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Union Leader Athlete of the Month: Paolicelli's arm, bat led John Stark baseball to hot start

May 30—Anthony Paolicelli felt responsible.

Last NHIAA baseball season, the John Stark Regional player pitched poorly in the Generals' loss to St. Thomas Aquinas in the Division II quarterfinals. He felt overlooked for the division's player of the year honor, he said, and entered his senior year this season without a college commitment.

Filled with motivation in 2024, Paolicelli was more than a little responsible for John Stark's 7-0 start to the regular season. Paolicelli, a Henniker resident, went 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA on the mound over 17 2/3 April innings, allowing eight hits alongside 36 strikeouts. Paolicelli, who bats left and throws left, also batted .409 with six RBIs, five runs scored and two stolen bases from the No. 3 spot in the order.

Paolicelli's efforts to start his senior campaign earned him the April New Hampshire Union Leader Apple Therapy Services/Bedford Ambulatory Surgical Center/Express MED Athlete of the Month award from the Union Leader Board of Judges.

"I just kind of came out with a fire this year," said Paolicelli, 17.

Paolicelli, announced this week as the 2024 D-II Player of the Year, spent last offseason improving the velocity on his pitches. He created his own training regimen, which was his senior project for school. Thanks in part to hounding from Hunter Keim, his Generals co-captain, Paolicelli also put in considerable batting practice hours.

Paolicelli, who committed to Division II Franklin Pierce University earlier this spring, said he ended last season with his fastball topping out at 85 miles per hour. Through his offseason work, Paolicelli has improved that mark to 90 miles per hour, he said.

Paolicelli, who also said he has better location this season, throws both a four-seam and two-seam fastball, a curveball and a changeup, the last of which he added to his arsenal this year.

In John Stark's first test of the season, Paolicelli allowed no earned runs, two hits and no walks alongside nine strikeouts over five innings in a 5-1 win over Hanover on April 17. The Bears defeated John Stark twice last year.

Generals coach Dennis Pelletier said he felt that win over Hanover set the tone for top-seeded John Stark's 16-1 regular-season run. The Generals host Lebanon on Saturday in a state quarterfinal.

"John Grainger, the Hanover coach, was like, 'Man, (Paolicelli) throws a lot harder than he did last year.' That was his comment after that," Pelletier said. "That was probably (his) best outing in April from our standpoint."

In an unusual game, Paolicelli pitched the final three innings of the Generals' 1-0, 13-inning victory at Kingswood. The bout began on April 19 but gusty winds on a frigid Friday night forced a pause after the ninth inning.

When the teams picked the game back up one week later, Paolicelli took the mound in relief on three days' rest. He then held the Knights, who reached the D-II semifinals last spring, to one hit and two walks while striking out six.

Paolicelli also scored the game-winning run after his leadoff single in the 13th.

"I knew if I just brought the energy that game then we were going to win it," he said.

Paolicelli's hot start continued through the rest of the regular season.

He enters the tourney with an 8-0 record, 0.61 ERA and 103 strikeouts over 45 2/3 innings. Offensively, Paolicelli owns a .492 average with four home runs, 26 RBIs, 17 runs scored, seven walks and one strikeout.

"We knew he was going to have a good season, but he's just gone to another level this year," Pelletier said.

Other athletes considered for the April award were Manchester Central girls tennis player Emily Leclerc, Salem High School softball player Jenny Olson, Saint Anselm College softball player Haile Hicks, University of Dayton baseball player Keagan Calero, Colgate University men's lacrosse player Hunter Drouin, Bryant University men's lacrosse player Nathan Laliberte and Souhegan High School girls lacrosse player Libby Kennedy.

Leclerc, a senior, went undefeated at both No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles over a 3-5 start to the NHIAA Division I season for Central.

Olson, a senior, batted .643 (18-for-28) with 11 runs scored, 10 RBIs, three walks and eight stolen bases over a 5-3 start to the NHIAA Division I season for Salem.

Hicks, a senior right-handed pitcher from Jefferson, posted an 11-2 record and 3.39 ERA over 66 April innings for Division II Saint Anselm.

Calero, a graduate student from Rochester, batted .406 (26-for-64) with 14 runs scored, 10 RBIs, 10 walks and five stolen bases over an 11-4 April campaign for Division I Dayton.

Drouin, a sophomore midfielder from Derry, recorded 13 goals, six assists and seven ground balls for Division I Colgate over its final five games, including its 18-17 triple-overtime loss at Boston University in the Patriot League quarterfinals.

Laliberte, a senior faceoff specialist from Auburn, won 61 of the 106 faceoffs he took and scooped up 35 ground balls over Division I Bryant's 3-2 end to the season.

Kennedy, a freshman, registered 30 goals, seven assists and 26 draw controls over a 5-3 start to the NHIAA Division I season for Souhegan.

Previous 2024 winners: January, Zach James, Pelham (basketball); February, Anika Scott, Bedford (indoor track); March, Jackson Marshall, Hooksett (basketball).

To submit a nomination for future Athlete of the Month consideration, email the Union Leader Sports Department at sports@unionleader.com and enter "Athlete of the Month" in the subject line.