Tar Heel baseball enters fall looking to fill holes

After losing seven players from last year’s College World Series squad to the MLB Draft, the North Carolina baseball team is facing some uncertainty.

Gone is Kent Emanuel, last year’s ACC Pitcher of the Year. And gone is third baseman Colin Moran, the reigning ACC Player of the Year. All-ACC first baseman Cody Stubbs has also moved onto the professional ranks.

With much of last season’s nucleus now playing at the next level, this year’s Tar Heels will be looking for added production out of returnees while relying on support from a talented freshman class.

As such, the past weekend’s Fall World Series allowed the UNC coaching staff and fans alike to get an early glimpse of which players to expect big things from in the spring.

An annual event, the Fall World Series is a two-weekend contest with six intrasquad games played between UNC players. The team’s seniors draft the two teams, simply referred to as the “Blue” and “Navy” teams. If the series is tied after the six games, a seventh game will be added.

The first weekend belonged to Navy, as the Skye Bolt-led squad swept Blue, winning the three games by a combined 26-11 score.

Bolt went a combined 7-for-14 with six RBI and a home run over the three games. Three of the sophomore center field’s hits were for extra bases. Teammate Michael Massardo went 6-for-12, driving in five runs and scoring six times.

While Bolt and Massardo stole the show at the plate, junior pitcher Benton Moss turned in the series’ most impressive pitching performance for Navy on Friday night, striking out 10 batters without surrendering an earned run in 5.2 innings of work.

Moss, who pitched to a 3.77 ERA in 88.1 innings last season, praised the efforts of his teammates in the series’ first three games.

“This is the culmination of our fall so obviously people are going to raise their level a bit,” Moss said. “It’s been exciting to see what level guys can play at when this becomes more real. It’s been exciting to see what guys are capable of.”

On a team with only four seniors, Moss recognizes that he will take on a larger leadership role in his junior year.

“It’s almost automatic, like a switch flipped,” Moss said about his new leadership responsibilities.

“Guys are saying ‘he’s a junior, let’s see what he does.’ It’s not a burden, it’s not a weight, but I feel it. It’s kind of an atmosphere change.

“Freshman and sophomores are looking to me. I have to be aware of that…People are watching.”

Another returnee who will be stepping into a new role is sophomore Landon Lassiter.

The Tar Heels’ primary designated hitter last season, Lassiter will take over starting duties at third base this season, following in Moran’s footsteps.

“It may be a little bit different this year because (I’m) playing the field.” Lassiter said.

“I’m just playing the same game (I’ve) played (my) whole life and going out there and trying to win.”

Playing in the prestigious Cape Cod League this summer, Lassiter said he put a lot of time into improving his footwork and timing at third base, adding that Moran has offered advice about playing the position.

Above all else, Lassiter is excited about the direction the team is moving as February creeps closer.

“Everybody’s really worked hard over the summer on their game and I think we might have a chance to be pretty good,” the sophomore said.

Moss echoed those sentiments, but acknowledged that there is still work to be done as the Tar Heels try to fill the void left by the likes of Emanuel and Moran.

“Everybody has had their moments where you think ‘this guy has potential,’” Moss said.

“It’s just a matter of the whole team coming together and being determined about how hard they want to work.”

The Fall World Series continues next weekend with three more games to be be played at Boshamer Stadium.

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