It’s mid-February, which means that Charlotte 49ers baseball is around the corner. The Diamond Niners look to shake off a disappointing 2012 in hopes of leaving the Atlantic 10 on top. This year has an added wrinkle: the A-10 tournament will be held in Charlotte.
Charlotte welcomes nine freshmen to the roster this season. Six are pitchers (lefty Sean Geoghegan and righties Adam Huffman, Jared Mathis, Weston Smith, Nate Traugh and Micah Wells), two are infielders (Matt Creech and Kory Shumate) and one (Nick Daddio) is a catcher/outfielder. Four JUCO players have transferred in–lefty Jason Harris, righty Hunter May, outfielder Desmond Roberts and first baseman/outfielder Grant Dunnegan. With eight out of 13 new players being hurlers, it’s clear Loren Hibbs has placed a high priority on beefing up his arms this year.
Shane Basen, the team’s leading returning hitter (.327) and RBI man (45), is back for his senior season. So are classmates Corbin Shive, who put together a strong season of his own (.309, 7 HR) and fellow redshirt seniors Justin Roland (15 doubles, .306), Tony Montalbano (31 RBI, 2nd on the team) and J.J. Elseser (.280 in 107 PAs). With that group playing their final seasons at the Hayes, the onus is on the younger players to take up the mantle–players like sophomores Derek Gallello, Leland Clemmons, Brad Elwood and Patrick Raley (redshirt) as well as junior Justin Seager. Redshirt freshmen Patric King and Brett Lang will be seeing their first action this year and hope to figure into the lineup.
Pitching is a huge question mark as the Niners sent off their two primary starters, Andrew Smith and Joe Yermal. Tyler Barnette (3-3, 4.20 ERA in 12 starts last year) is a lock to get a starting slot as he looks to be fully recovered from a blister that hindered his progress. John Hamilton (2.1, 2.92 ERA in 37.0 IP) has earned a promotion from the bullpen to a starter, as has Brock Hudgens (3.77 ERA in 28.2 IP, including 3 starts). Harris, a member of a nationally ranked junior college program in Barton County CC, has been slated as the fourth starter on the opening weekend.
In the bullpen, Chad Rothlin, Micah Bryan and Tyler Pilkington are gone, meaning some of the freshmen arms may be cast into roles right away. The returnees–Wes Hatley, Corey Roberts, Jordan Hudson and Sean Pope–struggled in many of Charlotte’s losses as several leads were blown in the middle/late in contests. Shive (8.2 IP, 2.08 ERA) should see some action in the pen during the course of the year.
Scouting Delaware State*
The Delaware State Hornets will be the Niners’ opening opponent as they open a four-game set at the Hayes this weekend.
Last year: 40-17-1; MEAC Tournament runners-up
Who to watch for: Ryan Haas (.360, 60 RBI; 2012 MEAC player of the year and 2013 MEAC preseason POY); J.P. Frey (.357, 40 RBI); Aaron Nardone (.322, 46 RBI)
Starters: Ryan Haas (7 starts, 4-1, 3.65 ERA); Zach Adkins (11 starts, 8-1, 2.73 ERA); Jordan Elliott (15 starts, 10-2, 2.92 ERA); Matt McLain (14 starts, 9-4, 2.95 ERA)