Hoover clinches playoff berth

NORTHWEST GLENDALE — The Hoover High baseball team really didn't want to play today.

"It wasn't even a thought," Tornadoes Coach Joe Cotti said.

The Tornadoes might have had to if they didn't defeat Glendale in Friday's Pacific League finale.

A Tornado win would've propelled Hoover to the playoffs. A loss would've forced a tie-breaking game between Hoover and Burbank at 10 a.m. today.

Hoover got the win.

Behind the crafty pitching of Will Davis and the hitting of Anthony Cuccinelo, the Tornadoes defeated the visiting Nitros, 6-1, to secure the league's fourth-place spot, advancing to the postseason for the first time since 2008. Hoover finished 7-7 in league, a game ahead of the 6-8 Bulldogs.

"It was in our hands," said Cotti, whose team benefited from a pair of forfeit victories against Burroughs, which cancelled the remainder of the varsity season on April 19 following allegations that an assistant coach at the Burbank school served alcohol to Indians athletes.

"We had to play well, play together and get the job done."

Davis and Cuccinelo certainly did their part.

Davis, a sophomore, ran into trouble in the first and third innings, as the Nitros (4-13, 3-11) loaded the bases in each frame.

A fortunate bounce and a stop by Cuccinelo ended each threat.

With the bases loaded and two outs in the first, Glendale's Rafael Rios hit a grounder to short. Unfortunately for the Nitros, the ball hit Dillon Howard, who was halfway to third before getting hit.

In the third, the Nitros loaded the bases with just one out. But Davis forced a flyout to shallow center and induced a grounder to Cuccinelo at second to end the inning.

Cuccinelo immediately delivered at the plate.

On the first pitch of the bottom half of the third inning, the senior blasted a solo home run to left field to give the Tornadoes a 2-1 lead. Cuccinelo, batting leadoff, added a two-run single in the fourth to finish three for four with three runs batted in.

Kevin Mendoza and Davis — Nos. 2 and 3 batters, respectively — each had two hits and drove in a run for the Tornadoes.

The top three hitters had seven of Hoover's 10 hits.

"That's beautiful isn't it," said Cotti, who also received production from Orlando Marin (two runs) and William Seo and Michael Zalin (one run apiece). "That's our bread and butter. If they can produce, it makes the train go."

Glendale Coach Jesus Osuna waited all afternoon for his team to produce. But the Nitros stranded nine runners on base, including five in scoring position.

"That's something we've been struggling with," said Osuna, whose team's lone run came in the first, when senior Zach Fields scored on Howard's infield single. "We have runners in scoring position, but we can't execute. A lot of the time the kids get nervous. We were just trying to do too much."

While the Tornadoes look forward to the playoffs, Glendale is looking toward next year, when they'll return a majority of their starters.

"This has been a learning curve," Osuna said. "We've been taking steps in the right direction. Next year should be a breakout season. We'll be back, better, younger and stronger."

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