ATWATER -- Brett Mooneyham knows the time to get serious is fast approaching. The Buhach Colony High senior recently accepted an athletic scholarship to play baseball at Stanford.
He's also a major-league prospect and could be an early selection in the amateur draft.
But for now, Mooneyham and his closest mates -- Dylan Floro and Justin Koehler -- are trying to enjoy their last year together.
Like kids. That means doing poor Borat impressions, acting like Ace Ventura and exchanging playful barbs.
"We keep the mood pretty light at practice," Mooneyham said. "We'll make fun of each other, ... but no one takes it seriously. To be able to laugh at yourself, and to do it in a team environment, kind of shows your true character."
The jokes stop short of the diamond. When the first batter steps into the box, the Thunder's "Big Three" are as focused as they come.
Mooneyham, Floro and Koehler are among the best pitchers in the Sac-Joaquin Section and have Buhach Colony gunning for another deep postseason run.
In the last five years, the Thunder has won five conference titles, dating to its days in the Valley Oak League, and two section titles.
Buhach rolled through the Central California Conference last season but was eliminated from the Division I playoffs by conference rival Golden Valley.
"It was my second time there and the second time we didn't come out on top," Floro said. "We're looking to win the section title. That's our goal."
Thunder coach Wayne Fitzgerald sees a change, especially in his trio of experienced pitchers.
"This team is a lot more mature," Fitzgerald said. "(Mooneyham, Floro and Koehler) don't have a hard time staying loose. They're not wound so tight that they can't dial in when they need to."
The 6-foot-4-inch Mooneyham is the ace. He was 6-2 with a 1.25 ERA as a junior, striking out 90 batters in 56 innings. A left-hander with great velocity, he can dominate a game. He's hit 94 mph on the radar gun this season.
"That was pretty impressive," Floro said. "I didn't know about it until after the game, but you could tell he was on. Nobody was hitting him."
Added Koehler: "He was making that glove pop."
Floro follows a simple mantra on the mound: location, location, location. The junior was 12-1 with a 0.43 ERA last season, striking out 120 batters in 82‹ innings. At one point, he went 54 innings without allowing an earned run.
Koehler is the wild card. The Cal State Fullerton-bound senior rarely saw time on the mound last season, save for the occasional relief appearance, but has proven he can handle extended innings. Koehler made his first career start Feb. 29, throwing 68 pitches in six shutout innings.
"Can you believe it? I've got a scholarship for pitching, and I just made my first start in four years," Koehler said. "Kind of funny, huh?"