Boshamer Stadium resounded with a deafening crack — the batter’s windmill-like followthrough sending the baseball arching over the outfield.
The decisive home run, the product of brute, relentless force, came not from one of the usual North Carolina big names. The face behind the bat was freshman New Jersey-native Joe Dudek.
But it was not his rookie status that commanded the attention of spectators, teammates and coaches.
“He has the most power on the team by far,” sophomore Michael Massardo said. “It’s kind of crazy to watch a younger kid come into the locker room and be able to hit the ball farther than anybody. He has a great approach to the plate.”
Dudek’s confidence behind the bat serves as a juxtaposition to his humble demeanor.
The Fall World Series, which took place over the past two weekends, puts the freshman talent under scrutiny for a position on the roster and in the starting lineup. But Dudek said he puts no pressure on himself.
“Obviously you want to prove yourself,” Dudek said, “But I just try to stay calm and be myself out there. I’ve always wanted to come to this school, and it’s a great honor to be here. I’ve watched them on TV for years and to finally put the jersey on is pretty special.”
Dudek hit two home runs and registered an RBI in this weekend’s three-game series.
Despite his offensive high notes, Dudek’s Blue team fell to the more experienced Navy squad in a six-game series sweep. Efforts from Navy sophomores Skye Bolt, Michael Massardo, Korey Dunbar and junior Michael Russell contributed to 4-3, 4-3 and 12-2 victories in the second weekend of the series.
Although the veteran players frequently lit up the scoreboard, the emphasis of play rested on the 16 freshmen.
“The Fall World Series benefits the freshmen and the coaches the most,” Bolt said. “It shows us which freshmen can compete, how they interact in game situations and how they respond. The older guys as well as the coaching staff want to see how the freshmen are going to react to adversity and success.”
Along with Dudek, freshman Adam Pate made a strong first impression on his older teammates.
Junior Luis Paula, the Navy pitcher in Sunday’s game, said he struggled to keep up with Pate’s speed on the base paths.
“He’s a quickster,” Paula said. “He gets on base, and it seems like he’s already on third. I think that will help us a lot in the spring. If he gets on base you know for sure he can steal.”
Although the Fall World Series is merely an intrasquad scrimmage, the stakes are high. Not only does the losing team face the punishment of a 10-mile run, but the series also puts players in direct competition for spring positions.
“(Dudek) obviously has a chance to play as a freshman,” coach Mike Fox said. “Pate has got a high baseball IQ and is going to find his way to the field.
“We lost a big part of our team from last year. They’re going to be hard to replace, but we’ve got to find a way.”
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