Paladino, Cuccio carry Lions offense in Florida

The Emerson men’s baseball team opened its season over spring break with nine games in the Orlando, Florida area. The team failed to replicate its impressive 7-2 record from last year, as they came away with a 3-6 trip down south.

Sophomore infielders Joe Paladino and Joe Cuccio paced the Lions’ offense and surpassed their hit totals from their freshmen campaigns during the trip. Both felt their improved confidence heading into this year helped them start off strong, in thanks to new “mind coach” Jake Chaplin.

“I think that the confidence all stems from my mental approach,” Paladino said. “We got a new mind coach who told us to trust ourselves. And my dad’s big on that, as it takes being confident in ourselves and feeling like we’re the best player on the field at all times, and I really took that to heart. I try to use that mentality all the time, when I’m on the field and when I’m up to bat.”

Chaplin is a graduate student at the Boston University School of Education, specifically studying sports psychology. He had been an assistant coach for New York University (2015-2017) and Haverford College (2013-2015), after playing professional ball in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.

Cuccio said he agrees that the athletics program bringing on Chaplin played a big part in his success so far, as his newfound confidence has made him a better ballplayer.

“Baseball has become a really fun thing for me and it never has been before because I’ve always been pressing and stressing about the situation, but now it’s more about focussing on the process,” Cuccio said. “Our mind coach came in and really helped me with my mental approach. He’s helped me focus on every single pitch and keep out the outside noise. He’s kept us remembering that we’re there to not only win games but to really enjoy what we’re doing.”

Last year, the two sophomores combined to go 7-for-47 (.149), but they went 16-for-45 (.356) to start out this season.

The pair proved they can suffice as a serviceable tandem in the middle of the Lions’ lineup.

“I changed my hitting approach a lot [ahead of this season] and worked on getting a lot stronger this offseason,” Paladino said. “I knew what I needed to work on hitting-wise and fielding-wise.”

Playing time set the players apart last season. Paladino appeared in 20 of 29 games, mostly as a defensive replacement in the field. Cuccio appeared in 10 games last year with a mere 11 at-bats, which was in part to the platoon over at first base of Connor Damiano and Danny Johnson—both graduated last spring and were mainstays in the middle of the Lions’ lineup.

“I think that [Damiano] and [Johnson] really paved a good path for me at first base,” Cuccio said. “Both were great guys and I loved playing with them, as they always played hard.”

Cuccio added that Damiano and Johnson were polar opposites in their style of play.

“[Damiano] played the game really relaxed and helped me make baseball fun again for myself when I came into my freshman year with a lot of stress … keeping me humble,” Cuccio said. “[Johnson], on the other hand, was a very, very aggressive-minded guy, who loved to always go hard in every aspect of life, mostly due to him playing football most of his life.”

Paladino divided his time between second base and shortstop while down in Florida for the Lions, with Paladino starting the final two games against Saint Joseph’s College of Maine at shortstop. Going into the 2018 campaign, the Lions had big shoes to fill over at shortstop with the loss of four-year starter Mitch Moormann, who was a career .302 hitter at Emerson with 114 hits over four seasons, along with earning Male Athlete of the Year last year.

“Obviously when Mitch [Moormann] graduated, I thought a lot about having to step up and fill his roles on the team [offensively and defensively],” Paladino said. “However, since then, I haven’t really thought about it that much. I feel like I’ve done a good job flushing out last season and focusing on my game.”

Though the two would have wanted to win more than three games in Florida, Cuccio said his head hangs high. He said he took a lot away from their Florida trip heading back up north.

“The team is looking a lot better than ever before and I think that the competition that we played this year was a lot more compatible to [New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference] competition,” Cuccio said. “These were teams that we should be competing with and we competed, so that makes me think [the team] could really do something this year.”

The Lions will play their first game in New England on Sunday against Rivier University at St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers. First pitch will be 12:00 p.m.

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