Photo courtesy of Lafayette College
Pete Ciuffreda is the kind of player who thrives in the spotlight and has always had that “try to stop me” attitude we see more often on the football field.
The 6-1, 220-pounder would have made a heck of a high school linebacker. But Ciuffreda’s athletic inclinations led him to the baseball diamond where he welcomed every challenge with an energy that was simply impossible to match.
Ciuffreda played center field and drove in runs in big spots during an epic era of Hunterdon Central High School baseball. His teams won three sectional titles and went to the NJSIAA Group 4 final in 2017 and ‘18, winning the 2018 state championship. Ciuffreda, who had a huge clutch hit in his team’s Group 4 semifinal victory over Jackson Memorial at Rider University, was the heart soul of Hunterdon Central’s teams the past two springs.
That success would be difficult to duplicate at any level but Ciuffreda shouldn’t have any trouble matching the intensity he brought to the high school field at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. The freshman simply knows no other way of playing the game.
Ciuffreda, meanwhile, has discovered how difficult it can be to get on the field as a freshman at the Division 1 level. In fact, through the Leopards first six games the former Diamond Jack hadn’t gotten an opportunity on the field. That changed the past two weekends when head coach Joe Kinney began giving Ciuffreda a little taste of the college game.
It would be against Rider, in fact, that Ciuffreda would make his college debut on Feb. 26, going 0-for-1 in a pinch-hitting spot during Lafayette’s 10-1 loss. Three days later Kinney sent Ciuffreda to the mound to get the final four outs in a 16-0 blowout loss to Davidson. Ciuffreda entered as a pinch-hitter again in the final game of the Davidson series and reached base when he was hit by a pitch.
But it wouldn’t be until this past Friday against Towson University that Ciuffreda was given an opportunity to help his team in a big spot. Ciuffreda came to bat with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, a runner on second and Lafayette trailing 5-4.
“It was awesome to get in there and see that the coaches had the confidence in me to get the job done,” said Ciuffreda. “It was a big spot that reminded me of the Jackson Memorial hit in the state semifinals my junior year.” Ciuffreda had driven in the tying run against Jackson on a 2-1 pitch with two outs in the fourth inning. He then stole second and scored the go-ahead run on a single by David Cucci to give Hunterdon Central a 2-1 lead on the way to a 3-1 victory and a berth in the state final.
Against Towson’s righthander Jake Pecilunas, the lefty-hitting Ciuffreda fouled off some very good offerings to stay firm in a 1-2 count.
“My approach after reading the scouting report was to let the ball get deep and take it to the opposite field,” said Ciuffreda. “He was 60 percent slider/changeup, so I knew I was going to get a lot of junk on the outside corner. ”I knew I was not going down. I stayed composed. I knew I’d been in situations like that before. He proceeded to throw me a backdoor slider that I hit on a line through the six-hole.”
Mark Glover, who had doubled with two outs, scored from second with the tying run. Ciuffreda alertly took second as the throw home sailed over the cutoff man. “It was awesome to be a part of the comeback. It was a huge moment that I could show the team what I was capable of. Unfortunately we lost in the bottom of the ninth.”
Ciuffreda got a starting nod on Saturday at DH in the No. 7 slot in the batting order. He went 0-for-2 but had good at bats, reaching base on a walk and hit by pitch. Then the freshman came up as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning on Sunday and his team down 4-2 to Towson. This time two Lafayette runners were aboard with two outs. Ciuffreda very nearly tied the game again but his opposite field drive to the warning track in left field was hauled in
“I almost had the magic again,” he said.
Lafayette travels to Port Charlotte, Florida this weekend to play Georgetown in a three-game series beginning Friday night. It concludes the trip against national power Miami on Tuesday in Coral Gables.
“As a freshman, I understand completely that there is a four-year process in college,” said Ciuffreda, “and I am willing to do anything that’s asked of me to contribute to the team. Whether that’s pitching the seventh inning or DH’ing, or pinch-hitting, anything I can do I’ll give it my all.”
None of those words are new coming out of the mouth of Ciuffreda.
“Although our record is 4-10, we are excited for spring break and to play the three games against Georgetown and the one game at Miami,” said Ciuffreda.