Another strong pitching effort from Dom Cuoci; solid defense; and two big innings, mixed in with some luck, led to La Salle's first Catholic League baseball championship since 2005.
Saturday afternoon's 10-0, five-inning triumph over archrival St. Joseph's Prep at Widener also served as redemption. Last year, before making their run to the PIAA Class AAAA state crown, the Explorers bowed to Neumann-Goretti in eight innings in the league final.
"As awesome as it was for us to win a state title last year, not winning the Catholic League left a bad taste in our mouths," senior first baseman Chris Melillo said. "We really wanted this."
With the league using a double-elimination playoff format for the first time, La Salle (20-4), which exploded for five runs in the fourth inning and the same in the fifth, went 4-0 and, by posting its second win over the Prep in four days, avoided a potential rematch Tuesday against the Hawks.
As the Prep (14-12) did in using Penn State-bound righthander Tom Mullin, the Explorers turned to their ace on three days' rest.
And Cuoci, after going seven innings in Tuesday's 11-3 romp over the Hawks, delivered. The junior righthander yielded only a fourth-inning single while facing 20 batters.
"We were just going to use him as long as we needed him," Explorers coach Joe Parisi said. "I was not going to allow him to get a high pitch count. The kid is a workhorse. He really is."
Cuoci fired 77 pitches, 40 for strikes. Only the Prep's Shane Williams, who singled past diving shortstop A.J. Grezeszak in the fourth inning and advanced on a wild pitch, reached second base.
"Dom gave up a couple of walks early on, but he was keeping the ball down and pounding the strike zone," said Melillo, a Notre Dame recruit who went 2 for 4 with a pair of RBIs.
Except for one error, La Salle's defense was stellar. Grezeszak notched a putout and seven assists, and Melillo and third baseman Adam Arcadia made highlight-reel fielding plays to deny hits in the fourth.
"I had fielders behind me making plays all day," said Cuoci, who walked three and fanned two in improving his season record against the Prep to 3-1.
Luck aided the Explorers in the fourth. With two out and the bases jammed, their first run came when a ball hit by Jimmy Herron caromed off the third-base bag and rolled into left field. Melillo, John Fabriziani, and Pete Auteri added RBI singles to help make it 5-0.
Said Prep first-year coach Joe Falcone: "I told my guys afterward, 'There's a saying that it's better to be lucky than good.' La Salle was both today."
Mullin, the Red Division's most valuable player, threw 93 pitches (40 in the fourth) before giving way to Dom Nunag in the fifth. Mullin gave up seven hits and walked five.
Next for La Salle is the District 12 Class AAAA final vs. Frankford, the Public League representative, at 1 p.m. Thursday at Ashburn Field in South Philadelphia.
St. Joseph's Prep 000 00 - 0 1 1
La Salle 000 55 - 10 10 1
WP: Dom Cuoci. LP: Tom Mullin. 2B: LS-Chris Melillo.