Prep Baseball: Salisbury’s Michalec to play for Catawba
By Mike London
Catawba’s baseball program has added a scholarship-caliber player without using an athletic scholarship.
Back in April, Salisbury outfielder Russell Michalec was selected for one of Catawba’s First Family Scholarships based on his academic record, his written essay and recommendations by his teachers.
First Family Scholarships are the largest and most prestigious grants that Catawba awards to incoming freshmen. Michalec had options, but for a guy with brains, deciding where to go to college quickly became a no-brainer.
“The scholarship made the decision to go to Catawba and play baseball pretty easy,” Michalec said. “Charlotte offered me a walk-on spot, but I probably would have just gone to school as a regular student at Charlotte, UNC Wilmington or N.C. State, if I hadn’t gotten that scholarship.”
While he’ll technically be a walk-on, Michalec possesses the tools and work ethic to do a lot more than just fill up a uniform and locker space.
He impressed Catawba coach Jim Gantt last summer when he played for Gantt’s Rowan County American Legion team.
There was initial skepticism that Michalec could compete at the Legion level with guys from East and West, but he earned a regular job in the outfield and in the pitching rotation.
“Coach Gantt really helped me,” Michalec said. “I improved as a player and matured a lot.”
Michalec batted .285 with three homers and 10 doubles. He scored 27 runs and knocked in 22.
On the mound, he was 6-3.
There was a wild night in a crazy playoff series with Burlington in which Michalec started on the mound, pitched three innings, moved to the outfield, then returned to the hill to pitch a little more.
He turned out to be the weary, winning hurler in a 15-14 circus.
Michalec also went right after a powerhouse Randolph team, didn’t walk a batter and allowed only two earned runs in 62/3 innings to secure a playoff win in the Area III championship series.
“Russell probably won’t pitch for us, but he is a lefty, so we’ll wait and see what happens,” Gantt said. “We know he can do some things. He’s a good outfielder, he can run, and he has gap power. As he matures physically, that gap power could become home-run power.”
Michalec ordinarily bats right-handed, but don’t be shocked if you see him hitting from the left side in games Rowan has under control this summer.
Gantt has encouraged an experiment with switch-hitting because Michalec’s speed becomes a bigger factor from the lefty batter’s box. Those two steps he gains on groundballs could make the difference on a lot of infield hits.
“I used to hit left-handed in middle school, but I wasn’t very successful,” Michalec said. “I turned around when I got to Salisbury, and I’ve been hitting right-handed since then.”
With plenty of success.
As a varsity freshmen for the Hornets, Michalec was often overmatched. He batted .158.
As a sophomore, he jumped to .277 with 12 steals, while winning five games on the mound.
The last two high school seasons, he’s been an all-county standout. He’s batted .393 and .350, while totalling 52 runs, 32 steals and 37 RBIs. He launched seven homers during the past two seasons after failing to hit one over the fence his first two years.
“Russell came to Salisbury with speed and an excellent glove, and he’s really worked hard to become better,” Salisbury coach Scott Maddox said. “He’s developed power and the ability to hit the ball to the opposite field.”
Michalec’s senior season was his toughest challenge, with Salisbury’s talent pool shallower and the team much younger. He and Forrest Buchanan led the Hornets on a late ride that included a trip to the CCC tournament championship game.
“My senior year was tough, but I looked at it as a learning experience,” Michalec said. “Coach Maddox has always been there for us, and it was time for me to be more of a leader instead of just one of the group.”
Michalec posted nice career numbers in high school ó . 314, 90 hits, 50 steals, 11 wins ó and he figures to play often in left field and contribute on the mound for a stout Legion team this summer.
When summer’s over, he’ll keep right on playing baseball at Newman Park while he gets started with studies that he hopes will lead to a career in pharmacy.
Maddox endorses Michalec’s decision. He believes Catawba, annually one of the top D-II teams in the South, will be a good fit.
“Russell’s an excellent player, a great student, a quality person,” Maddox said. “He strives to be the best he can be, and he’ll be successful at Catawba. He’ll just keep working at it until he is.”