STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Twenty-seven days.
That's how long it took La Salle's baseball team to go from being on the brink of season extinction to holding aloft a state-championship trophy for the second time in three years.
The Explorers, after overcoming two Catholic League playoff losses last month, showed some more resiliency Friday afternoon while beating Conestoga, 4-2, in eight innings for the PIAA Class AAAA title at Penn State's Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
After ace Dom Cuoci escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning, Brian Buckley produced the winning hit, a two-run single past a drawn-in infield, on an 0-2 pitch in the eighth.
"It's just a surreal thing," said Cuoci, who was a starter on La Salle's 2012 title squad. "It's a great feeling. I couldn't be prouder of the guys."
After an 8-4 defeat against Roman Catholic and then a 1-0 loss to eventual Catholic League titlist Neumann-Goretti on May 17, Joe Parisi's squad was given a "second chance" when N-G twice beat Roman for the crown. That allowed the Explorers to gain the league's berth in the District 12 Class AAAA final.
Before the team returned to practice after an unwanted break, La Salle senior rightfielder Ryan Coonahan called for a players-only meeting.
"He told me later what he talked about," Parisi said. "He said, 'We have a second chance. We can win five straight games. Let's just win them. We'll take it one game at a time."
La Salle (21-6) did just that, beating George Washington for the district crown and reeling off four state-playoff victories.
Cuoci went seven innings against Conestoga, allowing two runs and eight hits (all singles) and striking out two. He mixed a fastball in the low-80-m.p.h. range, slider, and change-up.
With his velocity down a bit after pitching a two-hit shutout Monday against Spring-Ford, Cuoci said, "I knew it was going to be a location type of day."
In the bottom of the seventh, the Pioneers (20-8) had a golden opportunity to break a 2-2 deadlock and claim their second title in four seasons. But after they filled the bases, Cuoci induced a fly ball to right field.
"You can't put your head down, no matter what happens," Cuoci said. "You have to contain your nerves. It's baseball. You just have to get another out."
Cuoci, having pitched 14 innings in a calendar week, could not return after the seventh, per PIAA rules. Lefthander John Scheffey took over and retired the side in 1-2-3 fashion.
Conestoga lefty Brendon Little was pulled in the eighth after giving up a leadoff walk. Setting the stage for Buckley's winning hit, Jimmy Herron and Cuoci welcomed Jake Bufo with back-to-back singles.
La Salle 101 000 02 - 4 7 2
Conestoga 000 110 00 - 2 8 2
WP: Dom Cuoci. LP: Jake Bufo.