Niner Nuggets: Week 4

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It was an up and down week for the Niners as they went 1-3 on the week. After a dominating 9-0 victory over 14th ranked Tennessee on Tuesday, Charlotte dropped three highly contested games at #13 East Carolina over the weekend. The Niners now sit at 8-6 after 4 weeks of the 2021 baseball season and their current RPI is 42 with Conference USA play starting next weekend.

Continue reading “Niner Nuggets: Week 4”

Niner Nuggets: Week 2

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The Niners stayed hot by sweeping the William & Mary Tribe over the weekend by a combined score of 31-5. No need to adjust your computer monitors, folks. This is not a post about the 1998 team, this is 2021. The schedule gets incrementally tougher over the next few weeks, but so far it’s hard to critique anything about the start to the season. Things are clicking in all phases of the game right now.

Continue reading “Niner Nuggets: Week 2”

2021 Roster Breakdown: Pitching Staff

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In the third piece of our 2021 Charlotte Baseball season preview, we will discuss the pitching staff.  Before we get into talking about the pitchers on this 49er staff, it is important to note that there was a change to Charlotte Coaching staff over the offseason.  In November, Coach John Stott took a position with the Chicago White Sox organization as an Area Scout.  That left an opening in the staff for a new Volunteer Assistant Coach.

In December the 49ers announced that Austin Meine would be the new Assistant Coach and Pitching Coordinator. Meine came to Charlotte from Premier Pitching Performance (P3) out of St. Louis where he was Director of Pitching and Biomechanics.  He was already very familiar and close to the program due the partnership that Charlotte has had with P3 over the past year and a half. 

Coach Woodard had this to say about Meine: “I believe that Coach Meine is the new wave of coach coming down the pike. He is young, hungry and fluent in utilizing all modern training techniques and technologies in player development. He has already demonstrated with our team, through our partnership with Premier Pitching Performance, that he has the skillset and the ability to communicate these methods in a simple capacity and at a high level.”

Now that we’ve learned about the new Pitching Coordinator, let’s talk about this deep and talented group of pitchers that the coaching staff has to work with. 

Starting Rotation

Since Conference USA will be playing 4 game weekends, the Niners will need 4 starters on the weekends.

Sophomore RHP Andrew Lindsey (New Johnsonville, TN/Waverly Central HS/Walters State) has been named the starter for Friday’s season opener against Morehead State. A newcomer to the staff, 49ers fans may remember Lindsey from the Fall of 2019 exhibition game at the Hayes when he threw 5 shutout innings against the Niners. Lindsey is a 6’-4 strike thrower that has been up to 93 in the preseason. D1 lists him as the 12th best 2021 Draft prospect out of C-USA, so a successful season could have him hearing his name called in the Draft this summer.

Set to go Saturday is freshman LHP Christian Lothes (Hebron, OH/Lakewood HS).  Unfortunately, 49er fans did not get to see much of C-Lo last spring as he only pitched 2.2 Innings due to injury. In what we saw leading up to last season from Lothes, we were very excited to see what he would contribute last season as we were going into Conference play. From all accounts, Lothes has been even more impressive this pre-season while adding strength and weight to his frame and hitting 96 on the radar gun. MLB scouts have taken notice and D1 Baseball listed him as the #2 Draft prospect out of C-USA, behind Bryce McGowan.

Speaking of McGowan, Sunday’s tilt will sport one of the more veteran pitchers on the staff in sophomore RHP Bryce McGowan (Cary, NC/Cary HS).  The hard-throwing righty enters his 3rd season with the Niners and brings a wealth of experience to the table. He was a weekend starter in his freshman season here and has 16 starts under his belt. Over the offseason he has perfected a slider as his secondary pitch, and adds a change-up to the repertoire.  MLB scouts have taken notice and D1 Baseball listed McGowan as the #1 2021 MLB Draft prospect in C-USA.

Once the schedule transitions to 4 game set, we expect sophomore RHP Austin Marozas (Plainfield, IL/Plainfield South HS/ San Jacinto) to complete the rotation. Marozas considered signing a pro contract this summer, but chose to sign with the 49ers instead.  Austin pitched last season at the JUCO Pitching powerhouse San Jacinto College in Texas. He was one of the top high school pitchers in Illinois before having Tommy John surgery. The 6’7” righty trained at P3 and was up to 95 on his fastball this spring. Marozas was listed as the 13th best 2021 Draft prospect out of C-USA by D1 Baseball, right behind Lindsey.

There are a few other pitchers on staff that have had experience starting on the weekends including junior RHP Matt Brooks (York, PA/Spring Grove Area HS), senior RHP Ryan Czantskowski (Mountain Home, AR/Mountain Home HS/Connors State), and junior RHP Andrew Roach (Springdale AR/Springdale HS/Cowley College).

Brooks has worked his way back from shoulder surgery that ended his promising 2019 season. He has 24 starts under his belt as a 49er and a record of 13-11 over his career.  It was great to see Matt back on the mound this fall after spending the summer with many 49er pitchers at P3.

Czantskowski has experience starting on the weekends with 13 career starts as a 49er.  Ryan won the Coaches Award last season after going 1-1 with a 4.07 ERA & 20 Ks. He and Brooks are a big part of the veteran leadership on this staff.

Roach had arguably the best season as any 49er pitcher last season, posting a 2-2 record, and led all starters with a 1.99 ERA & a 1.10 WHIP last season.

