Freshman File: Alex Klonowski

By Andrew Singer

When Alex Klonowski jogged in from the bullpen on March 4 in the third inning against Arizona State, NIU head coach Ed Mathey had two words for him: Have fun.

The freshman reliever on the NIU baseball team was faced with the daunting task of going up against the 10th-ranked team in the nation in only his second collegiate appearance.

“I just took everything in and zoned out everything except the catcher’s mitt,” Klonowski said.

The first batter Klonowski faced doubled to right center, scoring ASU’s Deven Marrero, who was put on by NIU starter Jake Hermsen. Klonowski would allow another Hermsen-credited run to score before settling down and getting out of the inning.

The right-hander went on to pitch the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. While giving up three earned runs over 3.2 innings, Klonowski gave NIU a chance to come back in the game.

“We brought him into a tough environment, but he’s a strike-thrower and a competitor,” Mathey said. “He showed he’s not afraid back there, and that’s a big thing coming out of the bullpen.”

A three-run outburst by the Huskies in the sixth inning gave NIU a 9-6 advantage. Had the lead held up, Klonowski would have been in line for a win.

While Klonowski’s performance may have surprised some of the fans at Surprise Stadium, it didn’t catch senior reliever Tom Zelasko off guard.

“He isn’t afraid of anybody,” Zelasko said. “Right now, he definitely isn’t pitching like a freshman. He comes in with a different mindset, and it has been really good for the team.”

A fastball and slider highlight Klonowski’s arsenal. His fastball doesn’t have the high-end velocity that brings the scouts running, but it has enough movement to get swinging strikes. Klonowski used to refer to his second pitch as his “slip pitch.” Essentially a slow-moving curveball, the freshman quickly found out his breaking ball needed some work to be effective at the college level.

“We’ve been working with him to get his velocity up on that pitch,” Mathey said. “It’s becoming more of a slider than it is a breaking ball. He has some good arm speed, and it comes from the same arm slot so it has some deception to it.”

Going from pitching complete games on a regular basis in high school to being used sparingly at the college level, Klonowski has used his teammates as a support system.

“It has definitely been different; the competition at this level is a lot better,” Klonowski said. “But the guys have been great. They have really helped me out a lot in the adjustment.”