HATTIESBURG, Miss. – Charlotte baseball got off to a fast start on Wednesday afternoon but couldn’t keep the momentum going falling 7-5 to top-seeded Florida Atlantic in day one action at the 2016 Conference USA tournament. The 49ers will now face fifth-seeded Louisiana Tech in the first elimination game of the tournament at 9:00 a.m. central, 10:00 a.m. eastern on Thursday.
“Our tempo was not good today,” began Head Coach Loren Hibbs. “We were playing a lot slower than normal. We didn’t move around and play the type of defense we normally play and didn’t have the at-bats we needed to have. When we’re playing a team as good as FAU, we had to try and shorten the game down and get to the late innings with a chance to win.”
Charlotte (23-31) got off to the best possible start in the top of the first scoring three to take an early three-run lead. Reece Hampton led off with a single to right and moved to second on Brett Netzer’s four-pitch walk. After a ground out by Logan Sherer advanced both runners, T.J. Nichting drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases for Zach Jarrett. Jarrett followed with a RBI single to left scoring Hampton with the game’s first run. Hunter Jones followed with a RBI fielder’s choice that scored Netzer while a FAU error during the same play allowed Nichting to score from second.
Florida Atlantic (38-15) turned right around and scored twice in the bottom of the inning taking advantage of a Charlotte miscue to get right back in the contest. Stephen Kerr led off with a single to center before a 49ers throwing error allowed a ground out by C.J. Chatham and double by Esteban Puerta to get the Owls within one.
Both teams traded a run in the second as a Nick Daddio solo home run began the frame while a sacrifice fly by Kerr followed in the FAU half. Austin Langham came up with a pair of big hits for 13th-ranked FAU as his two-out singles in the third and fifth eventually gave the Owls a 5-4 lead.
Entering the sixth, Jarrett struck again belting a solo home run to left-center to immediately get that FAU run back in a 5-5 game. The decisive pair of runs came in the bottom half of the sixth as Billy Endris came up with a two-run single to right providing the final 7-5 margin.
Charlotte had opportunities to try and put FAU in a deeper hole with Logan Sherer reaching on a leadoff walk in the third, Eddie Hull reaching on a one-out error in the fourth before Daddio began the seventh with a single to right. In all three occasions, the Niners were unable to scratch a run across. The 49ers did make things interesting in the ninth as Derek Gallello singled and Hull drew a walk. With runners at first and second, nobody out, Daddio tried to drop down his second sacrifice of the season, but Gallello was forced out at third as FAU nailed the lead runner. Hampton lined out to left while Netzer was robbed of a bloop single to end the game.
FAU out-hit the Niners 12-6 while each team stranded six on the base paths. Both teams combined for five errors on the day while the 49ers made three of those five. Jarrett and Daddio each had two of Charlotte’s six hits in the loss.
Josh Maciejewski (5-7) suffered the loss on Wednesday going 5.1 allowing seven runs, five earned, on 12 hits with four strikeouts. Brandon Rhoades earned the win for FAU tossing five innings in relief surrendering one run on two hits with three strikeouts while Cameron Ragsdale notched his 15th save surviving the top of the ninth.
Charlotte will now fight for their season on Thursday morning taking on the Bulldogs of Louisiana Tech at 10:00 a.m. eastern. The winner moves on to Friday living to play another day while the loser will see their tournament run come to an end. Live stats/audio for the first elimination contest will be available at http://www.charlotte49ers.com.