Lassiter leads Tar Heels past James Madison

The freshman picked up three hits and three RBI in the 9-5 win.

Chaz Frank rolled out of bed early, took his 8 a.m. computer science exam and, not long after, made his way to Boshamer Stadium.

He was tired. But he wasn’t alone. Several other North Carolina baseball players followed the same routine on UNC’s last day of exams Tuesday. Frank said it was a long night of studying for many Tar Heels — especially junior Brian Holberton, who only managed two hours of sleep.

But freshman Landon Lassiter didn’t have those problems. He was well-rested. And in No. 1 UNC’s 9-5 victory against James Madison, he gave his teammates a much-needed energy boost.

“I’m pretty sure he’s been done with exams for about three or four days,” Frank said, laughing. “You could definitely tell. He had a really good night and kind of carried us there and gave us a little breathing room.”

Lassiter reached base in all five of his plate appearances Tuesday night, going 3-for-3 and drawing two walks. And when the Dukes tagged the wild UNC bullpen for five runs in the top of the seventh inning, Lassiter responded with a retaliatory two-run double in the bottom half — bumping the score to 9-5 and giving UNC a four-run cushion.

“That was huge,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “To come back and score two in that inning, I think that took the wind out of their sails a bit.”

After not playing since May 1 against The Citadel, the Tar Heels (43-4, 19-3 ACC) seemingly picked up where they left off early in Tuesday’s game. Starter Hobbs Johnson pitched a 1-2-3 first inning, and UNC scored four runs in the bottom half with RBI hits from Colin Moran, Cody Stubbs and Parks Jordan.

But as the game wore on, Johnson started losing control of the strike zone. He walked two batters in the fourth inning and then walked three more in the fifth to load the bases. In the middle innings, relievers Trevor Kelley and Chris McCue combined for five walks of their own, giving up five runs and allowing the Dukes to claw back into the game.

Frank said the sleep-deprived Tar Heels might’ve played a little tired. Fox said UNC was lethargic.

“Tonight was kind of painful to watch,” Fox said. “I’m not gonna try to make too big deal out of it — you gotta give James Madison some credit. But there were a lot of walks on both sides. It turned into a little bit of an ugly, sloppy game.

“Not a good performance by any of our pitchers tonight for sure.”

But Lassiter, who said he lucked out with just one exam a week ago, picked up UNC with his double in the bottom half of the seventh.

The freshman has come through for the Tar Heels often this season. A shortstop by trade, Lassiter has mainly played as a designated hitter and batted in the two-hole between Frank and Moran. He led the team and was in the top 10 nationally with a .507 on-base percentage coming into the game.

“He’s had a great year,” Fox said. “He is so advanced as a freshman with the plate discipline that he has and to be able to recognize a ball from a strike and work himself into some good counts. That’s unusual for a freshman to be that advanced.”

But Lassiter isn’t a freshman any more. The spring semester is over.

“It feels good,” Lassiter said. “I’m glad it’s under my belt. I feel a lot more comfortable now than I did in the fall, just where classes are located and how to work your time schedule and get your rest.”

And now, he can just worry about baseball.

Thanks for reading.

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