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January 20, 2013Last season was an anomaly for the Charlotte 49ers baseball team. The 49ers followed their 2011 NCAA Tournament trip with a 21-32 record and stumbled to a 9-14 tenth place Atlantic 10 finish. Loren Hibbs is preparing for his 21st season as head coach. With less than a month until the beginning of the season, the coaching staff is hard at work preparing the team for the long year.
Approaching the Wachovia Field House, the first thing you notice is the assortment of boxes piled up in the corners in which new baseball gear is held. As you walk into Coach Hibbs office, you see a collection of papers containing statistics and plans for the week. You can feel the excitement grow as you know the beginning of the season is approaching.
The amount of work that goes into being a head coach is not something to be underestimated. It's early and no one else is in the field house, but Hibbs is tirelessly typing on his computer while also on the phone. Trying to plan around the classes of 34 players, he's forced with the dilemma of the varying practice schedules.
Coach Hibbs recently took time out of his schedule to sit down with NinerReport to discuss the upcoming season.
NinerReport: What do you believe is the biggest key to improvement for the team coming into the year?
Loren Hibbs: Honestly, we need to be healthy. I think that, that's...not trying to make excuses for a below average year last year. We need to get to the point to where we have the majority of our roster available to pitch. I think the second thing is that we need to get our guys in better condition. We were not a well conditioned team last year. I take responsibility for that last year.
We've made some adjustments in the last several months that will be positive, you know, time will tell. For me, it's about getting healthy and trying to improve our level of fitness so we can practice the right way. If we can practice the right way, history has shown we can put a pretty good team on the field. Does it mean we will win? I can't answer that question right now.
I think that if you stay in this business long enough, there are going to be some troubles. You know, I've got to adjust too, I have to adjust to [how] the environment is now a days.
NinerReport: Is there anyone you expect to step up on the team? Maybe a senior or even a player you know has a lot of potential.
Hibbs: We are going to miss Andrew Smith. I don't think people realized how good he was for us, how consistent he was. How we worked through some health related issues and took the ball every time we asked him. The years we've been really good, we've had one, two or three starting pitchers step up and perform. (Tyler) Barnette needs to be good. Physically, he has the chance to be a Friday type guy. We need Corey Roberts to be good for us, we need Wes Hatley to be good for us. We have some guys that we need to be better than last year. Jason Harris, [is a] junior college guy that we feel has a chance to help us. I don't think there is anyone really where you go, that guy is a for sure Friday night guy, but we have a lot of guys that I think if we do a good job coaching, getting them in shape and keeping them healthy we could have a good chance to have a good pitching staff. Shive being out is going to hurt. Everyone has an unbelievable amount of respect for his toughness and his ability to compete.
---------2012 Season Statistics---------
NinerReport: Which guys have improved the most since last season based on what you've seen in Fall scrimmages?
Hibbs: Lang. Brett Lang for sure. (Shane) Basen is healthier now and he's gotten better. (Leland) Clemmons has gotten better. Johnny Hamilton is in good shape. We've got a pretty good core of guys that have gotten better. How they'll perform come game time in February, we'll see.
NinerReport: Who looks to be competing for the weekend starting spots on the mound after losing so much starting experience to graduation?
Hibbs: Barnette needs to be the guy for us. He was drafted out of high school [and was a] freshmen All-American. He needs to the guy. It doesn't mean he throws every Friday night, we may have a guy who develops into a guy on Friday night. We need five, six [or] seven more guys step up and throw it across the plate.
NinerReport: What are you expecting of young catchers like Patric King and Brett Lang?
Hibbs: I don't want to make Lang sound like he's the second coming of Johnny Bench or anything. He just brings a physical presence to our program. He has a chance to be a good player. But, he hasn't played a D-1 baseball game yet. Our practice plan every day revolves around our pitching and defense, especially catching, our game starts with the mound.
NinerReport: How is Corey Roberts' shoulder after missing most of last season with an injury?
Hibbs: It seems to be doing fine. Again, as another guy that the conditioning has never been easy for him. His effort level has been significantly better in the fall and in the early spring. Him, along with (John) Hamilton, has been really good in trying to take on more of a leadership role.
NinerReport: Any noticeable improvements in the overall team play or in any other areas?
Hibbs: We are better conditioned than we've been for a while. We are stronger than we have been in a while. From a physical talent standpoint, we are going to have to maximize. We are going to have to continue to practice the right way.
NinerReport: What are your feelings on the infield, outfield and pitching?
Pitching: When we talk about our pitching, it revolves around three elements. One element is our ability to throw strikes, to be able to hit the glove. Again, we didn't hit the glove as consistently the last year or so as we have in the past and that's something that needs to improve. We are working on making it better. The second element is our catching situation. Trying to get our catchers to a point where they can take more responsibility for the management for the game. It's like having a point guard or quarterback in the system we have. That's what we've worked hard on this fall. The third element is our ability to defend - move our feet and make plays defensively. These elements have to improve to make our pitching situation better.
Infield: The catching situation again. We do have, Brett Lang. He's kind of jumped ahead this fall. He was hurt last year. Again, I think he's a guy that has a chance to help our program. He's healthy. I have confidence in Patrick Raley. Patric King has really improved, he's a guy that didn't play last year. Nicholas Daddio is a guy that is a freshmen, he has physical abilities. The infield situation, you might see us move some guys around a lot. Justin Roland, he might have to play second. He's been a lot better and played well at second. We took Shane Basen, he played third base in high school and moved him to shortstop. (Grant) Dunnegan has really worked hard on becoming a good defensive player, [he's] the first left handed throwing first basemen we've had since Justin Hill.
Outfield: Leland Clemmons is better than this time last year. Brad Elwood had a really good summer. Then we've got guys like (Tony) Montalbano and (J.J.) Elseser; Montalbano is in the best shape of his life right now. We added a guy in Desmond Roberts, from [Garden City] Junior College, who is a left handed hitter. Again, trying to put those pieces of the puzzle together. I can't emphasis this enough, but it's a total effort from all of the units.
NinerReport: What about this season are you most excited about?
Hibbs: Do you know how lucky we are to be able to do this? We have football coming in. We have a really good institution in terms of what our players can get out of this. We have good weather. Our final year in the A-10, a transition into a good program in Conference USA. We have more facilities and projects planned. We've had a great program for a long time, people want to be a part of that. We have a chance to have a really good year.
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