HATTIESBURG, Miss. – For the first time since 2003 returning to Conference USA three years ago, the Charlotte 49ers will open up play in the 2016 Conference USA Tournament, presented by Buffalo Wild Wings, on Wednesday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. eastern. The Niners are the #8 seed, will face regular season champs and nationally-ranked Florida Atlantic on the tournament’s opening day.
“Making our conference tournament in a top five league in the country that could have four, five, six teams in the NCAA tournament it’s a big deal,” stated Head Coach Loren Hibbs. “That’s a big deal to be one of the eight teams in the tournament and I think things are going to continue getting better as we move forward.”
Charlotte (23-30, 12-17 C-USA) clinched the final tournament spot with just six outs remaining in their season on Saturday using a four-run sixth inning to defeat UAB 6-4 in a winner-take-all regular season finale. Zach Jarrett led off the sixth with a double off the wall in right-center before Hunter Jones came up with an infield single to second. During Jones’ single, one of two UAB errors in the inning helped Jarrett score the equalizer after the Blazers took a 3-2 lead in the top half of the inning.
After a Derek Gallello bunt single, Eddie Hull sacrificed both runners 90 feet for Nick Daddio. Daddio then hit a hard groundball up the middle resulting in a fielder’s choice that plated Jones with the go-ahead run. Gallello later scored on a failed pickoff attempt at third while a Reece Hampton sacrifice fly followed bringing in Daddio with the sixth and final run of the game.
“We’ve gotten better,” finished Hibbs. “We’ve made steady improvements in each of the three years back in Conference USA and to do what we needed to do in the late innings of the last game on Saturday is just a testament to our players and the way they keep grinding.”
Charlotte’s Brett Netzer led the team in hitting during the 53-game regular season with a .384 average. T.J. Nichting and Logan Sherer followed at .369 and .347 respectively while Reece Hampton ended at .339. The 49ers hit .296 as a team in those 53 games maintaining a 5.22 staff ERA on the mound.
Back in early May, the 49ers took two-of-three from Florida Atlantic on the road in Boca Raton. Charlotte opened up with a 12-7 victory on Friday night before earning a hard-fought, 7-6 win in 15 innings that turned out to be the longest game inning wise in school history. The Niners out-hit FAU .331 to .310 during that weekend.
Florida Atlantic (37-15, 21-8) begins the tournament ranked 13th nationally and won the overall regular season championship after a three-game sweep over WKU last weekend. C.J. Chatham led the Owls hitting .373 on the year followed by Austin Langham’s .324. As a team, FAU hit .292 over their 52-game slate while holding down a 3.08 ERA.
Charlotte and FAU are paired in bracket one along with fourth-seeded Rice and fifth-seeded Louisiana Tech. All four teams will have to go through each other to earn the right to face either Marshall, Southern Miss, Old Dominion or FIU in Sunday’s championship game televised nationally on CBS Sports Network.
The 49ers tournament opener at 1:30 p.m. eastern on Wednesday will be carried live by the Charlotte/IMG Sports Network on 1660AM in Charlotte, the Tune In app and on http://www.charlotte49ers.com. Links for live stats as well as the video feed from the Conference USA Digital Network will also be on the website above.
2016 (All-Time) vs. Potential Tournament Opponents
1. Florida Atlantic: 2-1 (3-7)
2. Marshall: 1-2 (4-6)
3. Southern Miss: 0-3 (19-25)
4. Rice: 1-2 (1-5)
5. Louisiana Tech: 1-2 (7-2)
6. Old Dominion: 1-2 (31-41)
7. FIU: 2-1 (6-7)