Bullpen

There are a lot of new faces in the bullpen to go along with the familiar ones. How each of their roles will ultimately shake out is yet to be seen. Here’s a look at the depth fans can expect to see from the pitching staff: 

• Senior RHP Colby Bruce (Charlotte/South Meck) has served as the closer over the past few seasons for the Niners earning Preseason All C-USA honors a year ago. After an offseason surgery, it is unclear if Bruce will see the mound this season as he recovers. In his absence, the Niners will have to find someone to fill that role.
• One candidate that has been suggested for the closer role is newcomer Sophomore RHP Sam Grace (St Charles, MO/Francis Howell HS/Jefferson Co. CC). Grace was up to 95 in the fall and adds a nasty splitter to the repertoire. Grace was previously drafted by the Orioles out of HS in 2018.
• Senior RHP Nick Turnbull (Churchville, MD/John Carroll School/Maryland) had 13 Ks in 10. IP last season. He worked out at P3 this summer as well and has improved his slider and change-up. His fastball was up to 94 with his fastball in the preseason
• Junior RHP Jackson Boss (Loganville, GA/Walnut Grove HS/Young Harris) had a tremendous season as a newcomer to the staff in 2020. He finished 2nd in the NCAA in appearances, pitching in 11 of the 49ers 17 games.
• Junior LHP Trae Starnes (Taylorsville, NC/Alexander Central HS/Catawba Valley CC) returns for 2021. He made 2 starts and 3 relief appearances in 2020, striking out 10 in 9.1 IP. One of 3 LHP on the roster.
• Sophomore RHP Will Palinkas (Matthews/ Providence HS) has experience as both a starter and reliever over 2 seasons at Charlotte. He spent the summer working at P3 and returned to Charlotte a much stronger pitcher. Has good off-speed stuff that he is throwing for strikes.
• Sophomore RHP Justin Offshanka (Huntersville/Hough HS) provides a different look out of the pen with his delivery. Staff was impressed with his improvement over the last year. He has 7 relief appearances over 2 seasons.
• Sophomore RHP Hale Sims (Paducha, KY/St Mary HS/John A. Logan) was described by D1 Baseball this fall as “a 6-foot-9, 290-pound behemoth with a heavy fastball.” He’s only listed at 6’4″ but we certainly can see why he would appear larger. He brings a big, versatile arm to the staff from Logan College and touched 95 this preseason.
• 6’7” Sophomore RHP Casey Bargo (Corbin, KY/Madison Central HS/Lincoln Trail) is listed as the 22nd best 2021 Draft Prospect out of C-USA according to D1 Baseball. He touched 95 with his fastball in the preseason.
• Freshman RHP Dillon Phillips (Mooresboro, NC/R-S Central HS/Walters State) sits 91-93 with his fastball and will compete for high leverage innings this season. D1 Baseball lists him as the 27th best prospect in C-USA.
• The coaching staff says that sophomore RHP Jake Curry (Key Largo, FL/Coral Shores HS/Polk State) has one of the best change-ups on the staff. He posted a 3.5 ERA in 16 starts at Polk State.
• Sophomore RHP Tyson Tucker (Delphi, IA/Maquoketa HS/Northern Iowa Area CC) brings a toughness to the staff according to the Coaches. He pitched for Northern Iowa Area CC over the past two seasons, striking out 25 in 23.1 IP over 15 appearances
• Sophomore RHP Kolton Scherbenske (Rapid City, SD/St Thomas More HS/DMACC) is the first 49er baseball player we’ve had from South Dakota. Staff says he has closer stuff and good size at 6’4”.
• Freshman transfer RHP Zach Zedalis (Charlotte/Cox Mill HS/NC Central) brings intensity to the staff. Pitched at NCCU last season. Was named SCBL All League this summer pitching for the Carolina Vipers.
• Freshman RHP Tyler Parks (Sicklerville, NJ/Gloucester Catholic HS) was one of the 1st players to commit to this staff. Listed as one of the top 15 RHP in NJ for the 2020 class. Sat around 90 this fall with his fastball.
• Freshman LHP Spencer Giesting (Hamilton, OH/Badin HS) was impressive this fall and has a very promising role on the pitching staff being one of the few lefties. Listed as one of 20 Impact First Year Freshman in C-USA by D1 Baseball.
• Freshman RHP Gus Hughes (Greensboro, NC/Grimsley HS) has one of the best curve balls on the staff. Looked impressive in the fall with his fastball around 91-92.
• RHP Jack Dragum (Mechanicsville, VA/Hanover HS/Louisburg JC) is the only 2-way player on the roster. The infielder could see time out of the bullpen. He was 2nd Team All Coastal Plain League this summer as a relief pitcher.

2021 Roster Breakdown: Position Players

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Photo courtesy @CharlotteBSB

This roster breakdown will be a tad more complicated than they have been in the past. There are several reasons for that. First, due to the circumstances surrounding the 2020 season, the NCAA lifted the 35-man roster cap for the 2021 season. As a result, the current roster sports 44 players, including 6 returning seniors. That’s another thing to keep in mind. The NCAA not only gave seniors their year of eligibility back from the 2020 season, they gave everyone last year’s eligibility back. So, when you see a returner like David McCabe or Dominic Pilolli referred to as a freshman, that’s why. Finally, there are a slew of new-comers on the roster. There are 26 new faces to go along with 18 returners.

What does it all mean? It makes this the deepest Niner baseball team that we’ve ever seen. There’s a chance that it could be one of the most talented squads we’ve fielded,too. Time will tell. 

We’re starting with the positions players. Be on the lookout for our take on the pitching staff tomorrow. Keep in mind that with the depth present on the roster there are going to be a lot of options when it comes to Coach Woodard’s lineup card from game to game. The ability to tailor the lineup based on matchups will be an ongoing feature this year. That being said, we’re going to tell you how we see it and make a call on who we see starting against Morehead State this Friday. We might be wrong, but hey, we’ve never let that bother us before. 

