The team was committed to rebuilding and that meant starting a lineup almost exclusively of sophomores and freshmen.
The team struggled in the regular season, winning just eight games and being the final team to qualify for the CIAC Class M state tournament.
Being forced to play in the qualifying round as the No. 34 seed, the young Cadets gave everyone a preview of what was to come.
They won their qualifying game, upset No. 2 Tolland in the opening round and made a run to the semifinals, where they lost to eventual champion Waterford.
The team improved to 13-7 in 2018, losing to Danbury in the FCIAC quarterfinals before making another run to the Class M semis, this time losing to eventual champion Seymour
Now, the Cadets are loaded with 12 seniors, many of whom are committed to Division-1 college programs.
This season, the Cadets are off to a 6-3 start and hoping to take it a step further and be playing for an FCIAC championship at Cubeta Stadium and state title at Palmer Field.
“It’s early in the year, but we do think that taking our lumps that one year has helped us long term,” St. Joseph coach Jim Chaves said. “We made a run in the state tournament last year. I know the seniors are very excited about this season. I am happy for them and looking to see what the rest of this season brings.”
The team won the last of its four state titles in 2013. They last won the FCIAC in 1998.
“Our goal is to always qualify for the FCIAC tournament,” Chaves said. “If you do this it means you have had a great regular season, which means you are in great position to host a state playoff game. We have made the state semifinals the last two years with a lot of these players. This year we hope to breakthrough. In order for this to happen, we will need to be selfless and fully commit to one another.”
Consistency will also help. The team is 3-2 in its last five games, alternating wins and losses.
“We need a couple more games like this,” senior centerfielder Stephen Paolini said after the Cadets defeated Westhill 18-2 Wednesday. “We need to get hot in the first inning and then keep adding on and adding on throughout the game.”
The seniors, along with a couple of junior starters, have helped produce 87 runs in nine games for St. Joseph.
“The seniors have a lot of experience,” Chaves said. “A lot of them are three- or four-year starters. When they see run-of-the-mill pitchers, they know what to do.”
Third baseman Charlie Pagliarini, committed to Fairfield University, is batting .483 with three home runs, a .931 slugging percentage, 10 RBIs and 13 runs.
Paolini, a leadoff hitter committed to Elon, is hitting .389 with two home runs, nine RBIs and 13 runs.
Jimmy Evans, batting third and playing left field, is headed to Tufts. He is batting .389 with a .500 slugging percentage, 12 RBIs and 10 runs scored. On the mound Evans has been elite with a 0.82 ERA, a 3-0 record and 28 strikeouts in 17 innings.
Pitcher and infielder Al Paolozzi, committed to Bentley, is hitting .286 while sporting a 2.49 ERA and 2-0 record.
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If Paolozzi can pitch like he did against Westhill, tossing his first complete game for a win, the Cadets know they will have one of the best 1-2 punches on the mound in the FCIAC.
“That was a great job by Paolozzi. That was the best I have seen Al throw in a year and a half,” Chaves said. “We have been easing the guys in with pitch counts and stuff but his pitch count today was pretty low. He was locating a couple of pitches, which was good to see. (Jim) Evans has been throwing well and if we get (Paolozzi) throwing well I think we will be pretty tough to beat.”
Scarily for opponents, the team has much more in senior stock than just those top players.
Catcher Aaron Kirby will be playing at Gettysburg and outfielder Luke Kirby is playing football and baseball at Gettysburg.
The team also has relief pitching among seniors like Michael Chaves, Jesse Bike and Sean Yankocy.
St. Joseph still has challenges ahead, with games remaining against Staples (10-1), Ludlowe (11-1), Ridgefield (-3) and Darien (7-4), but the Cadets are in position to finish strong thanks to their senior leadership.