Junior BJ Myers gets the opening day start after going 5-3 last season with a 4.05 ERA. With a solid fastball and excellent breaking ball, the right-hander has excelled at using offspeed stuff as his out pitch, an aspect that will test a 49ers team coming off a mediocre offensive season in which they averaged 5.6 runs per game.
Charlotte's power numbers were down, but they have enough punch that Myers needs to keep the ball down and change locations within the zone. An experienced pitcher, Myers moves to the prime starting position for the first time after the loss of first-team All-Big 12 selection Chad Donato from a season ago.
Charlotte's primary weapons offensively are junior infielder Brett Netzer and senior outfielder T.J. Nichting. Netzer led the team with a .384 batting average and a .461 on-base percentage, while Nichting paced C-USA with 22 doubles. Both were named to the preseason All-CUSA first team. The 49ers went 23-32 last season, including 12-17 in Conference USA to finish eighth. Head coach Loren Hibbs enters his 25th season with the 49ers. A 1984 Wichita State graduate, he has amassed a 730-603-4 mark at Charlotte, including a 3-10 record in the NCAA Tournament. Charlotte was picked sixth this year after returning nine position players with at least one start and 21 of 24 letterwinners.
West Virginia comes off a 36-win season, the most in head coach Randy Mazey's four years. The vast majority of the line-up returns, including six of eight position starters, though it will be shuffled early as the Mountaineers try to find the best mix on offense and settle defensively with as many as six sophomores in the line-up.
"We have all the pieces in place I think," Mazey said. "Even though it's a young team, it's an experienced team, which is a pretty unique quality to have. We have enough players in the line-up and enough pitching that if we can managed to stay focused and play with a chip on our shoulder, this team is capable of doing some pretty special things."
West Virginia is 1-2 all-time against Charlotte, with the lone series occurring in 1993 on the road.
"All these kids who had success last year are a little bit more physical than they were," Mazey said. "That's the year of growth between your freshman and sophomore years. Those guys are bigger and stronger than they were. This team has done everything we have asked them to do so far physically and mentally and preparing. Now its time to go out and play a different team."
WVU will chase Myers with fellow right-handers Michael Grove (2-4, 3.40 ERA) and Connor Dotson (7-4, 4.44 ERA) for the weekend games. The line-up has not yet been set. The series is the first of 16 consecutive road games to open the season for West Virginia. The Mountaineers, who finished fifth and received one first-place vote in the Big 12 preseason poll, play 20 of their first 21 games on the road before a 23-game home schedule.
"With our season being what it is, we only get three weeks to practice before the season begins, so it puts you in a little bit of a bind," Mazey said. "We have been outside more than we have been in and guys got to take some ground balls on the turf and see some fly balls with clouds in the background, which is pretty unusual for this time of the year. So weather-wise we have been lucky so far."