Experience won the day as the Navy team bested the Blue in all six games of the 2013 Fall World Series, the set of intrasquad scrimmages that caps Diamond Heels’ fall practice period. The Navy Tar Heels won a pair of 4-3 games on Friday and Saturday before a 12-2 victory on Sunday.
Seniors Parks Jordan and Andrew Smith, who drafted the winning crew, compiled a team that was able to put a veteran at nearly every position. On Sunday, third baseman Colby Barnette and designated hitter Brandon Whiteford were the only freshmen in the Navy lineup. “Experience always kind of comes out with competition and when the game gets serious,” head coach Mike Fox said. “That shows up everywhere, and it shows up a lot of times in the batter’s box.”
Sunday, the Navy team put together 14 hits in seven innings, while Luis Paula and Henry Sisson combined to allow just six hits from the Blue squad. “I think the coaches thought the Blue team had the better team (before the games began),” Fox said. “Shows you how much we know. A lot of that was just based on the previous 14 or 15 scrimmages.” The head coach said there were a handful of players who flipped a switch, some for the better, some for the worse, under the lights of the Fall World Series.
One of those players making an impact was sophomore Michael Massardo. The Waxhaw native made just 10 plate appearances in 18 games as a true freshman. He spent his summer playing for the Baltimore Redbirds of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. He came back to Chapel Hill and displayed improved plate discipline this fall. “He’s walking more than he’s striking out,” Fox said. “He’s one of those guys that I was talking about. He didn’t have a bad fall up to that point, but he had a great Fall World Series, so he helped himself for sure.”
Massardo batted .407 in the six FWS games while driving in six runs and stealing five bases. He said while it was frustrating to sit the bench in 2013, he used that as motivation to get on the field. “I saw how awesome it was playing in front of sold-out crowds every weekend, and I said, ‘Wow, I really want to play in front of that, and I really want to contribute to this team,’” he said. “That’s really my motivating factor, to get out there and play and help UNC win.”
The chance to play every day in Baltimore helped Massardo put into practice what his Carolina coaches had been preaching: to trust his training, trust his hands and stay through the ball. For him, it had been a struggle trying to improve while facing the likes of Kent Emanuel and Hobbs Johnson in scrimmages. The summer allowed him to work on his approach at the plate. “I just slowed everything down,” he said. “I know that I have quick enough hands to get to any pitch, and even if I get fooled I can, still get the bat on the ball. It was really all just approach and telling myself that I’m comfortable at the plate, I’m seeing every pitch, and that’s really what kind of clicked for me.”
Massardo is one of several Tar Heels locked into position battles. Fox said he has an idea of who his top 10 or 11 players are, but he’s hesitant to name them, as he’d like to see the Tar Heels continue to push one another through the fall and into January. He is confident about a few things, however. “(Michael) Russell’s going to play short, (Skye) Bolt’s going to play center, Trent Thornton and Benton Moss are going to be on the mound,” he said. “After that, there’s still competition.” The versatile Jordan will almost surely be on the field, be it in left field or at first base, but the Tar Heels will have an extreme makeover in the infield. Fox said that defense will be the determining factor in whether or not a player gets on the field. But Russell, Bolt and catcher Korey Dunbar, all of whom were key in the Navy’s victory last weekend, give him confidence for the 2014 season. “I like where we are in terms of behind the plate at short and in center because we need to be good up the middle,” he said.
It wasn’t all blue for the Blue squad. A trio of freshmen - outfielder Adam Pate, second baseman Wood Myers and first baseman Joe Dudek - displayed the moxie to contribute in the spring. Each was singled out in Fox’s post-series media conference.
Roster turnover is a fact of life in college sports, and Carolina sad goodbye to a talented crop of juniors and seniors who are now working their way through the minor leagues. But with a promising group of freshmen and some experienced, improved returners, the Tar Heels should be formidable come February. “We’re going to have to have some young guys out there, because we lost a big part of our team from last year,” Fox said. “They’re going to be hard to replace, but we’ve got to find a way.”