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Polk’s Capozzi finds home with Gardner-Webb baseball program

By Andy Rhinehart

A Polk County girls basketball victory in January helped lead to a life-changing moment in May for Wolverine baseball senior Nick Capozzi.

The Polk County standout officially accepted a preferred walk-on slot with Gardner-Webb, signing the required paperwork during a Wednesday ceremony at his home.

Capozzi will become the first Polk County graduate to compete at the Division I level since Joel Booker’s two-year stint at Iowa in 2015-16. Booker joined Polk County coaches in attending Capozzi’s signing ceremony.

“It means everything,” Capozzi said. “I worked my whole life for this, and I’ve had the support of my family and friends, and everyone just pushed me. Being surrounded by this community helped a lot.

“It’s nice to know that I’ll be able to go back out and play.”

A four-year varsity player, Capozzi posted a career batting average of .379 with seven home runs and 73 RBI. Co-holder of the school record for most hits in a game with five, he was on track to set the career record for hits before his senior season ended in March due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

By that point, though, Gardner-Webb was already interested in Capozzi. The attraction began during Polk County’s 66-11 girl’s basketball win over Pinnacle Christian Academy in early January. PCA’s head coach is Lindzey Chester, who happens to be married to Gardner-Webb head baseball coach Jim Chester, who happened to be at PCHS for the contest.

Wolverine head baseball coach Billy Alm learned Chester was in attendance, introduced himself and began to talk about his senior prospects. He showed Chester some film of Capozzi and the Bulldogs’ interest began.

“When (assistant coach Josh Money) and I took over, we started the weight program, the throwing program, and Nick was one of the ones that bought into it big time,” Alm said. “He worked his tail off and turned from a 120-pound freshman to a 180-pound senior who’s improved in every aspect of the game.

“He bought into our program and he’s been one of the leaders for the last three years. . . in the weight room, on the field, in the cage. We’re gonna surely miss him next year.”

Alm said Gardner-Webb coaches expect to place Capozzi on scholarship at the end of his first season – and Alm thinks that Capozzi will have no trouble earning that recognition.

“He’s got Division I talent,” Alm said. “He’s got plus speed, he’s got an above-average arm, hits for power, hits for average. As you go into college, you have that first fear, and once you get through that, he’s just going to take off.

“Division one division two, division three, we just want to put kids in college that want to go. To get as many kids as we can get into college and get them scholarships for baseball, that’s our goal as coaches.”

Having worked with Capozzi during his offseasons as a minor leaguer in the Chicago White Sox system, Booker also thinks Capozzi will fare well at the Division I level.

“I like to think back to whenever I was a senior, and just watching his swing, we probably have pretty much the same swing,” Booker said. “So it’s kind of easy to critique his swing and switch the little things with it. He doesn’t need to make big changes.

“Looking back, he’s probably better than I was fundamentally and with his swing. He knows what he’s doing with his swing and I didn’t whenever I was a senior in high school. I think he’s gonna transition well.”

Capozzi said GWU coaches have indicated he will likely play in the outfield, with perhaps some time in the middle infield. He is still pondering what major he’ll pursue, but is already certain of one thing – Nick Capozzi, Division I baseball player, has a sound as sweet as any swing.

“Definitely sounds good,” he said. “It’s nice to know that all the hard work’s paid off.”