Position Breakdown

Catcher – Look for sophomore transfer Aaron McKeithan (Arden, NC/TC Roberson/Manatee CC) to spend a lot of time behind the plate for the Niners. McKeithan comes to Charlotte from Manatee CC, but in truth he’s a home-grown product from TC Roberson HS in Asheville that signed with Tulane out of HS. McKeithan’s presence behind the plate should help shore up an area of concern from last season. His arm is good enough to keep baserunners honest and his bat should make an impact as well. Returners Craig Keuchel (Conroe, TX/Caney Creek HS/Hill College) and Jacob Whitley (Clemmons, NC/West Forsyth HS/Gardner-Webb) will be in the mix to spell McKeithan, although Keuchel’s place on the field is likely right field.  RS junior Whitley provides experience with a strong bat and can contribute when called upon. Freshman Tyler Cotten (Yorktown, VA/Grafton HS) is a big physical prospect that will be fun to watch develop. 

First Base – We’re going with freshman transfer Will Butcher (Arden, NC/TC Roberson HS/NC State). Another TC Robertson product, Butcher comes to the Niners after originally attending NC State out of HS. He’s a big target (6’2”, 210) and plays solid defense. At the plate, he’s a double looking for a place to happen. Returning freshman David McCabe (Oshawa, Ontario/Everest Academy) is also a candidate, but for this exercise we are slotting #BigMaple at third base. Returning senior Rafi Vazquez (Annandale, VA/Bishop McConnell/Florence-Darlington Tech) is an option at first as well. Rafi’s big lefty bat is going to have him on the field a lot, although it might be as the DH.

Middle Infield – There are a ton of options up the middle. Some of the pieces are interchangeable. Depending on the matchup and the day, the Niners can create a lot of looks. But we told you we were going to make a call, so here we go. 

At second base give us transfer sophomore Jack Dragum (Mechanicsville, VA/Hanover HS/Louisburg College). Dragum started out at UVA and comes to the Niners from Louisburg JC. He has range and a big arm. His bat is coming along and will be something to watch. At short we are going with sophomore transfer Austin Knight (Jacksonville, FL/Bolles School/Tennessee). Knight comes to the Queen City after spending his freshman season up on Rocky Top. He’s athletic with range and a capable arm. He has a live bat that can do some damage. These guys could be flipped on opening day, but remember what we said about being wrong. We can’t forget about returning senior Carson Johnson (Springdale, AR/Springdale HS/Connors State) in this discussion. Carson (Career .309/.394/.363) has been near the top of the pile in OBP during his time on campus and plays defense with grit. He’s working his way back from injury though, so it will be a work in progress.  The name a lot of fans ask about is Gino Groover (Morrow, GA/The Walker School). By now you’ve heard that Gino had a chance to go in the draft last Summer but chose to be a Niner instead. The freshman from Georgia is going to get on the field. He has too much skill to keep him off of it. His fluid movement makes the game look easy in many cases. At the plate he’s a disciplined hitter with a ton of bat speed. For this exercise we’re bringing him off the bench and trusting the staff to bring him along. For that matter, Groover is one of a handful of promising infielders that will be fun to watch develop. Dante DeFranco (Hillsborough, NC/Orange HS), Nate Furman (Brookhaven, PA/Monsignor Bonner HS), and Charlotte-area product Chandler Riley (Concord, NC/Cox Mill HS) will all be fun to watch develop as they get settled into college baseball.    

Third Base – For our money we are going with returning freshman David McCabe at the hot corner. Big Maple is going to be one to watch this season. The Canadian has the agility and hands to play all over the field, as he showed by playing SS some last season for the Niners. At the plate the switch hitter has power to all fields from both batter’s boxes. If he has the season that we believe he will, he could see his name called in the Draft this summer. A lot of the guys mentioned above could play third. However, we are going with sophomore transfer Thomas Caufield (West Chester, PA/Henderson HS/Pitt CC) to see time there. Caufield provides another lefty bat option and can also play anywhere on the infield.

Outfield – It’s a familiar story by now, but there are a lot of possibilities in the outfield. Since the Niners return all three starters from last year, we are going with returning senior Todd Elwood (Career .306/.379/.348) in left, returning freshman Dominic Pilolli (2020 .403/.481/.567) in center, and returning junior Craig Keuchel (2020 .215/.304/.446) in right. Elwood (Indian Trail, NC/Piedmont HS) covers good ground on defense, has an arm to keep runners honest, and consistently finds ways to get on base. It’s hard to not pick him here. Piliolli (Youngstown, OH/Canfield HS) has the wheels to play center and is considered “Charlotte’s best overall player and a 2022 draft prospect” by D1 Baseball. He also came out on fire last year, leading the team with an OPS of 1.048 through 17 games. Keuchel has been working to improve in right and has made strides there after coming in as a catcher. He may well see some work behind McKeithan but playing him in right is a way to get his bat in the lineup. Behind this trio are three newcomers to the program that will push to get in the lineup: sophomore Parker Stinnett (Knoxville, TN/Powell HS/ Walters State CC), sophomore Hunter Baker (Huntersville, NC/Hough HS/Florence-Darlington Tech), and freshman Jake Cunningham (Charlotte/Ardrey Kell HS). Fans may remember Stinnett and Baker from the exhibitions their respective teams played at the Hayes in the Fall of 2019.  Stinnett can cover a ton of ground in the outfield and is a table-setter offensively, Baker is an aggressive lefty bat, and Cunningham is a young athletic prospect with room to grow. It would not be surprising to see any of the three find their way onto the field. 

