(Left) Cromwell High School's Zachary Zajac is headed to Wheaton College (Mass.) to play baseball. Zajac is pictured with CHS head coach Christian Budzik (far left) and parents Elena and Rob. (Right) Panthers baseball star Elias DeLeon will play college baseball at Mitchell College in New London. DeLeon is pictured with CHS head coach Christian Budzik (far left) and parents Sophia and Edwin.
Recent Cromwell High School graduates and star baseball players Elias DeLeon and Zachary Zajac will continue to play baseball at the next level.
DeLeon’s home base will remain in Connecticut.
“I am very excited to announce that I have committed to Mitchell College to further my academic and athletic career,” DeLeon announced on social media. “I would like to thank all my coaches, teammates, friends, and family for all of their support and guidance.”
The Mariners of Mitchell College have become a Division III powerhouse, making the NCAA tournament six times and winning an equal amount of New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) titles during 10 full seasons under head coach Travis Beausoleil.
“The coach was a big, big factor. He is a great guy and he showed a lot of interest in me. The facilities are good and I felt comfortable. It was really a vibe,” DeLeon said of his decision. “On top of that, the field was wonderful and all the academics really lined up with what I want to do. Overall it was the perfect fit and the perfect place for me.”
After narrowing it down from a half dozen schools, Zajac is headed to Massachusetts.
“I am very excited to announce that I have committed my academic and athletic career at Wheaton College,” Zajac announced. “Thank you to my parents, coaches, and friends that helped me throughout the process.”
The Lyons of Wheaton are coached by Eric Podbelski, who was named the American Baseball Coaches Association Region 1 Coach of the Year after guiding the team to a New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) championship during his 25th season at the helm this spring.
“Wheaton felt like the best campus and felt like home,” said Zajac.
Both departing players made immediate impacts on the field at CHS, playing on the Panthers varsity team since freshmen. They have also both played American Legion baseball for the Rocky Hill-Cromwell-Portland team during the summer months.
However, each has taken their own path to college baseball.
DeLeon served as a multi-tool player for the Panthers over the last four years, leading the team in hits and starring as a shortstop this spring.
CHS baseball coach Christian Budzik said DeLeon was a consistent force in the middle of the lineup and was clutch in big spots.
“He’s always going to get a big hit. He’s a kid that has a good approach at the plate and in the field we knew he was always going to make plays,” added Budzik. “Even as a freshman he knew his spot and he knew his role. The kids love him. The seniors loved him back then and the freshman love him now. He is going to do great [in college] and he’ll fit right in.”
DeLeon credited his Panthers teammates with shaping him into the player he is today, saying, “We had a really good bond; it’s been a really good experience.”
“The kids really bring a good environment here,” added DeLeon. “If you don’t have those people to support you throughout your time, it makes it more difficult and they did that for me here.”
In New London, he will major in criminal justice and is leaning towards a double major in business.
DeLeon added that he wants to join honors programs and focus on academics in college as he joins his Mariners teammates
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity,” said DeLeon. “It’s a new chance and a new experience to do different things and I get to play the sport I love. Hopefully I can have some good seasons and we can win some games and some championships.”
Zajac became an ace on the mound and added a ton of position versatility for Budzik over the years.
“He’s worked hard; he is a tough kid. He lets you coach him and he takes what you say and process it and use it,” said Budzik, who added Zajac’s mental make-up should allow him to succeed at the next level. “Baseball is a mental game and he is mature for his age. He will step right in and have no problem with the mental side of things. Baseball-wise he is talented enough to make an impact right away.”
Zajac has multiple interests outside of baseball, playing on the school’s ultimate Frisbee team and has a growing passion for golf. Outside of sports, he enjoys playing cards and working on cars.
He leaves Cromwell with a plethora of success, including a pair of memorable moments from the spring of 2021 that stood out as his favorite.
First there was his walk-off home run he hit against Old Lyme in the regular season and then there was his no-hit performance from the mound in the state tournament shutout of SMSA.
“I loved the environment at Cromwell. It’s a small town, small school, and we know everybody,” said Zajac, who will double major in business and English in college “Now I’m going to compete at Wheaton, one of the best division III schools out there for baseball. I really wanted to go to competitive school and I think I can thrive there. I just can’t wait to go.”
Zachary Zajac (left) and Elias DeLeon are both playing American Legion baseball for RCP and each are headed to play college baseball.
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin