There’s a runner on third with two outs in the fifth inning. Quinnipiac trails Central Connecticut State 3-1 in the second game of a doubleheader. Jordan Paolucci steps up to the plate.
“The team needed a run,” Paolucci said. “So I was focusing and channeling everything I had into getting that one run across the plate.”
Paolucci works the count full and on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, she lets it rip over the fence for a two-run home run, starting a rally that continued into the sixth inning, as the Bobcats won 8-3.
“You can’t miss too much,” Paolucci said. “I’ll make you pay.”
It’s what she’s done her entire freshman season.
Before Tuesday’s action, Paolucci led the Northeast Conference with 10 home runs and has quickly emerged as one of the team’s offensive leaders this season. The Bobcats have a .621 winning percentage when she is the cleanup hitter in the lineup, compared to the 7-9 record when she is not.
“We knew coming into the recruiting process we needed someone who could fill that role in a more traditional way,” Quinnipiac head coach Germaine Fairchild said. “In the past we’ve had more contact hitters or high average kids there, not necessarily the power, so it’s huge to have the presence of someone her size and with her attitude toward hitting in the middle of the order. It’s made a big difference.”
She leads the team in nine offensive categories, including slugging percentage (.617), on-base percentage (.456), runs scored (29), runs batted in (24) and walks (21). Her seven stolen bases place her second on the team, and she is third in batting average (.304).
Paolucci attributes her offensive firepower to the coaching staff.
“The coaches have been nothing but supportive. They’ve helped me in everything,” Paolucci said. “I’ve never hit 10 home runs in softball, and with just a few months with ‘Coach G’ I’ve busted 10 right off the bat.”
Her past experience – not just softball – has also helped her. As a senior at Lake Mary High School, Paolucci was Florida’s runner-up for weightlifting, and was named Weightlifter of the Year in 2010.
“Powerlifting in high school started out as more of a get in shape type of thing to keep me conditioned and strong for softball, but it turned into a lot more,” Paolucci said. “There’s a couple of home runs I’ve mis-hit on the handle, and just because I’m strong from powerlifting I’ve been able to send them out.”
Paolucci started off slow, hitting .200 through her first 21 games, but found eventually found her stroke. In her next 16 games, she hit .489 with six home runs and 13 RBIs.
“She has improved tremendously as a player over the year,” senior captain Joelle Jacobsen said. “I think at the beginning of the year, she had a little bit of a difficult time making an adjustment to college.”
Paolucci struggled with her timing early on, but once she got it down, she found her rhythm.
“I got a lot more confident,” Paolucci said. “I was a lot more comfortable. Hitting is an attitude for me and I just kept saying to myself, ‘This pitcher is not going to get me out,’ and I put my best swings on balls, and it’s worked.”
More important, though, may be her intangibles.
Paolucci was a catcher and first baseman in high school, but at Quinnipiac, she’s played everywhere. Of her 42 starts, nine of them have been behind the plate, five at first base, five at third base, two in left field, three in right field, and 17 as a designated player.
“I’ve always been a big proponent of players being as versatile as they possibly can. The more versatile a player is, the more benefit they are to a team,” Fairchild said. “Jordan has the ability to not just play the positions, but play the positions at this level, and there’s a big difference between the two.”
Versatility doesn’t necessarily mean softball, either.
Quinnipiac’s volleyball team had eight available players in its weekend matches against St. Francis (N.Y.) and CCSU in mid-November before three softball players, including Paolucci, stepped up.
“They didn’t have enough time to have a tryout, so Coach (Robin Lamott) Sparks researched athletes here that were eligible and played volleyball before,” Paolucci said. “I played it pretty competitively in a couple of high-performance international leagues, so it was pretty big.”
Paolucci played in two sets and recorded two kills. “It was great,” she said.
Both her versatility and her vocal presence both set her up to be a team leader for the rest of her collegiate career.
“Jordan’s very vocal and has a big personality, which sets her up well to be followed,” Fairchild said. “I definitely see her being a leader both on the field and off for us as her career unfolds.”
Photo credit: Matt Eisenberg