Designated Hitter – Again, it’s a matchup thing. We are going with returning senior Rafi Vazquez (Career .281/.373/.494). It’s an easy call with his big lefty bat and smooth swing. Another lefty option at DH is Carson Johnson. Gino Grover could get some ABs here as a righty. Butcher or Keuchel could also find themselves here depending on the day.

As we said, there are a lot of moving parts. Also, the staff is sure to experiment with different looks as the season progresses. All we can say for sure is that we’re more than ready to watch it unfold.

First Look at the 2021 Charlotte Baseball Schedule

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The last time we saw the 49ers Baseball team on the field, Colby Bruce was throwing a 1-2-3 9th inning and Charlotte was celebrating a 9-8 victory over 9th ranked NC State at Doak Field in Raleigh.  That was March 10, 2020. The world changed in the following days and the remaining 2020 College Baseball season was canceled.

Over 11 months later, we are finally set to see the 49ers take the field again. After what seems like the longest offseason in sports history, the 2021 Niners are set to take the field February 19 vs Morehead State.  To get you ready for the 2021 season, we have a series of blogs that will set us up for the 2021 campaign.

We will start with a schedule breakdown to take a look at the teams that the Niners will face this season.  2021 will look very different schedule-wise for many teams throughout the country.  Different conferences are going with different formats to try to get as many games in safely. Conference USA has decided to split into divisional play with Charlotte playing in the East Division along with FAU, ODU, FIU, WKU, & Marshall. The West Division of C-USA will include USM, LT, Rice, MTSU, UTSA, and UAB. Divisional play was aimed at limiting the travel throughout the league. Charlotte will play home and home series with ODU, its closest opponent in conference. Charlotte will play interdivisional opponents Rice and UTSA from the West Division.

Conference USA also decided to go from 10 – 3 game weekend series’ to 8- 4 game weekend series’ with the Saturday games being 7 inning double headers. This scheduling change will result in having fewer mid-week games during the conference season, but also opened up 2 weekends to add regional out of conference series’. It all adds up to a 56 game schedule for the Niners with high quality regional opponents and fewer long road trips in conference play.

In the non-conference weekends, the Niners will host Morehead State, William & Mary, WCU, College of Charleston, and UNCW. The Niners will travel to ECU for a 3 game series. Mid-weeks schedule include UNCG, Tennessee, Wake Forest, App State, & North Carolina.

The Conference USA Tournament will be hosted by Louisiana Tech in their new ballpark May 26-30.

As we have learned from the past several months in the sports world involving COVID, all of these games are tentative and subject to change. Below are a brief look at the 49ers opponents in 2021:

FEBRUARY 19-21:  Morehead State

  • CONFERENCE: Ohio Valley Conference
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  86 (40-21);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 197 (5-10)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS: 6-1
  • Picked to finish 9th in the OVC
  • Lost in the OVC Championship Game in 2019 as the 3 seed.
  • Head Coach Mik Aoki is in his 2nd season at Morehead State, after serving as HC at Notre Dame for the previous 9 seasons. Aoki was also the HC at Boston College (2007-2010) and Columbia (1999-2003) prior to leading Notre Dame. Aoki attended Davidson College, graduating in 1990.
  • DH Jon Burghardt and 3B Stephen Hill were named to the Preseason All-Ohio Valley Conference team.

FEBRUARY 26-28:  William & Mary

  • CONFERENCE: Colonial Athletic Conference
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  85 (33-22);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 158 (8-9)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS: 2-5
  • Picked to finish 5th in the South Division of the CAA by D1 Baseball
  • Brian Murphy is entering his 8th year as head coach at W&M (175-178). He has led W&M to an NCAA Regional in 2016 and was CAA Coach of the Year in 2014.
  • Jack Cone RHP/ OF & Catcher Matthew Trehub were named CAA Pre-season All Conference.
  • W&M RHP Jacob Haney is the son of 49er All-Time Great Chris Haney.

MARCH 2:  at UNC Greensboro (APRIL 6 at Charlotte)

  • CONFERENCE: Southern Conference
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  88 (34-20);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 72 (12-5)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS: 13-8
  • Picked to finish 3rd in the SoCon
  • Head Coach Billy Godwin is in his 2nd season as HC at UNCG (12-5).  Prior to UNCG Godwin had a successful run as ECU’s HC from 2005-2014. Prior to UNCG he was working for the New York Yankees in scouting.
  • RHP Austin Koehn, 3B Zack Budzik, and OF Greg Hardison were named to SoCon Preseason All Conference Team.
  • Niners lost at Greensboro last season 6-4.

MARCH 5-7:  Western Carolina

  • CONFERENCE: Southern Conference
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  207 (20-33);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 252 (8-8)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS: 6-10
  • Picked to finish 5th in the SoCon by the Coaches.
  • Catcher Luke Robinson, OF Justice Bigbie, and RHP Zach Franklin were selected to the SoCon Preseason All Conference Team.
  • The Niners last played Western Carolina in 2010.
  • Western Carolina HC Bobby Moranda is the All-Time Winningest HC in school history with 352 Wins. He is in his 13th season at WCU (352-340-2).

