With players like Colin Moran, Cody Stubbs and Kent Emanuel, along with Bolt and Thornton, serving as the face of the 2013 Tar Heels, Lassiter may not be a name that jumps out to the casual fan as a known commodity. His contributions, however, haven’t gone unnoticed by his teammates and coaching staff.
“He’s done a great job for us this year going up to bat and getting on base,” senior centerfielder Chaz Frank said on Wednesday. “He’s had an unbelievable freshman season. I would say he’s definitely underrated.”
The High Point, N.C. native has accumulated quite an impressive stat line that topples even some of the staple names on the Tar Heel roster. He is batting an impressive .361 on the season, which ranks second behind Stubbs, and owns a .502 on base percentage, which is tops on the team.
“He really has been remarkable,” UNC hitting coach Scott Jackson said. “You just don’t see a freshman with an on-base percentage over .500. That’s extremely rare.”
UNC’s designated hitter bats in the 2-hole and also leads the team in runs scored at 74. Lassiter has been a consistent performer for UNC throughout its charge to a sixth CWS in eight years.
“Maybe he was kind of forgotten a little bit because of the year Skye and Trent have had, but we as a coaching staff and his teammates know he’s been a huge part of why we’re here,” Jackson said.
His successes and failures aren’t discernible due to his ability to keep a cool demeanor while on the diamond. The freshman All-America continues to have a short memory and this showed true in the ACC Tournament.
He struck out a season-high five times – one shy of the NCAA record - against N.C. State during the 18-inning marathon on May 25. While some freshmen might struggle to bounce back, Lassiter responded on Sunday in the championship game against Virginia Tech with two critical hits and scored three runs in UNC’s 4-1 win.
“That’s his best trait - he plays at a very even keel,” Jackson said. “He may run through the bag and be upset, but I think by the time he gets back up here to the dugout and certainly by the time his next at bat rolls around, he’s able to flush that and the competitiveness comes out in him.”
One prime example of Lassiter’s vitality on this year’s team is exemplified with the amount of left-handed hitters the Tar Heels have in their lineup. This fact allots for most teams throwing their left-handed pitchers to counter, but the freshman righty has presented a significant obstacle for that strategy.
Lassiter boasts a team-best .412 batting average against left-handed hitters compared to the Tar Heel team average of just .276.
“For him to come in and do that, especially in this dynamic lineup with Moran, Bolt and Stubbs right behind him, is impressive,” Jackson said. “Landon really knows how to hit the inside half of the ball and that’s how he goes up there and approaches things. When you have that approach and you have good hands and you have knowledge of the strike zone you should have a chance to be successful.”
Despite Lassiter’s sensational freshman campaign, he was close to not even being a member of UNC’s baseball program. The Tar Heels recruited him off and on for two years and weren’t sure if they wanted to take another infielder in the class of 2012. Pitching Coach Scott Forbes took the reigns on his recruitment and was “instrumental in the process” of acquiring Lassiter’s commitment, according to Jackson.
“I don’t think he was really interested in going anywhere else and that didn’t really come out until we got a chance to sit down and talk to him and his family,” Jackson said. “It was Coach Forbes just going up to Cliff Lassiter, Landon’s dad, at a game and just saying, ‘Hey what’s Landon’s situation?’ Cliff said, ‘Okay, I’m going to shoot straight with you.’ He said this is where he’s always wanted to go and, thank goodness, we pulled the trigger.”
The reason behind Lassiter’s desire to play for North Carolina is rooted in his childhood dream of playing in the College World Series in Omaha. He felt that North Carolina gave him the best option to reach that goal and he was rewarded on Tuesday with the Super Regional-clinching victory over South Carolina.
“It’s unbelievable,” Lassiter said. “I remember growing up as a little kid just watching Josh Horton and all those guys on TV. Now for it to finally happen, it’s a dream come true. I can’t wait to get out there and actually start playing.”
North Carolina opens CWS action against ACC rival N.C. State on Sunday at 3 p.m.