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Freshman pitcher finds balance in baseball

Freshman Joe Cavallaro’s ERA of 2.66 is second only to ace Jimmy Herget, who has an ERA of 2.65.

For USF pitcher Joe Cavallaro, incorporating balance on the mound — and off it — has been ingrained in him since childhood.

As a multisport athlete, Cavallaro balanced both baseball and basketball until he fully committed to America’s pastime in college. 

At 9 years old, he’d enjoy 15-minute car rides from Auburndale to Winter Haven to play in baseball and basketball tournaments.

Other weekends, the rides back and forth were much longer.

“You had to drive an hour across to get to the next game and come back and play the next one,” Cavallaro recalled. “You’re a little kid. You just want to keep playing something. Those drives were always exciting.”

As the youngest of three, Cavallaro knew he wanted to pursue baseball when he began playing T-ball.

“My family is basically basketball-oriented,” he said.

His sister Juliana plays basketball at the University of Tampa, and his brother Stefano played in high school.

His father Steven coaches basketball at Sarasota High School, where Cavallaro played during his sophomore and senior seasons.

“There’s nothing like it,” Cavallaro said of playing for his dad. “He’s definitely not going to take it easy on you. He’s going to push you to be the best you can be. I was extremely blessed to play for him.”

As a point guard, Cavallaro was the team captain and named MVP his senior season. 

As a right-handed pitcher, he boasted a 6-1 record with a 1.06 ERA that year. 

“I like being on the mound with all eyes on you,” Cavallaro said. “You’re in control of the game. It’s just a fun feeling. I like to compete. It fits me well.”

Cavallaro began honing his skills at 10 years old when he started playing AAU baseball under coach Mark Guthrie. He played four years for Guthrie, who taught him how to throw to corners and command the strike zone.

“I used to be able to just throw strikes,” Cavallaro said. “It didn’t matter where it was. I didn’t really have the best stuff when I was younger, but I definitely knew how to compete and how to pitch to get people out.”

Now, the 6-foot-5, 200-pound pitcher sports a sinker, slider, circle-change and four-seam fastball in his arsenal. 

Cavallaro committed to USF his junior year when former coach Lelo Prado recruited him.

“He saw me throw in high school maybe once, and he offered me that weekend,” Cavallaro said. “He showed a lot of confidence in me.”

Even with Prado now gone, the coaching staff still has faith in the freshman. New USF coach Mark Kingston showed his confidence in Cavallaro early this season. 

In USF’s season-opener Feb. 13 against No. 17 Cal State Fullerton, Kingston called Cavallaro from the bullpen to relieve Jimmy Herget. 

The freshman tossed two shutout innings to earn his first win.

“We started the season with him out of the bullpen,” Kingston said. “He slowly worked his way into a bigger role.”

Cavallaro (3-1) has started six games thus far for the Bulls (26-14-1, 8-4) and currently holds a 2.66 ERA through 40 2/3 innings.

With 15 games remaining in the regular season, Cavallaro said he still gets nervous before every game.

“I embrace my nerves,” he said. “I don’t really shy away from them. I like being nervous. I like it because it makes you get focused a little more.”

To improve his game, he said he’s focusing on “trying to stay back and incorporate more legs into pitches, so it’s not so much stress on (his) arm.” 

His velocity could also use improvement, Kingston said.

“The reason he has success is because he has good movement on his fastball,” Kingston said. “He doesn’t throw for great velocity yet. I think his velocity will continue to improve, but right now, he gets by on fastball movement.”

In his first year of college, Cavallaro has had to adjust to a new team with a new coaching staff, but he still carries an old mentality: balance. 

“It’s your first time being on your own,” Cavallaro said. “You have to learn how to take care of your body, you have to run, you have to get sleep, plus you have to stay on top of your classes and there’s traveling involved. It’s a lot more than just having to drive 15 minutes to go see another high school.”