Lassiter Bounces Back, Heels Top Cal
Freshman shortstop 4-6 with 2 runs, RBI in 11-5 win over California
HOUSTON –– Friday was not a good day for Landon Lassiter. The Tar Heel freshman got the call at shortstop for the team’s first game in the Astros Foundation College Classic, a matchup with #12 Rice. Lassiter committed two errors and was 0-4 at the plate with a walk on the day. His errors could have been costly in the 2-1 win. Carolina’s Kent Emaneul was sensational on the mound, but when head coach Mike Fox said, “We’ve got to play better defense behind him,” he was referring to Lassiter.
“I’m trying to give Landon the opportunity, really,” Fox said Friday night. “I don’t want to take him off the field. It’s a confidence thing, but at some point we’ve got to be a little bit better up the middle, especially when we’ve got a guy out there who’s making teams put the ball in play.”
Saturday against California, Fox could have chosen to go in a different direction. He’s got a lot of capable middle infielders, but he chose to stick with Lassiter. “I said, ‘Hey, I’m putting you right back out there,’” Fox said. “Sometimes you hear a guy say how do you know if the coach has confidence in me, well, your name’s in the lineup. It’s as simple as that.” The move paid off.
In the first inning, Lassiter singled on an 0-1 pitch off of surprise Golden Bears starter Jake Schulz. The Tar Heels didn’t make Schulz throw too many pitches early, and Cal held a 1-0 lead through three innings. To that point, Lassiter had two of the Tar Heels’ three hits.
After watching Schulz a couple of times through the order, Carolina was able to break through with 11 runs in the middle innings. Lassiter drove in a run with a triple, then was driven in by Skye Bolt in the fourth. In the fifth, he drove in Korey Dunbar with a long triple. “I just look for a good pitch, try to stay inside it and drive it hard up the middle, and good things have happened,” Lassiter said after the game.
Displaying the eternal optimism of a freshman in his 10th collegiate game, Lassiter went back to work after the rough outing Friday. “It’s always frustrating to make an error,” he said. “But new day, new game, and just keep your head up and keep playing.”
Carolina got a terrific start from Benton Moss, who at one point struck out seven of eight California batters (he finished with nine strikeouts), and Shane Taylor and Chris McCue were effective in relief. A shaky 6th, in which the Golden Bears scored four runs, was ended when freshman Skye Bolt made a diving grab in right field with two men on base.
Lassiter and Bolt have been starters from day one, but catcher Korey Dunbar and utility man Alex Raburn also have seen significant time for the Tar Heels. Lassiter said his veteran teammates have helped the young players adjust to the college game. “Our teammates are great teammates,” he said. “They help us out when they need to, and I love our team. I think we have a really good shot. We’re really good.”
After Saturday’s 11-5 win, the Tar Heels are off to a 9-0 start, with one game left here in Houston and a midweek tilt with Davidson before conference play begins next weekend.
No freshman student-athlete is immune to struggles every now and then. But Fox said he has the utmost confidence in Lassiter, who has staked his claim to a starting spot in the infield since arriving on campus last fall. “We’ve just tried to help him remember, refresh your memory on how well you’ve played since you’ve been on our campus and just kind of work and grind through it.”
Carolina concludes the Astros Foundation College Classic Sunday at 3 p.m. against Texas A&M. Audio of the game is available on GoHeels.com.