MARCH 9:  Tennessee 

  • CONFERENCE: Southeastern Conference
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  13 (40-21);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 93 (15-2)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS: 1-4
  • Picked to finish 3rd in the SEC Eastern Division and 2B Max Ferguson was named to Preseason All SEC Team. 
  • Tennessee is ranked #19 in the D1 Baseball Preseason poll and infielder Max Ferguson was named to the Perfect Game 2nd Team All American.
  • They are ranked #16 in the USA Today Preseason Poll. 2B Max Ferguson, 3B Jake Rucker, and RHP Jackson Leath were named preseason All Americans by Baseball America.
  • Tennessee HC Tony Vitello is in his 4th season as HC and is 85-50 with one NCAA Appearance in 2019.
  • The Niners lost at Tennessee 8-2 in 2020. First meeting was in the 1993 NCAA Tournament.

MARCH 12-14:  at East Carolina

  • CONFERENCE: American Athletic Conference
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  6 (47-18);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 5 (13-4)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS: 5-29
  • ECU was voted the preseason favorite to win the AAC by the Coaches. They were ranked 25th by D1 Baseball & 16th by Collegiate Baseball in Preseason polls.
  • ECU’s HC Cliff Godwin is entering his 7th season with the Pirates and has led them to 4 NCAA’s and two Super Regional during his six seasons.
  • LHP Jake Kuchmaner, 2B Connor Norby, OF Thomas Francisco & OF Bryson Worrell were named to the AAC Preseason All Conference Team.
  • Niners are 3-3 in the last 2 weekends they have played ECU in Greenville.

MARCH 16:  at Wake Forest

  • CONFERENCE: Atlantic Coast Conference
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  54 (31-26);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 172 (10-8)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS:  30-43
  • Picked to Finish 5th in the ACC Atlantic Division.
  • 1B Bobby Seymour was 2019 ACC Player of the Year. Seymour and RHP Ryan Cusick were named Pre-season All-Americans by Baseball America.
  • Projected to be a Regional Team by D1 Baseball
  • WF Head Coach Tom Walter is in his 12th season at Wake (305-284).

MARCH 19-21:  College of Charleston 

  • CONFERENCE: Colonial Athletic Conference
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  92 (36-21);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 51 (12-2)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS: 5-4
  • Picked to finish 2nd in CAA South Division
  • 1B Ari Sechopoulos & RHP Caswell Smith were named to Preseason All Conference Team. OF Donald Hansis was Honorable Mention.
  • Head Coach Chad Holbrook is entering his 4th season as HC at College of Charleston (84-42).  Prior to coming to College of Charleston, Holbrook was Head Coach at South Carolina for 5 seasons.  He served as an Assistant to Ray Tanner at SC prior to becoming HC and was also an assistant at North Carolina.

MARCH 23:  App State / APRIL 20: at App State

  • CONFERENCE: Sun Belt Conference
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  189 (22-31);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 62 (11-6)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS: 13-9-1
  • Picked to finish 5th in the Sun Belt East Division 
  • 2B Luke Drumheller was picked Preseason All Conference.
  • Head Coach Kermit Smith is entering his 5th season as HC at App State (70-109)
  • The Niners last played App State in 2006.

MARCH 26-28:  at WESTERN KENTUCKY

  • CONFERENCE: Conference USA
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  161 (26-29-1);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 96 (10-6)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS: 5-5-1
  • Picked to finish 4th in C-USA East Division
  • DH Davis Sims was elected to the Preseason All Conference Team and also named to the Bobby Bragan Collegiate Slugger Award Watch List. He is the brother of 49er Pitcher Hale Sims. 
  • Head Coach John Pawlowski is entering his 6th season as HC at WKU (97-135-1). Previously was the HC at Auburn and the College of Charleston.

APRIL 2-4:  FLORIDA ATLANTIC

  • CONFERENCE: Conference USA
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  37 (44-21);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 30 (10-6)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS: 4-16
  • Picked to finish 1st in C-USA East Division
  • RF Bobby Morgensen and LF/RP Mitchell Hartigan were named ot C-USA preseason all conference team.
  • Head Coach John McCormack is entering his 13th season as HC at FAU (411-249-2). Has been on the FAU staff for the past 30 seasons.  As a HC  he has led FAU t o5 Regional Appearances and was named 2010 Sun Belt Coach aof the Year and 2019 C-USA Coach of the Year. He has won the C-USA Championship in 2016 and 2019.

APRIL 9-11:  at FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL

  • CONFERENCE: Conference USA
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  171 (23-32);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 175 (10-5)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS: 12-11
  • Picked to finish 3rd in C-USA East Division.
  • 2B Derek Cartaya was named to the C-USA Preseason All Conference Team.
  • Head Coach Mervyl Melendez is entering his 5th season as HC at FIU (90-92)
  • Since re-joining C-USA, Charlotte has won 4 of the 6 series vs FIU.

APRIL 13:  at North Carolina

  • CONFERENCE: Atlantic Coast Conference
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  14 (46-19);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 68 (12-7)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS:  7-34-1
  • Picked to Finish 5th in the ACC Coastal Division
  • Head Coach Scott Forbes is entering his 1st season as HC at UNC and 2021 will be his 20th season on staff in Chapel Hill. Forbes takes over for long time UNC HC Mike Fox who retired this past summer.
  • In 2019, with Robert Woodard as Pitching Coach, North Carolina won the ACC Tournament, won the Chapel Hill Regional, and advanced to host a Super Regional. 

APRIL 16-18:  UTSA

  • CONFERENCE: Conference USA
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  134 (28-30);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 106 (10-7)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS: 8-9
  • Picked to finish 5th in the C-USA West Division.
  • CF Dylan Rock and RHP Arturo Guajardo are listed as Top 20 Draft Prospects for 2021 by D1 Baseball in C-USA
  • Head Coach Pat Hallmark is entering his 2nd season as HC at UTSA (10-7). He was previously HC at Incarnate Word where he won 2019 Southland Conference Coach of the Year. Prior to that he served as an Assistant at Missouri and Rice.

