With Cuoci, a 6-3, 195-pound sophomore, playing strong shortstop for six innings, going 1-for-2 with a pair of walks and one RBI, then firing his way to a 1-2-3 save, La Salle bested Hatboro-Horsham, 7-5, on Monday at Spring-Ford High, in Royersford.
The triumph earned the Explorers a spot in Friday's 1 p.m. championship game, vs. District 1's Council Rock South, at Penn State's Medlar Field at Lubano Park.
Cuoci was drilled in the third inning Friday. Although he did tough out a five-inning stint in what became a win over Central Dauphin, he was displaying a noticeable limp and looked mostly forlorn thereafter while sitting on the bench with a bag of ice on his foot.
"I'd hurt my ankle on the same foot in practice on Wednesday, so I was pretty worried after this happened," Cuoci said. "When you're going through the game, you don't really think too much about it. Then you're sitting there and it all hits you. Is it broken? Could this be it? Will I be able to keep playing?
“I mean, you have to be scared. You're thinking, ‘I've played all year with these guys, and we've had some great times, and it's going to end for me like this?'?"
"Cootchie" (that's how his last name is pronounced) then got comfy.
"The next day, I sat on a reclining chair for about 8 hours," he said. "I had my foot up and kept icing it. And I was taking Tylenol every 3 to 3?1/2 hours. All you can do is hope for the best, especially with a state semifinal coming next. No way you want to miss that."
Cuoci worked out at shortstop Sunday and, hey, things went pretty darn well. He made the plays and the pain refrained from reaching off-the-charts status.
In Monday's game, in a five-run third that could have been worse, Cuoci ranged deep into the hole and used his gun to record an out at first base. He also showed quick movements on a sixth-inning grounder.
"It was throbbing the whole game," he said. "You just play."
La Salle scored the game's first two runs on P.J. Acierno's second-inning single to right center. After the Hatters exploded for their five-spot, La Salle responded with four in the fourth. Acierno again was the headliner with a two-run triple over the leftfielder's head. Colin Pyne posted an RBI single in that rally and Acierno scored on a wild pitch.
Cuoci contributed a single in the first and a walk in the fourth, and scored both times.
You want more offensive heroics? So did he. OK, so he didn't smash one into an alley, but he did draw a five-pitch walk in the sixth and since the bases were loaded on Corey Baiada's single and free passes to Mike Piscopo (intentional) and Pyne (not), you know what that means. Ribbie time!
That half-inning proved to be quite hectic.
"When I came in from shortstop, the coaches told me, ‘We're going to need you to close,' " said Cuoci, a Doylestown resident. "So I went down to the bullpen and got in a quick 10 pitches, maybe, then came in to hit.
“I felt good on the mound. There was a little bit of a [landing] hole out there, so my foot was getting jarred some, but?…?No problem."
Kevin Long, a senior righty, pitched the first six innings. He allowed eight hits (all in the third/sixth innings) and walked six while whiffing a half-dozen. In his last frame, he helped himself immensely with a pickoff at first base.
Acierno finished 2-for-4 with the triple and four RBI. In all, the Explorers managed seven safeties. Four of the run-scorers reached base via walks/HBP.
One was Dom Cuoci. The guy with the not-too-damaged left foot. n
Contact Ted Silary at firstname.lastname@example.org. High school sports online at www.philly.com/rally