After joining the varsity baseball team as a freshman, River Hill left-hander Henry Zatkowski stepped into a much larger role his sophomore season.
As the Hawks’ ace, he played an integral part in the team capturing the program’s first Howard County championship since 2016. Named the 2022 Howard County Times Pitcher of the Year, Zatkowski finished the season with a 5-0 record and 0.62 ERA while striking out 44 batters in 35 innings.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound left-hander has extended his success from the high school season into summer baseball, playing for the Indiana Prospects. Zatkowski announced his commitment to Duke on Saturday evening, a few hours after receiving the offer from pitching coach Brady Kirkpatrick and coach Chris Pollard.
“It’s crazy,” Zatkowski said of his commitment. “I get to play for a great baseball program, but also getting a great education as well. It’s just amazing how I worked pretty hard to get to this and I’m excited to get started working there.”
The Blue Devils have advanced to the NCAA Tournament in four of the past seven seasons and won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 2021. They went 22-32 overall and 10-20 in the ACC last season.
“It’s my first time that a kid I’ve coached has been recruited,” River Hill coach Craig Estrin said. “Being a little bit older than most of the coaches in the county, it was like hearing the news that someone was having a baby. I talked to Henry that night, and when he told me about it I got goosebumps. I was just so thrilled for him and his family. They’ve done everything right this whole entire process.”
The Blue Devils were involved early in Zatkowski’s recruitment as one of the few schools that attended both his high school and travel games. After the Blue Devils’ recruiting coach left for a different school, Zatkowski wasn’t sure if they would still be interested in him. However, his doubts were swept aside when Duke staff members watched him pitch against Marriotts Ridge on May 2. Despite the immense pressure against a county rival, Zatkowski pitched a complete game, striking out 10 in the victory.
“Coach Estrin told me that Duke was going to be at one of my games and I was completely in shock,” Zatkowski said. “I knew I had to do really well to impress him because it’s really hard to get a coach to come to your high school games. My parents helped me out a lot and my brother [Will] was actually catching that game. He just said, ‘Do what you do, stay calm and don’t try to overthrow it because he’s holding up a radar gun. Try your best and everything will work out.’”
That composure in a pressure-packed situation was nothing new for Zatkowski. During the Hawks’ big regular season and playoff games, Estrin knew exactly who to go to on the mound.
“I think it’s a credit to his personality,” Estrin said. “He’s a pretty carefree fun kid and this suits him well. Nothing seems to bother him. I’ve been around him all last year and a little bit during JV his freshman season where I had him for a few times. I’ve never seen the kid have a bad outing even in the toughest outings that he’s had. Our playoff game with Reservoir he pitched on two days rest. When he left it was 3-3, so he kept us in the game.”
Now entering his junior season, Zatkowski is hoping to build on the Hawks’ success while improving his changeup to generate more swings and misses.