Cashing in on a CHSCA Class LL All-State selection to pair with his .413 batting average and 1.352 OPS was a fitting end to a decorated career at Southington High School for outfielder Jackson Rusiecki. However, there were more factors at hand than his numbers on the diamond that led to his commitment to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Rusiecki had to narrow his college search to align with his interest in biomedical engineering and desire to play baseball. He hadn’t gained much traction on schools that would be able to satisfy both areas before attending a UNC camp last summer.
After arriving in North Carolina last Sunday, Rusiecki will also now have the opportunity to play baseball most of the year thanks to the warmer weather, something he wasn’t able to do growing up in New England. Being a New England native can be viewed as a disadvantage for baseball players because of the cold winters, however, the outfielder believes his circumstances may have played a helping hand in landing a scholarship with the Tar Heels.
He explained baseball can be difficult to train for in the winter besides indoor hitting, so he decided to take the fall and winter months to pick up other sports. Rusiecki became a three-sport athlete picking up wrestling and football, the latter of which he played defensive end and middle linebacker.
“I think wrestling as well as football had a big part of my growth physically,” Rusiecki said. “Football probably got me farther than any independent lifting could’ve gotten me. The ability to do multiple sports helped me quite a bit.”
Rusiecki no doubt had the numbers to justify a scholarship at the next level, but the ACC will be close to as tough an adjustment as any. This past season the Diamond Heels faced teams like Virginia, Louisville, NC State and Wake Forest. The Connecticut native feels confident about defense after a strong senior season but admitted the hitting might take a bit more time to get his legs under him.
“Hitting is going to be a pretty big adjustment from facing pitching in the mid-80s in high school to the pitching in the ACC,” Rusiecki said. “I know in the fall we get to work with our own pitchers quite a bit so hopefully I’ll be able to make a quick adjustment.”
Southington head coach Stan Switala expressed confidence in the UNC commit noting “he has the tools in place to be successful at North Carolina if he can adapt quickly to the high speed and plus off-speed pitches he’s going to see.”
Without any in-season action to note for Rusiecki so far, he says the biggest difference from the life of a high school ball player to college is the independence and responsibility to get better on your own. The Tar Heels’ season ended on June 12 so there haven’t been any structured practices to this point, but the players in town are still focused on improving their game early in the summer.
“There is a lot more freedom at the moment,” Rusiecki said. “We’ve been doing what we want for the most part. You have to be really self-driven to get the most out of your time here without a coach always telling you what to do.”
Being a self-starter doesn’t sound like it will be an issue for Rusiecki, according to Switala. His former manager noted he was a player everybody on the team looked up to during his time in Southington.
“On the field he’s a gamer,” Switala said. “He wants to play, and he wants the ball in the big spot. He’s just that type of guy. There’s nothing bad to say about the kid at all.”
Rusiecki and the Heels will be looking to build off a 42-22 (15-15 ACC) season and fourth place finish in the Coastal division of the ACC when action gets underway in February 2023.