APRIL 23-25:  ODU/ APRIL 30-May 2 at ODU

  • CONFERENCE: Conference USA
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  80 (35-21);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 159 (12-4)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS: 36-45
  • Picked to finish 2nd in C-USA East
  • RHP Hunter Gregory was name to C-USA Preseason All-Conference team.
  • Head Coach Chris Finwood is entering his 10th season as HC at ODU (243-220)
  • The two teams will play 8 times over a 10-day period.
  • Charlotte has won the last 2 series’ vs ODU.

MAY 7-9: MARSHALL

  • CONFERENCE: Conference USA
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  178 (29-28);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 285 (5-10-1)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS: 11-8
  • Picked to finish 6th in the C-USA East Division.
  • RHP Brady Choban is listed as a Top 20 Draft Prospect for 2021 by D1 Baseball for C-USA.
  • Head Coach Jeff Waggoner is entering his 15th season as HC at Marshall (314-409-2). He was named C-USA Coach of the Year in 2016.

MAY 14-16: at RICE

  • CONFERENCE: Conference USA
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  140 (26-33);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 211 (2-14)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS: 5-10
  • Picked to finish 3rd in C-USA West
  • 3B Braden Comeaux was name to C-USA Preseason All-Conference team and named to the Bragan Collegiate Slugger Award Watch List.
  • Head Coach Matt Bragga is entering his 3rd season as HC at Rice  (28-47) after taking over for long time Coach Wayne Graham. Prior to Rice he was HC at Tennessee Tech where he was named OVC Coach of the Year 4 times.
  • Charlotte has won the last 2 series vs Rice.

MAY 20-22:  UNC Wilmington

  • CONFERENCE: Colonial Athletic Conference
  • 2019 RPI/ RECORD:  148 (32-31);    2020 RPI/ RECORD: 74 (11-5)
  • 49ers ALL TIME RECORD VS: 12-11
  • Picked to finish 1st in the South Division of the CAA 
  • RHP Landen Roupp was picked Preseason CAA Player of the Year. INF Cole Weiss, OF Noah Bridges, and RHP Adam Smith were named to the CAA Preseason All-Conference team.
  • Head Coach Randy Hood is entering his 2nd season as HC at UNCW (11-5) and is serving in his 20th season on the UNCW staff.
  • Robert Woodard was the Pitching Coach on the UNCW staff with Coach Hood in 2013.

Fall 2020 Roster Preview

With the academic year getting underway, the Niners released their 2021 Baseball roster over Labor Day Weekend. We may wear green tinted glasses from time to time, but we are not going to lie… this roster is LOADED.  With the guys that are returning and the recruiting class coming in, there is lots to be excited about for 49er fans. Over the next 45 says the Niners will have roughly 18 fall scrimmages mixed in among team practices.

There are many of factors affecting college baseball rosters for the 2021 season and we will see the effects for years to come.  The NCAA granted all players including Seniors from 2020 with an additional year of eligibility due to the virus-shortened season.  The MLB Draft was also shortened from 40 Rounds to only five. Many of the roster restrictions in college baseball were lifted for the 2021 season in order to help accommodate the larger rosters throughout the country. All of this adds up to what may be the most unique season in college baseball history.

Here is our first overall look at the 2021 49ers Baseball Roster.  We will start by taking a look at the position players and then move on to the pitching staff.

CATCHERS

Behind the plate, the Niners return juniors Jacob Whitley and Craig Keuchel.  These two split time behind the plate in 2020 as Whitley started 11 games and Keuchel six.  Whitley had a double and 5 RBI in 2020.  He spent the summer playing with the Mooresville Spinners in the SCBL.

Keuchel spent the majority of his time in RF during 2020 season leading the Niners in HR (4) and RBI (15).  Over the summer Keuchel won the Metro Summer League Tournament MVP playing for the Texas Toros.

The Niners have added three additional catchers to the roster with newcomers Aaron McKeithan, Martin Zelenka, and Tyler Cotten

McKeithan, a sophomore, comes to Charlotte after batting .289 with 2 HR, and 14 RBI for State College of Florida in 2020. Prior to that, McKeithan started 6 games in the 2019 season for Tulane. He spent this past summer playing in the SCBL for the Carolina Vipers under former Niner Aaron Bray.

Freshman Martin Zelenka comes to Charlotte from Prague, Czech Republic. He spent time playing in the triangle as part of the International program through Purpose Driven Baseball and Pro5 Academy.

Another freshman Catcher, Tyler Cotten, comes to Charlotte from Yorktown, VA (Grafton HS). He spent the summer playing for the Tuckahoe Tigers in the Piedmont Collegiate League.

INFIELDERS

Charlotte returns three infielders from the 2020 season with seniors Carson Johnson, Rafi Vazquez, and freshman David McCabe.

Johnson started at 2B for the Niners in both 2019 and the shortened 2020 season. In his 70 games played as a Niner, Johnson is batting .309/.363/.394 and has scored 47 Runs. He spent the offseason recovering from shoulder surgery.

Vazquez has been the 49ers primary DH over the 2019 and 2020 seasons, also seeing time at 1B.  In 2019 he led the 49ers with 12 HRs & 45 RBI. Over his 49ers career he is slashing .281/.494/.373 with 57 RBI.

McCabe saw time at 3B, SS, and 1B in the shortened 2020 season. He batted .238 with 3 doubles and was named a Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Freshman All-American.

