Comfortable surroundings, a solid academic foundation, the positive relationship with the coach and the opportunity to pitch as a freshman resulted in Jacob Ciccone’s collegiate decision.
The South Brunswick High School senior signed his national letter of intent to attend Lafayette College during a ceremony at his school’s cafeteria on Nov. 29. He had signed his official commitment papers the previous week.
After adding 35 pounds of muscle to his frame and a 12-6 curveball to his repertoire, Ciccone enjoyed a breakout junior season in 2018.
The left-hander struck out 55 and allowed five earned runs in 50 innings, a 0.70 earned run average.
His performance increased his visibility to Division 1 programs.
But Lafayette coach Joe Kinney started recruiting Ciccone even before that breakout year.
Ciccone also became sold on Lafayette’s academic culture when he visited the Easton, Pa., school a few weeks ago. The high school senior sat in on a college class, and liked the small class size. The average Lafayette class has between 13 and 25 students.
“Coach Kinney has been there for me. He’s the most upfront and honest guy I’ve met in my life. I’m proud to call him a coach. I know he’ll have my back in the next four years, which is a big reason why I chose Lafayette,” Ciccone said. “The class was a great experience because I got to really understand what classes were like at Lafayette. The class size is ideal. I can get in tune with my professor.”
Kinney promised Ciccone the chance to compete for a starting pitcher spot as a freshman in 2020. That was another big selling point for the Monmouth Junction native. He did not want to redshirt his freshman season.
“I want to compete for a spot on the team and start as a freshman. That’s my goal,” Ciccone said. “Most programs don’t give you that chance.”
Ciccone may already have the repertoire and mechanics of a college pitcher. His three pitches are an 87-88 mile per hour fastball, a consistent changeup and the 12-6 curve. He also throws the ball over the top of his head from a slow, deliberate motion.
The 12-6 curve, unlike the normal curve pitch, breaks in a downward motion in a straight line. Since the break of the pitch refers to the ball breaking from the number 12 to the number 6 on a clock, this type of pitch is referred as a 12-6 curve.
“I would say my game right now is better than it’s ever been,” Ciccone said. “Last year was my best year ever.”
Before his senior season opens in the spring, Ciccone hopes to add more lower body strength and three miles per hour to his fastball, getting it up to 90. Ciccone feels lower body strength is the key to driving through the zone and increasing his velocity.
He works out four times a week with a personal trainer, Connor Abreu, at Thunder’N’Lightning Performance in Hamilton. Abreu puts Ciccone through dead lifts, reverse lunges and sprints, all with the goal of increasing the senior’s lower body strength.
“I’m trying to master the weight room. Connor is trying to help me get stronger in the lower body,” Ciccone said. “Last year it was really weak.”
As a senior, Ciccone wants to stay healthy, first and foremost. He has a future to maintain. He also can’t help the Vikings from the bench.
“Yeah so that’s my No. 1 goal,” Ciccone said, laughing.
On the field, he revealed that he wants to pitch 60 innings, strike out 60 batters and maintain a 0.80 ERA. He also wants to help South Brunswick win the Greater Middlesex Conference and go deep in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament.
The Vikings lost to North Brunswick Township High School, 3-1, in the opening round of the Central Jersey, Group 4 tournament last year.
“I want to get above 50 innings because that means we’ll be in the state playoffs,” Ciccone said.
Ciccone will certainly head into his senior season with peace of mind. His college decision is made, and it makes sense on a baseball level and on an academic level. It also has the full support of his father, David Ciccone.
“I wasn’t focused just on D 1. I wanted him to find a place where he felt it was the right decision. We’re happy he picked Lafayette because of how good the school is academically,” said David Ciccone. “We’re really ecstatic and very proud of him.”