JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville University closer Chris Mauloni is expecting an encore performance in 2019.
Last season, Mauloni went from unknown to the nations leading relief pitcher in short order, leading the nation in saves. Those stats and his cool demeanor on the mound earned the Oakleaf High School alum a spot on the National Collegiate Baseball Writer's Association first-team All-America squad. It's an honor Mauloni was not expecting.
"Going into the year, I was thinking, 'OK, I have to get my body right and to get my mind right, gotta keep the same mindset as last year and bring it into this year,'" Mauloni said.
JU head coach Chris Hayes now refers to Mauloni as the "tip of the sword" in the Dolphins' reemergence onto the national stage. Mauloni's emergence was sudden and undeniable. When last season began, Hayes wasn't sure who his closer would be. Mauloni admits to getting very nervous in the bullpen. But in the first series of the season against West Virginia, he got the call in the rubber game of the three-game series. With the Dolphins leading 2-1 to start the seventh inning, Hayes put Mauloni in. All the freshman did in his debut was retire nine straight batters to clinch the series victory for the Dolphins with the first of his 20 saves.
"Probably the most dominant three-inning performance I've ever seen," Hayes said. "In the ninth, it was very comfortable in a 2-1 ballgame against a Big 12 team. He has a way of tapping into what he can do best when the game is on the line."
While JU enjoyed some success last year, beating then-No. 1 ranked Florida and earning a spot in the top 25 for the first time since 1997. This season, Mauloni is expecting more from the Dolphins.
"Throughout my recruiting process, JU has been growing and getting better," Mauloni said. "We have a bunch of guys who came in in the fall and you can tell right away their competitive natures. You can tell, they are animals. They are ready to compete."
Mauloni and Hayes share a common experience. Both played their high school baseball in Jacksonville, Mauloni at Oakleaf and Hayes at Englewood. Both know how rewarding it can be to star for a college team in your hometown.
"It's why guys stay here. It's why guys want to be a part of this program," Hayes said. "To come and perform at the highest level on a national stage and do it in front of your family, your friends, it's a great situation at JU."
The Dolphins open the season Feb. 15 at home with a three-game series against Indiana State, followed by a matchup with Florida State on Feb. 19.