The Niners have three sophomores and five freshman infielders that have been added to the roster this season.

Sophomore infielder Austin Knight transfers to Charlotte from Tennessee.  Knight played in 25 games as a Volunteer.  He spent the Summer playing SS for the Bradenton Mafia in the Florida Gulf Coast Collegiate League, and was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year. He received an NCAA waiver to be eligible immediately.

Incoming sophomore Jack Dragum comes to Charlotte after spending the 2020 season at Louisburg College.  He led the Hurricanes in BA (.431) and HR (6), while driving in 20 runs through 19 games. Dragum is a 2-way guy and could see time on the mound.  He was named 2nd Team Coastal Plain League as a relief pitcher this summer where he played with the Pennisula Pilots. He spent the 2019 season at Virginia where he played 2B during his freshman season.

Another incoming sophomore infielder, Thomas Caufield, comes to Charlotte after spending the 2020 season at Pitt CC. He scored 11 Runs and batted .243 in 20 games in 2020.  Prior to 2020, Caufield played for Coach Woodard at UNC in 2019 and batted .286 in 13 Games for the Tarheels.

Freshman Dante Defranco comes to Charlotte from Hillsboro, NC where he played for Pro5 Academy, Orange HS, and Cedar Ridge HS. He batted .425 with 29 RBI in his last season at OHS and also played WR for the Panthers football team.

Freshman Chandler Riley comes to Charlotte from nearby Cox Mill HS in Concord, NC. Riley is the 3rd rated SS in the state of NC according to Prep Baseball Report.  He got a jump on playing college baseball by playing for the Carolina Vipers in the SCBL this summer under former 49er Aaron Bray. (We witnessed him hit a walk-off RBI single in the SCBL Playoffs. See the video here.)

Freshman Gino Groover was rated as the 187th best prospect by MLB leading up to the 2020 MLB Draft. After having opportunities offered in professional baseball, Groover makes his way to Charlotte from the Walker School in Marietta, GA.

Freshman Nate Furman comes to Charlotte from Monsignor Bonner HS in Brookhaven, PA. Furman spent the Summer playing college baseball in the SCBL for the Concord A’s. He finished 3rd in the league with a .321 Average and 2nd in Runs scored with 24. (*according to SCBL site)

Recent transfer, Will Butcher is listed as a first baseman on the roster.  He spent his freshman season at NC State but did not play in the shortened 2020 season. Prior to NC State Butcher played at TC Roberson where he was an All-American in 2019. HS teammates with incoming catcher Aaron McKeithan. Butcher also received an NCAA waiver to be eligible immediately.

OUTFIELD

In addition to previously mentioned Craig Keuchel, the Niners return two additional starters from the 2020 team in the outfield.

Senior Todd Elwood returns after starting 2020 and the majority of the 2019 season in CF.  The lefty led the Niners in BA in 2019 (.333) and was the first 49er to be honored with a ‘Gold Standard Locker’ by the 49er Coaching staff. Finished 3rd in Hits and 2nd in Runs scored for the Niners in 2020.

Returning freshman Dominic Pilolli made a big first impression in his first year as a 49er. Pilolli was named the Team MVP for the 2020 Season after slashing .403/.567/.481 with 2 HR and 14 RBI.  He was also named the Most Impressive Freshman by D1 Baseball and Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.

Two sophomores and one freshman outfielder have been added to the roster. Parker Stinnett comes to Charlotte from Walters State where he batted .397 and scored 24 runs in 23 games last season. Niner fans may remember Stinnett from the fall exhibition at the Hayes last year where he drove in 2 key runs for Walters State.

Another sophomore newcomer in the outfield is Hunter Baker from Florence Darlington Tech. Baker was named a NJCAA All American following the 2019 season at FloDar and was the #65 rated JUCO prospect according to Prep Baseball Report. Baker attended Hough HS in nearby Cornelius and played at NC State before transferring to FloDar. He played for former 49er Aaron Bray this summer in the SCBL for the Carolina Vipers.

Incoming freshman Jake Cunningham comes to Charlotte from nearby Ardrey-Kell HS. Cunningham was rated the 9th best outfielder in the 2020 class from NC by Perfect Game.

PITCHING

The Niners will have a full stable of arms in 2021. Charlotte returns 12 pitchers from last year’s roster and will add 14 pitchers from the recruiting class.

Returning senior RHP Ryan Czantskowski was a weekend starter in 2019 and 2020 for the Niners. He struck out 20 in 4 starts last season and had 1-1 record with a 4.07 ERA. Ryan was the 2nd player to be honored with the “Gold Standard Locker” by the coaching staff.

Another senior returning for the Niners is RHP Colby Bruce.  Unfortunately, Colby recently underwent a procedure on his arm and will miss Fall practice while he recovers. Last season he was a pre-season All-C-USA Reliever and was on the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Watch List.

Reliever Nick Turnbull will also return for the Niners in 2021.  The senior RHP had 13 Ks in 10. IP last season.

Four juniors will return for the Niners this season. RHP Matt Brooks will look forward to being back on the mound after missing the 2020 season recovering from shoulder surgery. In 2019, Brooks was off to a great start posting a 3-0 record and a 3.10 ERA in 4 starts as the Friday starter. Was the 3rd 49er to be honored with ah “Gold Standard Locker” by the coaching staff.

Junior RHP Patrick Szczypinski returns for 2021 with nearly 60 innings under his belt. He was one of the most reliable arms out of the bullpen in 2019 posting a 2.56 ERA in 20 appearances. He picked up his 1st collegiate save last season.

