Story by Will Carter / Sports Editor
After winning three straight and nine of their last 12 games, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (16-5, 7-5 C-USA) are looking to win their fourth Conference USA series this season as they welcome the Charlotte Niners to Reese Smith Jr. Field this weekend.
Charlotte (18-14, 4-8 C-USA) is coming off a shutout win over Winthrop on Tuesday, but the Niners had lost seven in a row before that, including sweeps by UTSA and Southern Miss. But, much like the Blue Raiders, Charlotte has some good wins to go with some bad losses. Before their losing streak started, the Niners won a series over Old Dominion on the road.
Sam Perry, a baseball reporter for the Niner Times, believes a lot of Charlotte’s success comes from the analytics game and playing into good matchups.
“A major theme with Charlotte baseball is analytics,” Perry said. “When watching a 49ers game, you will see a lot of defensive shifts and pitching changes to promote favorable matchups. I’m not necessarily a fan of it, but it has brought Coach Woodard’s program some success.”
Another similarity the Blue Raiders and Niners have is their goal for the end of the season. Both teams want to make it to the postseason and beyond the conference tournament.
“Everyone with the team I’ve talked to seems to have the same goal this season: to go beyond the NCAA regionals,” Perry said. “I think they would view making a regional and having success in the C-USA tournament as a successful season.”
For the most part, Charlotte is a pretty well-balanced team. Outside of Nate Furman at the plate and Spencer Giesting on the mound, there aren’t many Niners that jump off the page statistically speaking. However, Furman and Giesting are hefty producers in their respective positions.
Furman has started all 32 games for the Niners, batting .382 with 14 RBIs and a .497 on-base percentage. Both averages are good enough for third in the C-USA rankings.
Giesting leads the Niner’s in strikeouts with 52 on the year so far with the next Niner being a total of 22 behind him. That mark also places him at seventh in the C-USA rankings. On the flip side of things, Giesting has walked the most batters in the entire conference with 27 total.
“Hitting-wise, Nate Furman is one of those pesky hitters that consistently finds a way to get on base,” Perry said. “I believe when Austin Knight and David McCabe are fully healthy, they are some of the scariest hitters in Conference USA. Spencer Giesting has been strong and consistent for the Niners on the mound. He is comfortable not only starting the game but also coming in out of the bullpen when needed. In the bullpen, Charlotte has two pitchers who really stand out. Tony Rossi has been strong for Charlotte out of the bullpen this season. Another reliever that makes significant contributions for the 49ers is Colby Bruce, who is in his sixth year at Charlotte and has seen it all in his time, so he provides an essential veteran presence.”
Charlotte might not be winning as much as they wanted to or had planned on, but it took Middle Tennessee some time to find their groove this season as well. Consistency at the plate and in the field is what has given the Blue Raiders a boost the last few weeks, and that is what Sam Perry believes Charlotte needs to find as the season is nearing its end.
“Personally, I feel like this team has a lot of talent but needs to find some consistency, and right the ship to end their recent skid,” Perry said. “I think finding consistency, especially on the mound, will be vital for the team to reach their internal goals.”
Coming into the weekend, Middle Tennessee is third in the C-USA standings being tied with UTSA, UAB, and FAU. Every series is important, but this one could be the one that breaks the tie, and maybe even pushes them into second place.
The series with Charlotte starts Thursday night at 6 p.m. with the same start time on Friday night, and the series wrapping up on Saturday at Noon.