Russell made most of final Hopewell season
by Staff Writer
Michael Russell’s junior baseball season at Hopewell High was wiped out by a serious leg injury in the first game.
Naturally, there were concerns heading into his senior year.
“It was a concern with everyone but him,” Hopewell coach Chet Greeson said. “He worked through a lot of pain to get back.”
Russell’s return was emphatic.
He batted .508, scored 38 runs, had 23 RBIs and was a defensive standout for a Titans team that reached the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs. Russell is Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s 2011 Lake Norman-Area Baseball Player of the Year.
“I started playing at the end of the summer and have played a ton of baseball since the injury,” said Russell, who broke two bones in his leg. “By the end of the fall, I was back at the top of my game. I wasn’t too nervous about playing, but I hadn’t played high school baseball in awhile. It was going to be my (senior) year, and I really wanted it to be a good one.”
He was named the I-MECK 4A conference Player of the Year. Russell, a shortstop, is a good bet to land on all-state teams that will be named in early July.
Perhaps his biggest coup came last fall, after returning from his injury and starring for his showcase team, the Impact Baseball Dirtbags. Russell’s standout performance at the World Wood Bat Association Championships in Jupiter, Fla., netted a recruiting call from North Carolina.
Shortly afterward, Russell signed with the Tar Heels.
He didn’t have to worry about the recruiting process during the high school season.
“It takes a lot of pressure off your season,” Russell said. “Going in, you’re not playing for (recruiters); you’re just playing for yourself. Not having to worry helped me relax at the plate. This year, the numbers didn’t matter. I just wanted to hit the ball hard.
“I stayed pretty consistent most of the season. I think I was consistent in the field, too. Just trying to help my team win.”
Russell was a constant in Hopewell’s up-and-down season.
“Michael is a very determined kid,” Greeson said. “It was nice to have a player you can roll out there and depend on. He was consistent from start to finish and had a lot of key hits all year long.”
Russell had plenty of chances to test his leg before his senior baseball season rolled around. He was a free safety on Hopewell’s football team in the fall and a point guard on the basketball team during the winter.
In college, he’ll be able to concentrate solely on baseball. That was often tricky – but doable – sometimes while other sports were in season.
Greeson said Russell’s biggest attribute is “he’s a student of the game.”
“It doesn’t matter where you put him,” Greeson continued. “He’s smart, he makes good decisions and he understands baseball. The upside is he’ll be able to spend 100 percent of his time on baseball. To me, it’s kind of scary where he can end up.”