STOCKTON -- Art Corona had a smile that might stick on his face for a week.
The diminutive junior came through with a hit Buhach Colony had been waiting for all day.
Corona lined a triple to the wall in left field to drive in two runs and eventually crossed the plate himself when the throw got by St. Mary's third baseman Jake Cose.
Corona's clutch shot gave BC a 3-1 lead in the top of the third inning on its way to earning a spot in next week's Sac-Joaquin Section Division championship series with a 5-2 win over St. Mary's in Friday night's South finals at UOP.
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"We needed that hit so bad," said Corona, who has come up with some huge plays both offensively and defensively in the playoffs.
"As soon as I hit it, I was thinking triple all the way. I knew it was a gapper."
Buhach Colony (27-5) will face Carmichael Jesuit on Friday at
5 p.m. back at UOP in a three-game championship series.
After a single game Friday night, the teams will face off twice -- if needed -- on Saturday.
"It's awesome," BC coach Wayne Fitzgerald said. "There are a lot of high school baseball teams that will be sleeping in tomorrow. We're not and that's a good thing."
St. Mary's (20-13) came close to ending the season for Fitzgerald and his troops.
BC watched St. Mary's score seven runs in the final two innings of the opener Friday night to win 9-2 and force a do-or-die second game.
BC's Justin Koehler was cruising through the middle part of the game -- retiring 13 hitters at one point -- before St. Mary's Louie Lechich launched a three-run homer in the top of the sixth inning to give his team a 5-2 lead.
St. Mary's tacked on four more runs in the seventh to blow the game open.
Buhach knew its season was on the line in the second game.
"Things were better left unsaid," BC senior Brett Mooneyham said. "We had to put it away and out of our mind. We just had to move on to the next one."
BC ace Dylan Floro got the start despite throwing 5 1/3 innings on Wednesday.
Floro gave up just one unearned run before having to leave with two outs in the fourth inning -- having reached his 10-inning limit for the week.
Floro left with the lead thanks to Corona's big hit in the third inning.
The BC players exploded out of the dugout after Corona came around to score, giving his team its first lead of the day.
"Artie may have the two biggest plays of the series," Mooneyham said. "That triple jacked us up. They got mad at us because we had too many people out of the dugout while the game was still live."
Mooneyham brought his teammates out of the dugout again in the fourth inning when he crushed a two-run homer to center field that traveled about 425 feet and extended the lead to 5-1.
It was Mooneyham's third homer of the playoffs -- and a massive bomb, to boot.
"I don't know if I've hit one farther," he said. "I hit that one pretty good. I'm telling you, this bat is magical."
St. Mary's coach Pete Pijl had considered intentionally walking Mooneyham with first base open.
"I told Michael (Rivera) not to give him a pitch to hit, and he left one up," Pijl said. "His first two at-bats, we kept the ball down low on him.
"A lot of times, I'll just put the guy on but we thought we could get him to go fishing.
"We left a ball up and you can't do that to Mooneyham."
Markus Melgosa came on in relief of Floro and performed solidly.
The senior pitched into the seventh inning before giving way to Mooneyham -- who threw 118 pitches in Monday's 2-0 win over St. Mary's -- with runners on first and second with one out.
Mooneyham walked the first batter to load the bases.
A ground ball to Melgosa at shortstop drove in a run, but left St. Mary's with just one more out and two runners on.
Mooneyham then shut the door by striking out St. Mary's Cose with an 0-2 changeup and the celebration began.
"Prior to the game, my coaches asked me what I thought and I told them I think I can give you one (inning)," Mooneyham said.
"The plan was for me to close. I've never been a closer. It was a pretty exciting role for me."
Fitzgerald had been riding his pitchers all year. Things didn't change on Friday.
"Our pitchers today were warriors," Fitzgerald said. "Dylan Floro takes the ball and will throw until he dies. Brett came in and took command of the game. Markus gave us some big innings. What else can you say?"
For the players, it was great to know they have another week of baseball.
"This is my senior year and I want my last game to be a win," Melgosa said. "It feels great that we're still playing. We want to bring a section championship back to Merced."
BUHACH COLONY 5, ST. MARY'S 2
Game 2, at Klein Family Field
BUHACH 003 200 0 -- 5 7 0
ST. MARY'S 010 000 1 -- 2 4 2
Dylan Floro, Markus Melgosa (4), Brett Mooneyham (7) and Joe Medeiros; Michael Rivera, John Zeiter (7) and John Aschieris. WP - Melgosa. LP - Rivera.
ST. MARY'S -- none.
BUHACH COLONY -- Melgosa (2 Runs), Jusin Koehler 2-4, Art Corona (3B, 2 RBI), Mooneyham (HR, 2 RBI).
Records: St. Mary's 20-13; Buhach Colony 27-5.
ST. MARY'S 9, BUHACH COLONY 2
Game 1, at Klein Family Field
ST. MARY'S 200 003 4 -- 9 7 3
BUHACH 011 000 0 -- 2 6 1
John Haberman, John Coughlan (5) and John Aschieris; Justin Koehler, Connor Oldcorn (7) and Joe Medeiros. WP - Coughlan. LP - Koehler.
ST. MARY'S -- Josh Grijalva 2-3 (3 runs), Haberman (2B, 4 RBI).
BUHACH COLONY -- Koehler (2B), Art Corona 2-3 (2B, RBI).