"It's surreal. This might sound corny, but it's like the count is always 3-2 and you're one pitch away from winning the World Series. Every pitch is so important."
Eventually, the Explorers were able to head to the mound and congratulate Cuoci. But with only a hint of passion.
For one thing, the final score under perfect skies at Immaculata University wound up being 10-3, and Cuoci hardly earned no-no fame. For another, though the victory was La Salle's third of the Catholic League playoffs, the prize was not the crown.
This game against St. Joseph's Prep was the final in the winners' bracket of what, for the first time, is a double-elimination tournament. La Salle is assured of playing in what could be the championship game on Saturday, 11 a.m., at Widener University. The opponent will be the Prep or Archbishop Ryan, survivor of the losers' bracket with a win over Archbishop Wood. They'll meet Thursday, 3:45, at Immaculata. If La Salle stumbles Saturday, Part II, definitely for the title, will be played next Tuesday, 3:45, at Immaculata.
"This setup is something new," Cuoci said. "We don't mind it, because we've been taking care of business. Now we're itching to play on Saturday."
In the May 7 regular-season game vs. Roman Catholic, Joe Myers rocked Cuoci's world with a two-out single in the fifth.
This time "Cooch" faced the minimum 15 batters through five frames. Pat O'Dell did draw a one-out walk in the fourth, but immediately tried to steal, and catcher Nick Dermo's pinpoint throw said uh-uh.
The leadoff guy in the sixth was DH Alex Stewart. The lefty swinger worked the count full, then sent a ground-ball single to center.
"It was a fastball. Middle up," Cuoci said, channeling Phillies broadcaster Chris Wheeler. "It was special, taking one so deep into a playoff game. But that was it. It just became,'Get outs . . . Get outs.' "
Recording them did not prove to be a snap. The Hawks finished with six hits while notching two runs in the sixth (on Shane Williams' single) and one in the seventh (Colin Cunningham; same deal).
The game was pretty much devoid of drama by that juncture, however, seeing as how La Salle, ahead by 1-0 after 4 1/2, had hacked its way to four runs in the fifth and five more in the sixth.
From the third inning forward, meanwhile, Cuoci was still quite active during supposed down time. He'd experienced some pain in his upper right arm and could be spotted in the dugout uncorking all kinds of gyrations with and without the help of trainer Dave Crowe.
Once, as Crowe pushed, Cuoci wrapped his arm all the way around his left shoulder.
"I threw a fastball and felt a little pull," Cuoci said. "It was weird because in the first few innings, my velocity was better than it had been in a while. The pain was nothing major. A couple sharp ones, but not real bad. By the end of the game, it was going away."
Cuoci and first baseman Chris Melillo are La Salle's only two returning starters from the 2012 Class AAAA state champs. And in the regular season, the Explorers dropped two of three contests vs. the Prep.
"We've been counted out a few times," said Cuoci, a Doylestown resident. "But we're still here, and we'll be excited to face whoever's there Saturday."
Senior righty Tom Mullin, the coaches' Red Division MVP, lasted five innings for the Prep. AJ Grezeszak reached him for an RBI double in the fourth, while John Fabriziani (two-run single) and Pete Auteri (RBI on a booming triple to center) posted the big hits in the fifth.
Auteri also notched a two-run single in the sixth, while capping a 4-for-4, three-RBI outing. Fabriziani went 2-for-4 with three RBI, and Jimmy Herron managed a trio of infield singles.
"Hats off to all my teammates," Cuoci said. "They helped me in the field [no errors] and at the plate. Couldn't do it without them."
Down the road, he'll likely be doing his college thing for a Division I program.
"I'll put out my best effort at all times, and hopefully get my name out there," he said. "Then, we'll see where it goes."
One of these days, sans a hit, maybe all the way to 21.
High school coverage: www.philly.com/rally