Thursday, March 27, 2008

New baseball stadium good to 49ers

There is no question the Charlotte 49ers baseball team has taken full advantage of its new home this season.

Hayes Stadium not only provides a far-superior atmosphere to watch and play in, but the 49ers have reaped the benefits in their record as well.

After Wednesday's 12-8 home win against Wake Forest, Charlotte is now 18-3 on the season, including a 16-1 mark at home. Until a loss earlier this week to Radford, the 49ers had a 17-game home winning streak dating back to the end of last season.

Charlotte begins its first sustained road trip this weekend, playing three games at Atlantic 10 rival La Salle, one game at perennial power Tennessee, then three more at Temple before returning to Hayes Stadium on April 8 for a game with N.C. A&T.

Charlotte is 2-2 in road games thus far, with wins over USC Upstate and South Carolina and losses at Wake Forest and Presbyterian. Coach Loren Hibbs said the upcoming trip will give his team its best test yet.

"Anytime you're on the road in any league, it's hard to win. We're up front with our guys and we'll meet in the lockerroom and get a handle on what's ahead," Hibbs said. "We're going to try and do the things that have worked for us. We're going to try to speed up the game like we like to do to people. Hopefully, we'll come home with some good results."

Notes: Former Piedmont star Rob Lyerly, a sophomore transfer from Campbell, went 3-for-4 in Wednesday's win with two doubles, a home run and four RBIs. ... Charlotte has not lost consecutive games since the 2006 season - a streak of 82 games.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Taylor named Player of the Week

The college baseball season is young but already Charlotte 49ers senior catcher Chris Taylor is racking up awards.

Taylor, from Mount Pleasant, N.C., was named the Atlantic 10 baseball player of the week on Monday. It is the second time already this season Taylor has won the award.

Taylor knocked in runs in all three 49er wins over Saint Louis over the weekend, including leading the comeback in Saturday's win when he hit two home runs and drove in three late in a 10-inning win over the Billikens.

The two homers was the third time in his last 20 games Taylor has hit two home runs in a game. He capped his weekend hitting a home run off the scoreboard in right center to break open a one-all tie in the sixth inning Sunday as Charlotte cruised to a 9-1 win over the Billikens.

Charlotte (17-2, 3-0) also earned its first national ranking of the season as the 49ers are No. 23 in this week's Collegiate Baseball News Top 30 poll.

The 49ers are 15-0 at home this season and have won 17 straight dating back to last season at Hayes Stadium. Charlotte was listed among teams receiving votes in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers of America poll, the Top 25 poll, and the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 Coaches poll.

Charlotte hosts Radford at 6 p.m. Tuesday and then Wake Forest at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Q&A with 49ers' Sabrina Gregory

Gregory concluded her four-year career at Charlotte on Saturday with the 49ers' loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the first round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament. This season, she became the 15th player in the program's history to score 1,000 points in her career. She is 11th on Charlotte's all-time scoring list (1,286 points).

Q: How do you feel your senior season went?
Gregory: It took some adjusting with the new coaching staff, but I think we learned a lot about each other and about our team. We stuck together through the entire season and played as hard as we could. We had a lot of ups and downs and started off 0-5, but we pulled it back together.

Q: You've had three coaches in four years, how has that been?
Gregory: I'm not going to say it was too bad. The first coaching change was an easier transition because we had coach (Amanda) Butler as an assistant before. This year was a little more difficult but nothing we couldn't handle as a team. You have to trust your coach and get to know them.
I think we have a great program here and the coaching changes say a lot about our program. Most of all, we are a special group here. I think we're special because we can go through all these changes and still have postseason play. I know a lot of schools would be dying to be in the position we've been in.

Q: What's next for Sabrina Gregory?
Gregory: I think next year I'll be doing an internship here in the athletic program. I've been thinking about coaching because I love the game so much and it's hard for me to leave it in any aspect. I would like to stay in it. After the internship, I might start grad school or get into some coaching.

Q: Do you call Charlotte home now?
Gregory: I'm staying in Charlotte. I wouldn't want to go back to Fayetteville. Nothing against Fayetteville, but there are a lot of opportunities in the city of Charlotte and at UNC Charlotte and I don't want to leave.

RECRUITING NEWS: Former Victory Christian star Kendria Holmes, a 5-foot-5 sophomore guard at Providence, made an unofficial visit to Charlotte on Saturday. Holmes was named to the All-Observer team as a high school senior. Her twin brothers, Chavis and Travis, play at Virginia Military.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

When they say Big Red, they mean it

LINCOLN, Neb. -- They really paint the town red here. Really.

It's everywhere. And if something isn't colored red, then red is in the name. Like "Big Red Storage," "Big Red Sports Bar" and "Big Red Pizza."

Red of course is the color of the Nebraska Cornhuskers and there is little way you can visit this Midwest city without knowing -- or quickly learning -- that fact.

