La Salle High & Cuoci not wasting second chance

Posted: June 04, 2014

IT WAS MID-MAY and Dom Cuoci's distinguished baseball career at La Salle College High was all but over.

Slowed by late-season back problems, the 6-3, 210-pound righthander could only sit inside his Doylestown home and watch television, ice packs affixed to his body, as the Catholic League playoffs went on without him.

After the Explorers lost to Ss. Neumann-Goretti in the CL losers bracket on May 17, the only chance for a state-title run was contingent on the Saints defeating Roman Catholic in the CL title game.

So, when the Saints eventually claimed the crown, the Explorers - because of the league's point system - qualified for the PIAA playoffs out of District 12.

"That might have been the first and last time I'll ever be cheering for Neumann," a smiling Cuoci said after his Explorers dominated Boyertown, 6-3, yesterday at Richie Ashburn Field. "They're a great team. And sometimes we just get lucky, and now we have to take the opportunity and run with it."

On a sun-drenched field yesterday, Cuoci - who's headed to St. Joseph's University next season - made the most of the second chance, striking out five, scattering 10 hits and carrying a shutout into the fifth inning.

Offensively, senior Nick Dermo and junior Jimmy Herron both knocked in a pair of runs. Dermo slapped a single up the middle in the first to give La Salle a 2-0 advantage. Herron (Duke-bound) added two more in the fourth and was followed by Cuoci's two-run double deep to right.

The Saints gave the Explorers a gift that the La Salle seniors don't intend to throw away.

"New life," Cuoci said. "After the Neumann-Goretti game, everyone was pumped. Everyone thought the season was over and that we fell short . . . [now] you just try to do everything you can not to squander this opportunity."

That includes not buckling under yesterday's unrelenting sun. Quite the contrast from the cold ice baths Cuoci endured to keep himself on the field after dealing with two pulled muscles in his lower ribs and back.

"I'm getting there," he said. "It's not as bad as it was. Tomorrow, I'm sure I'll be sore. Every day it's kind of sore, but it's getting better and better."

In a doubleheader at La Salle High, Class AA top seed N-G knocked off District 3 top dog Berks Catholic, 5-3; and Class AAA top seed Archbishop Wood fell, 3-1, to District 3 No. 3 Northeastern.

In Class A play, Schuylkill Haven (District 11) clubbed Masterman, 12-2, during the first game at Ashburn Field. In other AAAA action, District 1 top seed Methacton defeated District 12 No. 2 George Washington, 4-0, at Neumann University.

On Thursday, La Salle will face District 2 No. 1 Hazleton.

Yesterday, Boyertown senior starter Tyler Bauman struggled for command early, giving up two earned runs on four walks and two hits in 1 1/3 innings. Senior sidearmer James Buckley pitched quality relief for Boyertown and allowed four unearned runs.

"You know you have to grind," Cuoci said of the heat. "Maybe their guy struggled in the heat a little, I couldn't tell. You have to be mentally prepared, you have to hydrate and be ready, but fighting through it my sophomore and junior year gave me an advantage today."

Cuoci, whose Catholic League career dossier is packed with plaudits, was the No. 2 starter on La Salle's state championship team in 2012. He earned second-team CL honors as a pitcher that season and was a first-teamer last year. This season, he was also a first-team league pitcher as well as Red Division MVP.

"Just going through [tough losses], you can kind of tell you have to take it play by play and game by game," he said. "You can't just go out there and think it's going to come to you, you have to go take it."

Cuoci has embraced his leadership role this year, but is also quick to deflect attention. For example, Cuoci said senior Ryan Coonahan called a players-only meeting on Memorial Day, the first day back after a weeklong hiatus.

"We just talked and reassured ourselves that we have the pitching, the defense and the hitting, so why not us?" he said. "You have to believe it before you can do it."

On Twitter: @AceCarterDN

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