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Russell Finishes as Atlantic League Batting Champ

By Steve Shutt, 10/29/21, 2:30PM EDT

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Infielder's .360 average is 3rd-best in league history

HIGH POINT, N.C. – High Point Rockers’ infielder Michael Russell led the Atlantic League in batting average in 2021, becoming the first High Point position player to lead the league in an offensive category.

Russell hit .360 this past season, collecting 102 hits in 283 at-bats.  He added 20 doubles, a triple and seven home runs to go with his 48 RBI.

Russell’s .360 average is the third-highest in ALPB history and the best by any player in the 24-year history of the league other than Victor Rodriguez.  Rodriguez set the league record with a .371 average while playing with the Somerset Patriots in 2004.  Rodriguez owns the second-highest average as well, hitting .365 with the Newark Bears in 2007.

Russell missed 37 games with a broken jaw after being hit with a throw while stealing third at Gastonia on July 28.  Following his return on September 9, Russell immediately went on a six-game hitting streak and collected multiple hits in five of those games. 

“Could you imagine sliding into third base, getting hit with the ball, blood is gushing, you do not pick up a bat for six weeks,” said Rockers’ bench coach Billy Horn. “And then the first time you pick up a bat, is the day of the game you’re back. You take six swings in a cage and you proceed to go 14-for-24 (.583).  That’s why we call him Babe Ruth.  That was such a cool moment when he came back.”

Russell played at Huntersville, N.C. Hopewell High and went on to the University of North Carolina where he was an All-American and team MVP in 2014 while leading the Tar Heels to the 2013 College World Series.

Among other Rockers players, first baseman Jerry Downs was ninth in the ALPB with 22 home runs and 81 RBI.  Downs had the eighth-best slugging percentage in the league at .564 and the eighth-best OPS (on-base + slugging percentage) at .972.  Centerfielder Johnny Field ranked seventh in the league with four triples, and outfielder Jared Mitchell was fifth with 75 walks.  Mitchell finished sixth in the league with 27 stolen bases while Russell was seventh with 21 swipes.

In addition, High Point’s Craig Stem tied for the league-best with 24 games started, matching the total with three other ALPB starting pitchers.  Cooper Casad was seventh in the league with a 4.73 ERA while Tommy Lawrence ranked eighth at 4.82. 

Lawrence’s 11 wins were a franchise record for the Rockers and tied for the third-most in the league. 

Stem was fourth in the ALPB with 103 strikeouts while Bryce Hensley was tied for second with two complete games.  Relievers Ryan Chaffee and Kyle Halbohn tied for ninth in the league with 45 appearances while Halbohn was fifth in the league with 13 saves.  Preston Gainey finished 10th in the league with seven saves.

Stem was sixth among all pitchers in the ALPB with 127 innings while Casad was seventh with 123.2 innings and Lawrence was 10th with 117.2 innings.  Lawrence was fourth among pitchers in holding opponents to a .265 batting average while Casad was fifth at .269.  Lawrence was third in the ALPB in WHIP (walks+hits per inning pitched) at 1.23 while Casad was fourth at 1.32.  Lawrence’s winning percentage of .733 was the fourth-best in the ALPB while Casad’s .636 percentage was sixth.

In 2019, High Point pitcher Joe Van Meter led the Atlantic League in earned run average (2.30), opponent’s batting average (.205) and WHIP (Walks/hits per inning) at 0.96.

The Rockers in 2021 finished second in the ALPB with 65 wins for the entire season, the second-most in the league.