Did you know Nebraska has won five national championships in football? You will soon enough. It's EVERYWHERE - on signs, on the stadium, in the city's brochures.

And the Bob Devaney Sports Center, where Charlotte meets Nebraska Wednesday night in the National Invitation Tournament, is almost totally red - red seats, mostly red court, red chair backs on the court. This is Cornhusker country and they obviously take it seriously.

According to local media, almost 9,000 tickets had been sold to the Charlotte/Nebraska game as of Wednesday morning. With students on spring break, some thought the attendance would be down. Are you kidding? What else is there to do here?

It was 45 on Wednesday afternoon. That's like summer here this time of year. Lots of folks out and about. A gentleman came up to us when the team and I were leaving the arena after shootaround and asked everyone if they liked Lincoln.

"I hope you do," he said. "I've lived here all my life. It's a nice little town."

And very red.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A welcomed welcome for 49ers

In the midst of all the excitement of the NCAA tournament's start this week, Charlotte's invitation to the National Invitation Tournament and a first round game at Nebraska may not seem a stellar reward for a good season, but there are still other ways a team's effort can be appreciated.

I saw one such method in the early morning hours Sunday.

Charlotte won two games in the Atlantic 10 tournament in wild fashion, then lost to eventual champion Temple late Friday night. The team was scheduled to leave Philadelphia on a 6:10 p.m. flight to return to Charlotte - a flight that never got off the ground until well after 10 p.m.

The team finally rolled into Halton Arena a little after 1 a.m. Sunday and standing outside to greet them were about two dozen fans and supporters. The team and coaches were tired, they had been at the airport for at least six hours.

But the welcome back caught them by surprise. Every player and coach stopped to talk to the fans that were there, autographs were signed and pictures taken. After about 20 minutes or so everyone headed their separate ways.

For a few moments though there were reflections on the incredible comeback over Massachusetts, Leemire Goldwire's inspiring performance and coach Bobby Lutz running on the floor, fists pumping, after the UMass win.

Nebraska, Alaska or Halton Arena. NIT, CBI, backyard playground. I don't think it mattered much what Charlotte did next, the 49ers are still playing. A team picked 10th in the preseason, with eight new players and all but two on the roster coming back next season, can use any tournament experience it can get.

I'm guessing the unexpected welcome the team received in the wee hours of Sunday morning may have been just as big a token of appreciation of a long, wild and very entertaining season as anything else.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Mack makes up for Wednesday

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- About 30 minutes before Thursday night's Atlantic 10 quarterfinal game between Charlotte and Massachusetts, 49ers forward Lamont Mack came over to where I was sitting on press row.

He said hello. He always calls me "Mr. Utter," which of course makes me feel old. He said he just wanted to let me know that he was going to make sure I had something good to write about after Thursday's game.

"I didn't have a very good game last night," he said, "so I owe you one."

Little did I know.

Mack had struggled in Wednesday's win over Rhode Island and finished with a single point. He had, however, played well defensively. I think in some way he still felt he let the team down and was looking forward to making up for it.

UMass ran out to a 36-19 lead at halftime. Charlotte was getting good looks at the basket but shot just 22.9 percent in the half. Mack had four points.

Of course, there is a reason they play the second half.

UMass quickly went out to an 18-point lead before Mack began his attack. He hit two free throws. After a UMass miss, he drained a long 3-pointer. He scored 13 of Charlotte's first 17 points after halftime, part of a 31-9 run the 49ers used to turn a 17-point deficit to a three point lead.

Mack was just one of several Charlotte players to play an important role in a memorable win. Leemire Goldwire took over in the end, hitting three 3-pointers in the final 3:19 of the game.

In any case, Mack more than made up for his performance on Wednesday. And win or lose, Charlotte and Mack's effort to come back -- their unwillingness to give up -- produced one of best college basketball performances I have ever seen.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Niners gameday, Atlantic City style

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Charlotte won its opening game in the Atlantic 10 tournament, which ended well after 11 p.m. on Wednesday. The reward? Another 9 p.m. game.

So, what have the 49ers been doing all day? What kind of schedule does a team keep when it has less than 24 hours between games?

I checked in with Rob Perron, Charlotte's director of basketball operations, on Thursday to see what the team was up to. Here is a rough outline of what the team did leading up to tonight's tournament quarterfinal game with Massachusetts.
Around 10:30 a.m. - Players can sleep in because of the late game and show up for breakfast around 10:30 a.m. Immediately after breakfast the team gathered for a meeting, in which coaches went over individual characteristics of UMass players and things to expect in the game.

About 12:45 p.m. - The team boarded their chartered bus and headed to downtown Atlantic City, where they spent about an hour visiting several of the outlet stores near the Boardwalk, including the Nike Factory Store.

Around 2:30 -3 p.m. - The team returned to its hotel and players got about another hour or so to themselves, during which most took a nap.

About 4:30 p.m. - The team and coaches gathered to watch video breakdown of UMass and do a walk-thru at the hotel.