RHP Andrew Roach was the Sunday starter for the Niners last season. In his 1st season at Charlotte he posted a record of 2-2 with a 1.99 ERA and 22 Ks. He tied for 2nd on the team in K’s and posted the lowest ERA among starters.

Junior RHP Jackson Boss pitched in 11 of the 49ers 17 games last season and subsequently led the NCAA in appearances. He struck out 16 in 17.1 IP and had a 3.63 ERA in 2020. He spent the Summer with the Carolina Vipers of the SCBL where he played for former 49er Aaron Bray.

One of three lefties on the roster, junior Trae Starnes returns for 2021. He made 2 starts and 3 relief appearances in 2020, striking out 10 in 9.1 IP.

Sophomore RHP Bryce McGowan returns in 2021 after spending 2020 as the 49ers Friday starter, grabbing 2 wins and striking out 22. The righty has 16 starts and 76.2 IP under his belt in two seasons heading into 2021.

RHP Will Palinkas returns as a Sophomore.  Palinkas has experience as both a starter and a reliever over his two seasons as a Niner, starting 4 Games and coming out of the pen in 19.

Another returning sophomore RHP, Justin Offshanka made 5 appearances out of the 49er bullpen last season and struck out 11 in 7.1 IP.

The Niners will add ten more sophomore righties to the roster in 2021 with several transfers and junior college pitchers joining the fold.

Austin Marozas joins the Niners from San Jacinto College in Texas. The 6’7” power righty had interest from MLB this summer but will be pitching for the Niners in 2021 with a fastball in the upper 90s. Out of Plainfield, Illinois, he was the #2 overall ranked prospect in the state of Illinois in his HS class. Originally signed with Kentucky.

Blake Dockery, from nearby Hickory Ridge HS, joins the Niners after spending two seasons at Catawba Valley CC.  He was named all Region in 2019, and was named an All American in both 2019 & 2020 by JBB. Was also named 2020 Pitcher of the Year by JBB after posting a 0.39 ERA and 31 Ks in 23 IP. Originally signed with NC State.

Andrew Lindsey brings a big arm to Charlotte from Walters State in Tennessee.  Standing at 6’4” Lindsey was 4-1 in 6 starts for Walters State last season with a 1.74 ERA and 39 Ks. Prior to Walters State, Lindsey played at Waverly Central HS in New Johnsonville, TN.

Hale Sims comes to Charlotte from Logan College in Illinois. The 6’5” righty posted a 12.06 K/9 in his 2 seasons at Logan.  He attended St. Mary HS in Paducah, Kentucky.

Jake Curry joins the Niners from Polk State College in Florida where he posted a 3.5 ERA in 16 starts over 2 seasons. The 6’5 RHP played HS ball at Coral Shores in Key Largo, FL.

Tyson Tucker pitched for the Northern Iowa Area CC over the past two seasons, striking out 25 in 23.1 IP over 15 appearances. He played at Maquoketa Valley HS in Dehli, Iowa.

Sam Grace comes to Charlotte after spending last season at Jefferson College. Prior to that he made 21 relief appearances at Southern Illinois as a Freshman in 2019. He was drafted out of Francis Howell North HS in the 40th Round by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2018 MLB Draft. Recovered from a knee operation this summer at P3 and pitched in the CarShield Collegiate League in Missouri this summer.

At 6’7” 215. Casey Bargo brings the Niners another big righty with a fastball in the mid-90s. Bargo pitched for Lincoln Trail College in Illinois and played HS baseball at Madison Central HS in Richmond, Kentucky.

Kolton Scherbenske comes to Charlotte from Des Moines Area CC.  Last season he started 4 games and posted a 3.63 ERA and led the team with 24 K. Scherbenske played his HS baseball at Saint Thomas More HS in Rapid, City, South Dakota.

RHP Zach Zedalis joined the Niners roster after transferring from NC Central. In his Freshman season he made 1 start and 6 relief appearances for the Eagles, striking out 8. Zedalis played his HS baseball at nearby Cox Mill HS in Concord. Zedalis spent this past Summer with the Carolina Vipers and Coach Aaron Bray.

The Niners will have one returning freshman pitcher in LHP Christian Lothes. Lothes pitched 2.2 innings of perfect relief in the opening weekend of 2020 striking out 3.  Unfortunately, he missed the rest of the shortened season with an abdominal injury. His fastball was hitting in the mid-90s during the fall and pre-season last year.

Another freshman with some college pitching experience is RHP Dillon Phillips.  Phillips comes to Charlotte from Walters State in Tennessee.  He had a 3-1 record in 6 starts last season, including 29 Ks in 23.1 IP.  He attended RS Central HS in Mooresboro, NC.

There are three true freshman pitchers on the 49ers roster coming from the HS ranks this season.  One of only three lefties on the staff is freshman Spencer Giesting. Giesting was 4-2 with a 1.49 ERA in 2019 with 48 strikeouts in 42.1 innings for Badin HS in Ohio. Head Coach was 49er great Brion Treadway.

RHP Gus Hughes comes to Charlotte from Grimsley HS in Greensboro. Hughes was rated the 7th best RHP in the 2020 class from NC (15th Overall) by Perfect Game with a fastball around 90.

Another freshman RHP beginning his career at Charlotte is Tyler Parks from Gloucester Catholic HS in Sicklerville, New Jersey. One of the top 15 RHP’s from NJ in the 2020 class with a fastball sitting around 90.

There you have it. Team practice starts on September 18 and we look forward to seeing seeing all these guys compete this Fall. We will be sure to keep you updated on what we see in the Fall at the Hayes!! Go Niners!!

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