GLENDALE — Going into the bottom of the seventh and trailing by two runs, the Hoover High baseball could muster just one hit against Burbank. But all of its struggles would soon be forgotten with one swing.
With the bases loaded after two hit batters and a throwing error at first base, Tornadoes second baseman Anthony Cuccinelo stepped up to the plate with one out and the game-tying run in scoring position. Four pitches later, Cuccinelo hit a laser into left field for the team’s second hit of the game and its last, delivering a walk-off double, as teammates Kevin Mendoza, Thomas Alchermes and Mark Bae all scored to give the Tornadoes a 4-3 comeback victory over the visiting Bulldogs.
“He had a rough day at the plate, but he hung in there and had the biggest hit of the game,” said Tornadoes Coach Joe Cotti after the thrilling Pacific League contest Friday afternoon at Hoover. “Top to bottom, the boys played fantastic. They didn’t quit.”
Cuccinelo’s walk-off knock put an ironic final touch on a game dominated by pitching. Starting pitchers Will Davis for Hoover (5-12, 3-4 in league) and Burbank’s Andrew Hernandez each had a no-hitter working through three innings.
Davis faulted first, as he gave up a home run to Paul Frias with two outs in the top of the fourth inning to give the Bulldogs (7-12, 2-5 in league) a 1-0 advantage.
Through five innings, Davis gave up two earned runs, three hits — two of which were home runs — while striking out eight.
His counterpart, Hernandez, was solid through four, but pitched into trouble in the fifth inning as the Tornadoes loaded the bases with no outs. William Seo’s sacrifice fly scored Orlando Marin to put Hoover on the scoreboard, but that was all the Tornadoes would get in the stanza, as they stranded three runners.
Marin, who led off the inning, reached base on an infield single to give Hoover its first hit of the ballgame. Hernandez was relieved with one out in the fifth. The hurler left the game as the winning pitcher of record, striking out five and walking five.
“Burbank pitched fantastic,” Cotti said. “They kept us guessing all game. We had a lot of opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on, but I guess we saved them for the end.”
Burbank Coach Bob Hart gave credit to Hoover for coming back.
“Hoover did a good job of not giving up,” said Hart, whose squad lost its second straight Pacific League contest by one run. “We put our best player in that situation to succeed and he just didn’t have it.”
In spite of the two solo homers, Davis was able to go the distance, keeping the Tornadoes’ offense within striking distance despite just one single through six innings. For the game, he struck out 11, including retiring the side in the second inning en route to picking up the win.
“I knew we could come back even after the third run,” said Davis, referring to Burbank’s third run that came on a mental lapse from the Hoover fielders who didn’t execute a rundown effectively, which allowed a runner from third to score. “We’re never out of a game, as you saw today.”
With the win, the Tornadoes moved a game ahead of the Bulldogs for fourth place in the Pacific League.