UMass heads to Charlotte

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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Courtesy UMass Media Relations

The Massachusetts baseball team (4-8, 2-1 A-10) will test its mettle against one of the elite in the Atlantic 10 when it faces the Charlotte 49ers (19-5, 2-1 A-10) for a three-game set this weekend.

Senior Chris Lloyd will start for UMass on Friday, and freshman Jared Freni and sophomore Tim Comiskey get the nod for the weekend games.

The 49ers remain relatively unknown to the Minutemen, having transferred from Conference-USA and into the A-10 just last season. In only one season in the conference, Charlotte has already established itself as one of the preeminent teams in the A-10. The 49ers were tabbed to win the conference – in a vote by league head coaches – prior to the 2007 season.

Friday’s contest will mark the first time these teams have ever played each other, but in despite of that, UMass coach Mike Stone knows what his team is up against this weekend.

“Charlotte’s a real good ball club,” he said. “They’re solid all the way through, and their pitching is impressive. They will be as good as many of the teams we play this season. It’s a real big challenge for us.”

Although technically 12-1 at home this season, the 49ers will play its first true home game of the year when they unveil the brand new Robert and Mariam Hayes Stadium. Those in attendance will get to see a Charlotte team off to its best start in school history.

The 49ers concluded its first go-round in the A-10 at 38-20-1 last year, and have picked up right where they left off in 2007. Charlotte has been terrific in all facets of the game, crushing opponents both on the mound and at the plate. The numbers tell it all.

Charlotte has simply dominated the opposition in the batters box. The 49ers are hitting .327 as a team, compared to the meager .232 average by the opposition. In 24 games, the 49ers have scored 197 runs (8.2 runs per game), which is more than double what they’ve allowed (86 runs or 3.6 per game).

Charlotte has out-hit its opponents 282 to 181, and have raked 91 extra-base hits – which is 60 more than it’s allowed. The lineup also has a keen eye at the plate, drawing an additional 38 more walks (98 total) than it’s issued.

The pitching staff has been just as impressive. Charlotte’s staff has maintained a stellar 2.66 ERA, and when it gets that type of effort on the mound – coupled with the 6.90 opponents ERA – it becomes a tall task to take down the 49ers.

Stone tries not to get too caught up in the numbers, though, but rather focusing on his team and what they need to do to improve as a group.

“We can’t be concerned with what they’ve done, or what kind of ball club they have too much,” he said. “We just need to focus on our team, get good pitching on the mound and throw strikes. We need to play solid defense and be aggressive on the basepaths. It’s just a matter of playing good baseball.”

After taking two out of three against Temple in their first conference series of the season last weekend, the Minutemen dropped Wednesday’s matchup, 8-2, against Hartford. UMass has lost four of its last six games heading into the weekend.

“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Stone said. “Last week we played pretty well in Florida, beating a couple of teams that were probably better than we were. Then we had a good series against temple, although I thought we should have won that third game, and gotten the sweep.

“But [on Wednesday] we took a step backwards and I wasn’t impressed with our efforts against Hartford,” he added. “We just didn’t pitch, hit or play defense well, so when you don’t do those things you’re not going to win, and it doesn’t matter who you’re playing.”

The success of the UMass pitching staff against the strong lineup of the 49ers will be pivotal. The Minutemen will throw a freshman and a sophomore against the likes of Kris Rochelle (.471 batting average) and Brad McElroy (.409) in the deep Charlotte batting order.

“It’s an important series, and we’re going to find out what type of ball club we have,” Stone said. “We’re also going to find out what kind of competitors we have, and it’s going to be a good challenge for us. It will be interesting to see how we react this weekend.”

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected] Log onto the Daily Collegian Sports Blog at dailycollegiansports.blogspot.com for more coverage of all UMass sports.