Wichita State at the 1982 College World Series and coached alongside Shockers legend Gene Stephenson for seven years, reaching Omaha in four of his last five years. “That’s the way we’ve played for a long time.

“We’ve got to get back to doing that. We didn’t do that very well last year, so we’ve got to get back to doing that.”

On the mound, senior John Hamilton (left) (2-1, 2.92 ERA, 7 saves) will move into a starter’s role according to 49ers associate head coach/pitching coach Brandon Hall, who pitched at UNC Wilmington before joining Hibbs 11 years ago.

Others expected to bolster the staff are junior Tyler Barnette, 6-5 junior lefty Jason Harris, a transfer from Barton Community College, junior Brock Hudgens – who is topping at 93 mph – and junior Corey Roberts, who went 13-6 his first two years before a nerve bruise sidelined him much of the 2012 season.

"This year’s staff will be a work in progress, especially compared to last year," Hall said.  "We had the pieces returning last year, and while we have good arms returning, a lot of them will be in unfamiliar roles.  The ability to stay healthy along with the ability learn and adapt quickly will be huge for us.  I am excited to see which guys step up." 


Charlotte returns one of its best bats in senior third baseman Shane Basen (left), a second-team all-conference performer who hit .327 with two homers and a team-best 45 RBI. Redshirt seniors Justin Roland (.306/15 2B/14 SB) and Tony Montalbano (.291/3 HR/31 RBI) also are back.

Saint Louis, Rhode Island and A-10 newcomer VCU were picked ahead of the 49ers in the league’s preseason coaches’ poll.

“I think it says more about the league getting better,” Hibbs said. “The league has gotten better and that’s been good.  We’ve tried to encourage and do things to promote the league getting better over the years that we’ve been it.

“Fourth, first, eighth, seventh, the bottom line – and our guys know this – the bottom line is for us to prove on the field that we’re one of the top teams in the league. That’s the goal, that’s the focus right now.”

And that’s been the norm for Charlotte.

Hibbs, 632-487-3 in his 21st year, has built something special.

It’s evident in 49ers like John Maine and Jason Stanford, who have reached the big leagues, and players like Tim Collie and Joey Anderson, whose numbers are retired, and other stars like Bo Robinson, James Matan, Adam Mills and Rob Lyerly.   

It’s evident in the sparkling Robert and Mariam Hayes Stadium – site of the 2013 A-10 tourney – where the 49ers have sold out their season tickets each of the past two years. Hibbs credits the Charlotte administration and boosters for raising more than $6 million to build the stadium in 2007. This season, the 49ers added a new batting practice area down the first-base line and expanded the dugouts. 

“We’ve got more things coming,” Hibbs said. “There are more things we feel like we’ve got to do to get up to par with Rice, East Carolina, Southern Miss, Tulane and some of the great programs we’ll compete against in Conference USA.”

First things first, though. Charlotte wants to be the team to beat again. 


(photos courtesy of Charlotte Media Relations)