NEWINGTON â€“ Zack Nackonechny hasnâ€™t been able to put on his Newington baseball cap in nearly a full year due to his 2020 season being canceled as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, but he did get to don a different cap this past week.
Nackonechny, soon to be entering his senior season with the Newington baseball team, was one of four Newington student-athletes to celebrate their college signings, announcing his commitment to Southern Connecticut State University, a Division II program in New Haven.
Having lost his junior high school campaign and with his senior year still somewhat of an unknown due to covid-19, which just led to the postponement of the winter sports season, Nackonechny has found comfort in the knowledge that regardless of what happens this spring, his baseball career will not come to an abrupt and unexpected end.
â€śItâ€™s a huge relief,â€ť Nakonechny said. â€śIâ€™ve seen guys struggling to find a place. No matter how secure you think you are, there are still others struggling. Itâ€™s a big relief to know I have a place to play and thatâ€™s where Iâ€™ll call home.â€ť
For Nakonechny, SCSU is a place that has felt like home since he first began communicating with the Owls during his freshman and sophomore seasons, when he was already contributing to Newingtonâ€™s varsity program on the mound and at the plate, helping lead the team to state tournament appearances, and would have been a cornerstone of a 2020 group that had big aspirations before the season was canceled entirely.
â€śIt was a long process starting back in my freshman year,â€ť Nackonechny said of his recruitment to SCSU. â€śBeing able to do that stuff early was a big advantage for me. Once I got in contact with them, I started emailing them and they got out to see me a lot more. I really liked the guys there.â€ť
Once Nackonechny was able to get out and see SCSU in person, his mind became made up. His initial visit to the campus came during his sophomore season, and while he didnâ€™t officially commit until last month, his initial experience of the program remained a tipping point for his ultimate decision.
â€śI really liked the atmosphere,â€ť Nackonechny said. â€śThe campus and all of that, it was awesome to see. The fact that it stuck with me through my junior and senior year says something.â€ť
It also helps to have some familiar faces waiting for Nackonechny when he does begin his collegiate career in the spring of 2022. A number of Owls played with Nackonechny in AAU, including pitcher Tommy Hughes, a Goodwin Tech graduate and bullpen arm for the Bristol Blues before the New Britain Bees this past summer. All of them helped Nackonechny with his path toward a college baseball career, and only reinforced his view of the program that originated on his campus visit two years ago.
â€śThere were a couple of other options, but I know a couple of guys who are still [at SCSU] right now, and theyâ€™re enjoying it,â€ť Nackonechny said. â€śI stayed in contact with them and picked their brain about the program.â€ť
Another bonus for Nackonechny was the short 30-minute drive to campus from his home in Newington, offering his role models a convenient way to continue following his baseball career.
â€śMy parents always watched me playing baseball growing up and my dad was such an inspiration to me,â€ť Nackonechny said. â€śGiving them the opportunity to see me play is going to be great.â€ť
Nackonechny and his parents hope there will still be one more chance to see him in a Newington uniform for his senior season this spring, as does head coach Ben Alaimo. It would be a premature ending to a high school career if Nackonechny was only able to play two seasons with Newington, but regardless of how many more games heâ€™ll play at the high school level, heâ€™s already made a lasting mark on the program, and will be the latest to move on to the next level.
â€śHe is a terrific baseball player, and one of the hardest and most focused workers I have had the pleasure of coaching,â€ť Alaimo said. â€śHe is our most experienced returning player and we will be relying on him a great deal this season forÂ both his skills and his leadership. He is a top pitcher and middle-of-the-lineup bat who also has a great glove. He is a tremendous athlete but most impressive is that he is a straight-A student and an absolute awesome person. He is going to be a real asset to the baseball team at Southern.â€ť