VERONA, NJ - Offensively he leads the Verona Hillbillies baseball team and defensively as an outfielder he’s made some clutch catches to help his team win the game.  His consistency and commitment to just “doing his job” makes junior Nick Kozachuk the TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove Hillbilly Athlete of the Week.

“Nick leads the team with 24 hits and a .316 batting average.  He also leads the team with 21 stolen bases, not to mention he’s made a number of great catches in the outfield saving us many runs,” said Head Coach Joseph Phelan. “He always hustles and has great speed as a runner which has contributed to his success.  Most importantly Nick is a fine student and just a very nice young man. He doesn’t say much, just does his job and does it well. Perhaps most important, he has tremendous character and a great attitude.”

Currently 15-9, the young Verona squad has delivered a strong season, earning the No. 2 seed in the North 2 Group 2 State Tournament.  The Hillbillies defeated No. 15 Ridgefield Park on Monday and will host No. 7 Caldwell on Thursday.

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“We’ve had a strong season.  We maybe weren’t rated as high because we have a lot of young players, but our captains have served us well and I think we’re better than a lot of people thought we were going to be,” Kozachuk said.  “Our biggest strength is our perseverance. We’ve had some games where we’ve been down early and we’ve come back and been able to pull off the win.”

With a young roster, Kozachuk said adjusting to a varsity level of play has been a challenge for the team, but given the Hillbillies’ record its a challenge they overcame.  In addition to the team’s resilience, Kozachuk cites chemistry and everyone’s ability to “do their job” as keys to the team’s overall success.

“I think I’ve been good at playing my part -- whether it’s hitting, bunting or hitting the ball to the opposite side of the field to bring in a run.  When everyone plays their part we’re successful. I think that’s how we’ve been able to pull off those close wins -- everyone gets their job done,” Kozachuk said.  “Everyone on the team is really good friends and I think that’s helped us. When we’re losing, we keep each other strong and that support helps us fight back and win the game.”  

As they face Caldwell for the third time this year, Kozachuk is confident that he and his teammates with continue to get the job done, but he takes nothing for granted.  

“As a team we need to stay focused and not make any mistakes.  We’ve played them twice so far -- the first time we lost 4-3, the second we won 1-0.  Both times we’ve had our ace pitcher on the mound and so have they -- this time we’ll have our ace, but they won’t have theirs so it will be different and hopefully we can win by a bigger margin,” he said.    

TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove  is an online newspaper serving the Townships of Verona and Cedar Grove. TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove is accredited by the New Jersey Press Association, and is a locally owned news organization serving the community.

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