Stacking the Deck
Senior Andrew Smith discussed the Navy team's game plan for selecting its roster for the Fall World Series. "We had a pretty specific game plan coming in and picking it -- me, Parks [Jordan] and Tate [Parrish] -- we pretty much got the players we wanted.
"There is a confidence about us and we know we have the team and all we have to do is go out there and do what we are supposed to do and we should win. You can tell about us in the dugout we are always up and talking and it is a good atmosphere in there."
The Navy team dominated the first series, winning all three games in convincing fashion, outscoring the Blue team 28-15.
On the opposing team, Landon Lassiter is not worried about the offensive disparity heading into the second series. "I think they hit the ball pretty well this weekend," he said. "But they got a lot of the breaks, too. We have a lot of young guys and now they can settle down - they already played their first three games - and now just relax, have fun and win the next two games and try to force the game seven."
The Navy team is heavier in returning players and perhaps the precocious freshmen will continue to improve and settle down next weekend. Otherwise the Blue team will soon be taking to the hills of Chapel Hill for a lengthy run.
Projecting the Corners
After playing the majority of last season at designated hitter, sophomore Landon Lassiter is looking forward to playing in the field this season next to incumbent shortstop Michael Russell at third base. Lassiter played third this summer and excelled last season with the bat, showing an advanced approach at the plate while batting .358 and amassing 53 walks.
Lassiter has looked locked in at the plate in the fall and discussed his approach after Game 3. "I just honestly look for a good pitch in my zone and try not to swing at too much off speed," Lassiter said. "Just try to hunt a fastball in the zone and, if you get it, good - if you don't, then take a walk, because walks are always good."
Lassiter revealed after the game that the coaching staff is indeed preparing him to start at third base for the 2014 season.
Across the diamond there are two first basemen being showcased this fall.
Freshman left hander Joe Dudek has been very impressive in scrimmages this fall. "He has a lot of power," Lassiter said. "He hit one off the batter's eye dead center that was hit probably two-thirds up the wall. I have never seen that before. He is very good defensively, too, and has made a lot of good plays over there. Just him maturing and getting stronger will be a very good player for us."
Dudek looks ready to start for the Diamond Heels and has the glove and bat to be successful. With Grayson Atwood's departure this offseason, Dudek's main competition for the first base spot is a senior: Parks Jordan. "I love to play first base," Jordan said. "I have been over there on and off the past couple of years. It is different from the outfield. I have worked out there and I like being in the infield and I was recruited as an infielder."
Jordan has shown great footwork and defensive instincts at first this fall and in limited time earlier in his career. This may be a case where the offense makes up the difference.
Revel in the Moment
"It is pretty exhilarating," Andrew Smith described about getting back out on the mound this fall. "It really put everything into perspective last year only getting to throw once and then this year pretty much watching from the sidelines. It really made it so that every practice and every pitch was worth so much more. I cherish it so much more after working so hard with rehab and stuff.
"Whenever I can get on the mound it is amazing and it feels good again. My arm feels good and I had been wanting to throw since after the first day after surgery. They had to hold me back. It has recovered very well and feels just as good if not better than before. I still have a long ways to go to get it back to where it used to be but it feels good now."
North Carolina could have plenty of healthy and talented arms on the staff, but every year the leadership role passes on to the juniors and seniors on the team. The importance of being a role model did not escape Smith, "We had some really good leaders the past three years that I dealt with," he said. "It was easy to learn from them, watching them. With these guys I've been through the good and definitely the bad and I can give them a little notion of what it is like when things don't go well for you. We have a lot of young guys so I try to push them and try to let them know to cherish what they have and where they are and how many things we are given here and how it is gift and we never get a day back."
Skye Bolt accumulated seven hits in the three-game series, with a pair of doubles, a home run and a stolen base. He hit another home run that was called back after appeal this fall. The sophomore looks like he has picked up where he left off during his freshmen campaign -- before his mid-season injury.
"He has been doing really well," Smith said. "Up there at the plate he looks so much looser, he goes up there with a lot less robotic approach. When he gets in the box he looks ready to hit and he looks like he is going to hit the ball out of the yard, and it has been working. You can really see it. I feel like he kind of experienced something like I had and I had not experienced until I got here.
"Obviously he did not do as well as he wanted to after he came back from his injury. I feel like that really drove him to work harder and maybe think of some things he was ignoring and maybe change up his approach and it has worked. He looks much better than last year and last year he was incredible."
Bolt played sparingly for the Collegiate Team USA this summer and looks ready to contend for All-ACC honors with a great mix of speed, power and defense in center field. However, freshman outfielder Adam Pate and fellow sophomore Zach Daly have shown this fall to be capable backups.