Hoover on wrong end of pitchers' duel

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE — Both La Cañada and Hoover high's baseball teams came into Monday's game at La Cañada desperate for a win. The Tornadoes had dropped their last four games and the Spartans were on a five-game losing streak.

The game's two starters, Hoover's Anthony Cuccinelo and La Cañada's Brendon Shoemake, were both determined to get their clubs back in the win column, as the nonleague contest quickly turned into a pitchers' duel.

La Cañada scratched out what proved to be the difference-maker in the second inning when Cuccinelo issued a bases-loaded walk, bringing home Shoemake who started off the inning with a double.

The run turned out to be enough for the Spartans, who picked up the much-needed 1-0 win to improve to 6-7 overall. Hoover (1-10) didn't go down easy, though.

The Tornadoes loaded the bases in the fourth inning, thanks to two walks and a La Cañada error. Orlando Marin stepped to the plate with two outs and hit a slow-rolling ground ball to La Cañada's second baseman, Kevin Oechsel, who bare handed it and threw it to first just before Marin got there.

Eugene Shin got Hoover going again in the fifth inning with a lead-off double, the team's first hit of the game. The Tornadoes couldn't cash it in though, stranding the runner at third.

"We got guys on, but that was it — we couldn't get them in," said Hoover Coach Joe Cotti, as his team had just three hits on the day. "That's what we've been struggling with all year, that and errors. We kept the errors down today, which kept us in the game, but we couldn't get guys in."

It was the same story in the top of the seventh. Mitch Russell came in to close the game for La Cañada, striking out his first batter and walking the next. Cuccinelo moved the runner over to second with a single between third and short, but the Tornadoes came up empty again, popping up and striking out to end the game.

Cuccinelo kept the Spartans batters guessing all game with his slow-breaking curve ball. He pitched all six innings and kept Hoover in the game until the end — scattering five hits, three walks and striking out four.

"[Cuccinelo's] not going to throw incredibly hard but he throws hard enough and moves it around to keep you guessing," Cotti said. "That's what the pitcher's supposed to do — keep the hitters off-balance."

Shoemake had a strong outing, as well. He danced his way out of danger a few times, walking three batters, hitting two more and sacrificing two hits, while striking out eight.

"[Shoemake's] been the stable one all year," said Alex Valadez, La Cañada's assistant coach who took over head coaching duties for Dennis Ballard, who's out of town visiting family during spring break. "Our pitching in general has kept us in games this year. We definitely feel confident with him out there and when he's not on the field we have a different team."

Shoemake dominated at the plate when he wasn't on the mound, going two for three with a double and a single.

"I feel really good right now — I just really want to win," Shoemake said. "Hopefully this gets everyone going."

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