When La Salle College’s Brian Buckley stepped to the dish in the bottom of the eighth inning, the last thing on his mind was the struggles he faced all season with runners in scoring position. Instead, he was zeroed in on driving home his teammates and that’s exactly what the junior first baseman did.
With the bases loaded and a 0-2 count against him, Buckley saw his pitch and he went after it. He lined a scorcher back up the middle and cashed in two runs en route to breaking the eighth inning tie, which ultimately gave the Explorers a 4-2 win over the Conestoga Pioneers, along with the 2014 PIAA Class AAAA Championship.
Buckley took his coaches advice in a difficult situation and altered his swing by cutting back a little bit, and that ultimately helped the Army Academy hopeful line the game-winning hit up the heart of the defense.
“(Jake Bufo) was throwing pretty soft compared to (Brendon Little), so the pitches looked real good (and) the third one he threw me was a change up, I finally got on it and slapped it up the middle, it was great,” Buckley said. “I’ve had so many runners on all year (and) haven’t hit them in and finally in the big moment I got them in. It’s good for me to finally break out.”
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It wasn’t all smiles and the exchanging of high-fives for the Explorers though. Earlier in the game, they surrendered an early two run lead and completely tanked on a golden opportunity to take the lead in the top of the seventh inning.
After two leadoff singles to start the top half of the seventh, it looked promising for the Explorers and after a gutsy call by coach Joe Parisi, it almost seemed too good to be true. Parisi called a fake bunt double steal and before Conestoga knew what hit them, La Salle College had runners standing on second and third with one out in the inning.
However, a failed suicide squeeze left a helpless Explorer in a pickle and a pop out to first base ended the inning. Somehow the Pioneers managed to escape the seventh unscathed, but their lack of production at the plate proved to be costly in the end.
“Bottom line is we had chances to score and we weren’t able to do it,” Conestoga coach John Vogan said. “It wasn’t lack of effort, it wasn’t swinging at bad pitches, we put the ball in play, just weren’t able to get the ball by them. Give LaSalle credit, (Dominic Cuoci) pitched a game, he was able to mix his speeds up very well and we really didn’t get very many good swings at him.
“We were able to get the ball in play, but nothing really solid and then they made every play defensively, they made the plays they had to. I’m proud of my kids, we were down, we came back. That’s a very good ball club, they’ve got a lot of great players, but I’m just proud of the way we came back.”
Cuoci threw a solid game going seven innings, while only allowing two runs on eight hits. He also fanned two and like Buckley did some damage with the lumber, recording two hits and helping with run production.
Despite his disappoint in his team’s inability to deliver in the seventh, Parisi was pleased with how his guys responded in the bottom half of the inning and capped off a memorable season for the Explorers’ program.
“I think Dom and the team kind of gutted it out in that seventh inning,” Parisi said. “They could have folded the tent right there with a runner on third and then first and third, and then bases loaded even though there were two outs. But Dom and our guys compete and they’re mentally tough.
“I knew as soon as we got out of the inning that we had a lot of fight in us. I didn’t know we were going to score two runs, I’m not that good, but I knew we were going to fight and I knew we had put ourselves in a pretty good position.”