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SIU-bound Rybarczyk regains confidence after return from injury

WHEATON – It took Nick Rybarczyk some time to find the position of catcher, but once he did, there was no leaving it.

The Addison Trail senior first played backstop in eighth grade. He quickly learned the position and grew into it. Rybarczyk has developed into a leader of the Blazers and will continue to play behind the plate at Southern Illinois.

“I was a shortstop all my life, but I started catching and started throwing guys out,” Rybarczyk said. “One of my coaches saw my arm and said gear up and throw down two [second base]. I threw some good balls down two and ever since then I’ve loved it.”

The 6-foor-3 Rybarczyk missed the first five games of this season with a knee injury and was limited to being a designated hitter for the next seven games upon his return. While Rybarczyk hits third and is an essential part of the Blazers’ offense, not playing defense while his injury continued to heal was difficult.

“It’s hard DH-ing because if you have a bad at-bat you’ve got to wait three more innings,” Rybarczyk said. “When I catch I get to throw a guy out. That’s why I feel so much better catching again. My swing comes back when I catch because I get confidence defensively and confidence offensively so it just comes together.”

Being a designated hitter required patience, and that’s something he’s needed plenty of when hitting. He had 14 walks in 17 games entering Thursday’s game at Oak Park-River Forest.

Despite opposing pitchers hesitating to give Rybarczyk much to hit, he still has been a quality run producer with 14 RBIs and 12 runs scored.

“He’s swinging the bat well and being our team leader,” AT coach Steve Gilliam said. “He’s throwing guys out and he’s doing a great job behind the plate.”

The young Blazers have a 5-7 record in the West Suburban Gold entering this weekend’s series against Hinsdale South. Rybarczyk wants to end his AT career with a bang, but is looking forward to throwing more runners out for the Salukis next year.

“I’m really pumped up to go there,” Rybarczyk said. “Obviously I want to end on a good note here, but I’m really looking forward to my future and to playing some Division I baseball.”

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