5 p.m. - Pre-game meal.

7 p.m. - Charlotte team leaves hotel for Boardwalk Hall.

Lutz: Goldwire proves he's better than 3rd-team all league

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz was not going to let the opportunity pass.

His senior guard, who had won so many games for the 49ers this season, had done it again, hitting three consecutive 3-pointers in a two-minute span late in the game to help Charlotte earn a come-from-behind win against Rhode Island in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament.

And Lutz was being asked about Goldwire’s desire and effort to extend his senior season.

"This league is so good and there are so many good players and it has to be for this guy (Goldwire) to be a third-team all-league player," Lutz said. "I’m not going to lie to you, he’s better than that.

"There are other good players in this league, but he’s better than third-team all-league and he showed it today, just like he has shown it his whole career. Nothing against those other guys, but you look and we tied fourth in the league and this guy has seen every kind of defense in the world and he showed you down the stretch what he’s made of.

"I couldn’t be happier for him."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Win a T-shirt with Niners trivia answer

Some Charlotte 49ers trivia to hold you over until Charlotte's opening round game in the 2008 Atlantic 10 men's basketball tournament at 9 p.m. Wednesday against Rhode Island:

What current 49ers player has twice attended the Daytona 500?

You must reply with a legitimate name (i.e. not anonymous, or at least put your name in the anonymous posting). And you can only answer once. We'll do a drawing among all the correct answers for a Charlotte 49ers/A10 T shirt, size XL. The blog will remain open for answers until tipoff of Wednesday night's game, when I will post the correct answer and winner.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

49ers catcher Chris Taylor is A-10 Player of the Week

Senior catcher Chris Taylor was named Atlantic 10 Baseball Player of the Week.

Taylor had a career-high six RBIs in Charlotte's 11-2 win at No. 9 South Carolina last Wednesday, giving Charlotte the lead for good with a three-run homer to center in the top of the fourth. He finished the week with a .417 average (5-for-12), with two runs, two walks, a double and a home run. He leads the team overall with a .463 average, .805 slugging percentage, five doubles, three homers, 10 walks and 16 RBI.

Charlotte (10-1) won all three games last week and are 8-0 at new Hayes Stadium. The 49ers play six games this week, starting with a home game at 6 p.m. Tuesday with Furman.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Sources: Lutz contract extension all but done

You likely aren't going to hear much about any contract extension for Charlotte 49ers coach Bobby Lutz before the 49ers begin play next week in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament in Atlantic City, N.J.

That is not because work isn't being done.

In fact, all the work is about done, but according to several sources, some unforeseen circumstances have prevented the process from being completed by early March, which was everyone's goal.

And just to be clear, Charlotte's stellar performance over the final two weeks of the season - including the 10-point win Saturday at Rhode Island - played no role in the final outcome. The discussions regarding the contract began long before much of the final third of the regular season played out.

That's not to say the whole thing is a done deal, either. But for now, there do not appear to be any significant roadblocks ahead that would prevent Lutz completing an extension that will keep him with the 49ers for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Q&A with recruit Shamarr Bowden

Charlotte basketball recruit Shamarr Bowden wrapped up his high school career this weekend at The Miller School in Charlottesville, Va., and plans to enroll at Charlotte in time to attend both summer school sessions this year. Bowden agreed to answer some questions I gathered from members of Niner Nation. Here are his answers:
1. What attracted you to Charlotte?
Their style of play, the way the guys on the team work together and how coach Lutz allows his guards to have freedom and make decisions on the court. They also run a lot of quick hitters, which fits my style of play and they play a tough nonconference schedule and are rising as a program. I also admire the coaching staff for being a family for the guys on the team and helping them outside of basketball. They are very family-oriented.
2. What are your goals for your collegiate career and possibly beyond?
I want to make a NCAA appearance next year, win the conference and hopefully advance in the tournament. As far as my goals, I would like to make all-conference as a freshman, and play professional basketball after Charlotte, possibly for the Bobcats or overseas.
3. What are your expectations for next season?
I expect for us to play together, have a winning record, win the conference, beat some highly ranked teams in the country and get a bid to the NCAA tournament.
4. What do you feel is the best and worst part of your game?
I feel the best part of my game is my ability to shoot outside as well as being able to create off the dribble and create open shots for my teammates. I don’t believe I have a worse part, but I do believe I need to work on strengthening my legs, body and my vertical jump.
5. Tell us a little about how your final high school season ended.
We had a good season, we were 24-4, undefeated in the conference, conference champs, conference tournament champs, we made it to the state final and came up short. They put a box-and-one on me in the championship game, which made it hard for the other guys on our team and it ended up being a tough loss. I ended up making first team all-conference, first team all-state and all tournament team for the state tournament. The season didn’t end how I expected it to, but now I have to prepare in the spring for Charlotte. I’ll be attending both summer school sessions, where I can work out everyday and prepare to achieve all the goals I have in mind for this upcoming year.