Charlotte 49ers softball rides win streak, carries confidence into NCAA Tournament

Charlotte Softball’s first season in the American has a ring to it.

Conference crowns, 16-game win streaks, repeat appearances in the NCAA Tournament, and the first conference tournament championship in program history — it’s been a banner year for Ashley Chastain’s 49ers.

After splitting a share of the AAC regular season title with Florida Atlantic and dominating the conference tournament in Kansas, Sunday night’s selection show slotted Charlotte in the Athens Regional from May 17-19, setting up a rematch with Liberty to open the double-elimination tournament.

“We drew a really good regional with a lot of good competition, and we’re going to give it our best shot,” said Chastain. “(We’re going to) keep playing how we’ve been playing this last month.

“I really don’t have words for how proud I am of (the team),” Chastain continued. “They earned it. The credit goes to them and the staff. I’m thankful for Katie Rietkovich Browder, Jody Davidson, C.J. Leighton, Sidney Kane, Eric McKibban, Brittni Hoover — the people that are in the dugout day in and day out. The program is the sum of all those people. The girls feel so supported that they are able to play the game with such freedom and without fear.”

The Charlotte 49ers softball team prepares to play the AAC Championship game against Wichita State in Kansas on May 11, 2024.
The Charlotte 49ers softball team prepares to play the AAC Championship game against Wichita State in Kansas on May 11, 2024.

NCAA Tournament time

Riding a program-best 16-game win streak and coming off a dominating 10-1 victory over Wichita State to claim their first American Athletic Conference Tournament title, Charlotte’s confidence is at an all-time high. But with rematches against Liberty and Wilmington looming, and the No. 11 ranked Georgia Bulldogs hosting, the 49ers’ have their work cut out for them.

“We have a ton of respect for Georgia, UNC Wilmington, and Liberty,” Chastain said. “We played Wilmington and Liberty in the regular season and have a lot of familiarity with Georgia, playing them in the fall and the 2023 season. It’s going to be a really fun game.”

Charlotte has held its own on the road and at neutral site games this season, posting a 20-8 combined record away from The Sue. With an offense led by sophomore Arianna Rodi, who has hit 21 home runs on the season — accounting for 42% of the team’s homers — Charlotte’s taken the raucous road crowds out of the game early multiple times this season, but especially in the championship game last Saturday.

“We talked about it — there weren’t going to be many people in that stadium that wanted the Niners to win,” Chastain said playing the Shockers on Wichita State’s campus. “We talked about deafening everything around us, except for us, staying together and figuring out a way to win. When (Arianna) Rodi hit that first one out, it was really indicative of how the game was going to go.”

Charlotte’s been nearly spotless when jumping out to an early lead this season, taking a 27-1 record when leading after four innings to Athens this weekend. The 49ers worked through a gauntlet of a non-conference schedule starting in February, beating the likes of No. 4 Florida State in Tallahassee, No. 14 Kentucky and No. 12 Virginia Tech at The Sue, followed by a stout 21-6 record in AAC play.

Jordan Yuhas, the voice of Charlotte Softball, pinned the late-season dominance on their experience against great teams inside the circle.

“When you’re playing a tough schedule — at one point they played the No. 1 schedule in the country — playing all the non-conference teams around the Southeast, in the ACC and SEC, helped them see good pitching and good offense,” Yuhas said on the Highway 49 Podcast. “It’s no knock to the AAC, but that’s why Ashley Chastain set the non-conference schedule the way she did.”

Charlotte matched up with the Bulldogs in Athens a season ago, winning 6-5. With the double-elimination tournament on the horizon, Charlotte has another chance to demonstrate its rise in the collegiate softball landscape. The winner of the Athens Regional will advance to match up with the winner of the Los Angeles Regional, which is hosted by No. 6 UCLA and features Virginia Tech, San Diego State and Grand Canyon.

“Just seeing the players that don’t leave Charlotte — it’s incredible,” Yuhas continued. “The transfer portal is such a big thing, but the players want to come here. The stretch they’ve gone on each season has gotten significantly better as far as the pitching and numbers offensively. It’s been fun to watch from day one of her journey from the program. It’s not really the wins — it’s the players and the belief of wanting to be (in Charlotte).”