Sports Person of the Week
Ciocca Leads the Way for Guilford AAU Baseball
Jake Ciocca had an All-Division sophomore season for the Guilford High School baseball team this spring and then made his mark out of the leadoff spot for the town’s AAU club during the summer. (Photo by Nick Greene/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Every team needs a leading man and, in Jake Ciocca, Guilford has exactly that on the baseball field.
Fresh off a breakout sophomore season in high school, Jake spent his summer competing on the AAU circuit with the Guilford 19-U baseball team. Jake posted a .302 batting average with a .413 on-base percentage as a sophomore, while playing second base in his first year as a varsity starter for the Indians. He earned All-SCC Housatonic Division honors by virtue of his performance.
Jake carried that momentum into that summer, where he helped the Guilford put together a solid season that culminated with an appearance in the semifinals of the East Shore Travel League Playoffs.
“Jake is a fun kid to coach. I’m excited to watch him develop through high school and become a leader in the middle infield,” Braves’ Head Coach Ryan Brockett says. “He has a chance to be a really nice college player.”
Jake will be chasing his goal of playing in college throughout the next two years. The experience of competing for a 19-U team as a 16 year-old gave Jake a little taste of what competition is like at a higher level.
“It gives me a lot confidence, because you are playing really good college players who are getting ready for their seasons coming up,” says Jake. “It feels good facing good pitchers and getting hits.”
Jake elevated his game by learning the nuances of hitting, while refining his approach in the batter’s box throughout the past year. With the Guilford AAU team, Jake batted out of the leadoff spot in the order—a stark contrast to when hit he hit ninth for the high school squad.
“It takes some getting used to,” says Jake of hitting leadoff. “You’re the first guy to see [the pitcher]. He is pumping gas, throwing all he has at you. It is definitely hard, but it was good getting used to it.”
Jake will be ready if he’s asked to move up the leadoff slot for the high school team as a junior. Coach Brockett believes that Jake has the physical tools, as well as mental makeup, to set the right tone at the top of the Indians’ order.
“Offensively, Jake is a weapon,” Brockett says. “He rarely gets outside of the strike zone, he works counts, and finds his way on base, whether it’s a base hit or a walk.”
Jake has a great deal of self-awareness when it comes to his abilities. Jake understands his role, along with his physical strengths and limitations, and knows how to use them to benefit both himself and his teams.
“I’m working on getting stronger. Not so much power, because I’m never going to be a power hitter,” says Jake. “I just need to get stronger, build the upper body, and focus on going the other way, because that is what I do best.”
As a surehanded middle infielder who can make the difficult play look routine, Jake understands the importance of putting the baseball in play. In today’s game, where there is so much emphasis on hitting the long ball, Jake is taking a different stance.
Jake says that his hitting improved this year thanks in large part to some great coaching. By doing drills that focused on his mental approach and hand speed through the zone, as opposed to launch angles or blasts to the outfield gaps, Jake progressed from a defensive-minded second baseman into a threat at the plate.
“My hitting definitely came around more than I expected. I wasn’t expected to hit as well as I did, but my fielding was as expected,” Jake says. “I’ve always been a pretty good fielder, but this year, my strong suit was definitely hitting.”
While hitters go through ups and downs throughout a season, Jake can always hang his hat on his defensive skills. Jake gives a lot of credit to his older brother PJ, who regularly works with him on the infield.
“He just rips ground balls at me,” says Jake. “Trying to get me to work in the hole, backhands, anything that helps.”
Jake also uses those quick hands as a member of the Guilford boys’ basketball team. A point guard, Jake spent most of his sophomore year on the JV team, although he did see some varsity time during the latter stages of the campaign. He’s hoping to earn a starting spot in his junior season.
Jake also has something that he wants to accomplish on the baseball diamond before his high school career is finished.
“My goal is to make All-State by the end of my high school career,” he says.