Baseball is a team game and Nick Czarnecki is a team player. Just try to get him to talk about himself instead of his team.
“Personally, I haven’t set goals for myself this spring,” says Czarnecki, an outfielder for perennial power Hunterdon Central, “other than doing the best I can to help my team make a run at a state championship. Winning a state championship is always our goal.”
Czarnecki, a longtime Diamond Jack and a member of the Super 17U squad this summer, is an outfielder by trade but a team-first player by nature. The Hunterdon Central coaching staff learned quickly Czarnecki would jump into any role that benefitted the team.
Hunterdon Central had a need at first base early in the 2018 season and asked the freshman Czarnecki to take reps at the position with the junior varsity squad. It didn’t take long before Czarnecki was pulled up to the varsity.
“I hadn’t played first base since I was 12,” says Czarnecki, who bats and throws left-handed. “It was very confusing at first and I didn’t realize all of the responsibilities at the position. But the seniors that year helped me out a lot and I learned the position. I became confident and comfortable.”
Czarnecki was called up to the varsity 10 games into the season and never looked uncomfortable at the position, so comfortable that he remained with the varsity as it made a memorable run to the NJSIAA Group 4 championship.
The 5-11, 175-pound Czarnecki returned to first base last spring with two seniors and a junior manning the Hunterdon Central outfield. Czarnecki delivered for coach Kevin Cuozzi with a strong sophomore campaign that included a .377 batting average, 17 RBI and eight extra-base hits.
That performance and Czarnecki’s impressive summer with the Diamond Jacks Super 16U team was noticed by Monmouth University, which began carefully following the rising junior.
“They saw me at a tournament at Diamond Nation and (Monmouth assistant) coach (Josh) Epstein called me after,” says Czarnecki. “They followed me through the summer and into the fall and invited me to a camp at the school in January.”
Czarnecki had a great camp and, a couple weeks later, made a visit to the school’s attractive campus in West Long Branch. “They offered me after the visit,” said Czarnecki. “I really liked the campus and the baseball facilities. They have a plan to put in a turf field. I got to see the weight room and their indoor facility. I also met a couple players.”
Czarnecki’s experience at Monmouth stuck with him until he came to a firm decision this week. “I called (assistant) coach (Chris) Collazo on Tuesday and told him I was committing. Then coach Ehehalt reached out.” Dean Ehehalt is in his 28th season at Monmouth and picked up career victory No. 700 on March 9. Ehehalt is a frequent clinician at Diamond Nation’s summer camps.
“I was excited to commit and relieved that the recruiting thing was over,” says Czarnecki.” He had also spoken to such schools as Stony Brook, Radford and Binghamton during the past year.
Monmouth gets that team player we spoke of and a player who has shown a depth of ability at multi positions and one who has already exhibited comfort in high-pressure situations.
Czarnecki, for example, delivered a clutch game-tying RBI single against fellow Diamond Jack Truman Richter and scored the go-ahead run as Hunterdon Central nipped Voorhees, 2-1, in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament quarterfinals last April.
“I’m really excited for Nick,” says Cuozzi. “He has worked really hard to put himself in position to play at the Division 1 level. He’s been the type of player for us that has been willing to do whatever it takes to make the team better. He’s proven his versatility by playing first base for two seasons while waiting for his opportunity to move back to the outfield.”
Cuozzi also values Czarnecki’s bat.
“His versatility combined with his fluid and natural left-handed swing have been strengths for the Hunterdon Central program,” says Cuozzi. “I believe both will help him contribute to the program at Monmouth.”
Czarnecki has always exhibited maturity on the field that always placed him ahead of schedule as his skill level continued to race ahead as well.
“Nick might have made the biggest strides in his development from freshman to sophomore year in our program,” said Steve DiTrolio, Czarnecki’s Diamond Jacks Super 16U coach. “He’s always in the cages getting in extra swings and improving his skill set. But what I am most proud of is his maturity. He really has grown into his potential and that is all we can ask for as coaches. He is going to be a really good college baseball player and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.”
Czarnecki is busy preparing for a spring season that remains in question with the COVID-19 pandemic putting his junior season in jeopardy.
“I have a gym in my basement, so I’ve been working out there,” he says. “And I always have a cage in my yard. My dad has been throwing to me so I can hit.”
Czarnecki remains hopeful he and his Hunterdon Central teammates will get back on the field this spring.
“I believe we can be really good,” he says. “We’re a young team and that may make it tough to get off to a great start, but we have a chance to make a run. The pitching is there.”
Czarnecki has been the underclassmen the past two seasons, following the lead of the seniors and juniors. Now he’s a junior on a perennial power in transition. He brings the experience of playing on a state championship team as a freshman and playing in many big games as a sophomore.
“It’s going to be different,” Czarnecki says of a team that had made final cuts right before the season was put on hold. “We have a lot of first-year varsity players, so it will be interesting.”
God willing, we’ll get to see that intrigue play out and Czarnecki’s continued development on the diamond.