Lake Norman & Mooresville

Titan finishes career as I-Meck Player of the Year

Shortstop Michael Russell had a dominant season for Hopewell, recording a team-best .506 batting average to go along with 38 runs and 23 RBIs.

That performance earned the graduating senior I-Meck baseball Player of the Year honors.

"I stayed pretty consistent throughout the year," said Russell, who added he was flattered by the award. "I struggled a little bit at the end, but I had a good year."

Titan coach Chet Greeson said Russell is a competitive and aggressive player who's able to play anywhere on the field.

"He wants to win and he will do whatever it takes to do that," said Greeson.

Russell was one of the main offensive players for the Titans, who finished 14-14 to take third in the I-Meck regular-season standings, but he was also key on the defensive end down the middle of the infield. After missing last season with two broken bones on his leg, Greeson said Russell made a big difference.

"We were good last year, but he made us as a group defensively stronger," he said.

Greeson said the North Carolina-bound Russell also stands out away from the field.

"He has good character and is a good student," he said. "He works hard and is dedicated to everything he does. He never takes a break."

Russell was a three-sport star for the Titans. He earned all-conference honors in all three - starting at free safety on the football field, point guard on the basketball court and shortstop on the baseball diamond.

As he focuses on baseball moving forward, Russell said that'll make it easier on him.

"I can concentrate on one sport instead of having to work on the other stuff too," he said.

Greeson said that should help.

"He's always jumped from one sport to the next with really not much of an offseason to focus on any aspect of the three sports," he said. "It'll be interesting to see how much he improves at baseball now that he can put 100 percent of his time toward it."

Russell admits his last high school baseball season was up and down this year.

"We were really hot and cold," he said. "We would come out for two or three games playing awful and then we would come out against a good team like we could. We had a lot of talent, but we were very inconsistent."

Returning only Hunter Conley to their pitching staff this season, the Titans had to rely on unproven pitchers Jordan Blair and Justin Hammond to fill in the gaps.

Conley, who drew the top teams in the I-Meck, finished the year 4-4.

Russell said despite the season not going the way he and his teammates expected, he will cherish his time with the team.

"We had a lot of fun, even when we were losing games," he said. "We had some funny kids on the team. We probably have joked a bit too much."

Russell, who was a member of the Titans as they won three conference championships, said he was sad to see his Hopewell career come to an end.

"It's rough knowing you're never going to play another high school game again," he said.

The Titans will miss the talented Russell and the seven other graduating seniors next year, including their entire pitching staff.

Greeson said members of his JV teams, who were all first-year high school players this season, will have to step up for the Titans next year as they rebuild.

"They will all get thrown in the fire early," said Greeson. "It's going to be tough. It'll be an uphill battle."

To get ready for college ball, Russell will spend his summer playing for Huntersville's American Legion Post 321 squad.

Russell said he's enjoyed playing Legion ball.

"It's a little more laid back," he said.

Russell said he's spending time at the batting cage and in the weight room on his own, trying to improve before he joins his North Carolina team in the fall.

"I'm excited for school, but I'm going to miss it here a lot," he said. "High school sports were a lot of fun."

Russell hopes to continue playing in the infield for coach Mike Fox at UNC. But he won't be picky.

"Wherever there's an opening, I'm going to try to play," he said.

Greeson said he has high hopes for Russell's college career.

"They're getting a good player at Carolina," he said.