By Bret Strelow
Spencer Steedley celebrated his 22nd birthday Thursday and helped Charlotte come of age Friday.
Steedley, a former East Rowan star, went 2-for-4 at the plate and hit a two-run home run to help the third-seeded 49ers earn a 6-3 win against second-seeded N.C. State in the opening game of the Columbia, S.C., Regional.
Charlotte picked up the first NCAA regional victory in school history. It went 0-2 during appearances in 1993 and 1998.”It feels like I’ve had two birthdays in a row,” Steedley said in a telephone interview.
Steedley, a senior who is 8-1 on the mound with a 2.56 ERA this season, is scheduled to pitch today against top-seeded South Carolina (43-18) at 7 p.m.Charlotte (48-10) improved to 6-20 all-time against N.C. State, which faced the 49ers for the first time since 2002 and lost to them for the first time since 1991.
“It feels awesome just to be on the team that got the first NCAA win,” Steedley said. “We haven’t played N.C. State since I’ve been here, and everybody kind of puts some of those teams ahead of us. It feels good to beat them and put our name out there, too.”
Charlotte starter Adam Mills (14-2) allowed six hits and two unearned runs in seven innings for the 49ers, who own the best winning percentage in Division I. Mills lowered his national-leading ERA to 0.96.
N.C. State starter Eric Surkamp had allowed three first-inning runs all season, but Charlotte jumped ahead 3-0 in the top of the first.
Chris Taylor hit a two-out double for a 2-0 lead, and Steedley followed with a single. A throwing error on the play enabled Taylor to score.
The 49ers took a 6-0 lead in the sixth thanks to Steedley’s home run and Aaron Bray’s RBI single. The first two pitches of Steedley’s at-bat were strikes, and he belted a 1-2 slider over the right-field fence.”I was trying to see the ball real deep and not be early,” he said.
Steedley hit 13 homers and produced 63 RBIs during a junior season in which he led the Atlantic 10 in five offensive categories. He has enjoyed success as a pitcher but endured slumps at the plate this season.Steedley entered the NCAA regional with two home runs, 28 RBIs and a .217 average. He homered in Charlotte’s second game of the season and waited 12 weeks to hit another in a win against George Washington.
“In that part it’s been a struggle, but the last couple weeks I’ve been swinging it well,” Steedley said. “It seems like the better the pitching, the better I’ve been hitting.”South Carolina advanced with a 9-1 win against Wofford, which will face the Wolfpack today in a consolation-bracket game at 2 p.m. The winner will meet the loser of the USC-Charlotte game at 2 p.m. on Sunday, and the team that emerges from that contest will play the remaining unbeaten squad at 7 p.m.Steedley suffered his only mound loss of the season on April 21 against Dayton. He allowed one earned run during a combined 151/3 innings of work in wins against Richmond and Fordham leading up to NCAA play.
“I’ll just try to do the same things I’ve done all year,” Steedley said. “Go after hitters, throw strikes, rely on the guys behind me. I feel like I can get people out with my pitches.”
Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 email@example.com.
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