STOCKTON -- Buhach Colony High used its three aces to reach the Sac-Joaquin South Sub-Section title game, then turned to its shortstop to secure what might be the biggest win in school history.
Markus Melgosa threw a critical 2º innings of relief, after having served as the No. 5 pitcher in the regular season, and the Thunder beat St. Mary's 5-2 for a trip to the best-of-three section final.
The Thunder (27-5), which lost 9-2 in Friday's first game, needed to win just once since it was undefeated in tournament play coming into the night.
Buhach will face Jesuit (25-6) next Friday night in Game 1 at the University of the Pacific. The other games will be played Saturday.
The Thunder will have its trio of Dylan Floro, Justin Koehler and Brett Mooneyham well-rested for the series. That wasn't the case against St. Mary's, which is why Melgosa's role was crucial.
"I just threw fastballs, my best pitch," said Melgosa, who came in with a 3-1 lead and left with a 5-1 lead. "When they got guys on, I would just rear back and fire."
Buhach ace Dylan Floro threw the first 3º innings of the nightcap, then gave way by Melgosa. Floro (one run, three hits) had pitched 10 innings this week, the maximum the section allows.
Buhach led 3-1 when Floro left, scoring all three on one play in the third. With runners on first and second, Arturo Corona tripled up the left-center field gap to score both runners -- and he scored on a wild throw to third.
The Thunder added two precious runs in the fifth on Mooneyham's two-run, 425-foot shot over the center-field fence.
Melgosa got out of a jam in the fifth after the first two men got on. He got the next three, including No. 3 hitter Louie Licich, on two infield flies and a strikeout. Licich had a triple, a homer and five RBIs in the first game.
Melgosa faced another threat after walking two in the sixth. He struck out the No. 8 hitter and Chris Kelly chased down a screaming line drive in the right-center gap to end the threat.
With two on and one out in the seventh, the call went to Mooneyham to make sure the Thunder got to the championship series.
After allowing a run on a fielder's choice, he struck out the final batter on a changeup to send the Thunder to its first-ever Division I final. Buhach won two section titles while playing in a lower division.
"I threw 118 pitches Monday, so the plan was to throw an inning if needed, to close it," Mooneyham said. "It was exciting coming in. This was my first save."
In the opener, St. Mary's John Haberman went four innings before hitting the 10-inning limit. He pitched six innings in Monday's 2-0 loss to Buhach Colony during bracket play.
He gave up two runs Friday, Floro driving in one with an infield single in the second and Corona doubling in Koehler in the third to tie it at 2.
The Thunder missed a chance to go ahead, though, with Corona on third and one out. With the infield in, Joe Medeiros bounced it to third and Corona took two steps before freezing. Caught in a rundown, he was tagged out.
It proved to be a decisive play.
Had Buhach gone ahead, Floro would have gone the final two. Floro (10-1, 0.77 ERA) no-hit Beyer over five innings Wednesday.
The Thunder never threatened reliever John Coughlan, who allowed only two two-out singles.
The Rams went down 1-2-3 in the second through fifth, but got back-to-back singles to open the sixth. Licich, whose RBI triple in the first hit the left-field fence, went opposite-field again -- but this time over the left-field fence for a three-run home run.
Licich collected his fifth RBI with a bases-loaded walk in the seventh, ending Koehler's night. Moments later, Haberman hit a pitch into the right-field corner for a three-run double and it was clear the "if" game would follow.
St. Mary's protested the nightcap over a technicality that Commissioner Pete Saco had ruled on before the game. Coach Pete Pijl said he doesn't expect anything to come from the protest.