CLOVIS -- Dan Lemon is one game away from wrapping up his baseball career at Stockdale in style -- and he has one of his favorite teams to thank for it.
The Mustangs upset top-seeded Clovis-Buchanan 3-2 in eight innings Wednesday in a Central Section Division I semifinal and moved within one victory of giving Lemon his third section title in his final game.
"It's really special," said Lemon, who has said he'll retire from coaching at the end of the season. "This is a special group of kids that I've had for a long time. You reach a point in your career when you know it's time to step down, and this is all icing on the cake."
Zach Tanner scored the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth inning on Kevin Lee's sacrifice fly to deep center field, and Max Carter threw a complete game to stymie the Bears, whom Cal Hi Sports ranked No. 11 in the state.
"That's an outstanding team," Lemon said. "They're well-coached, they play the game the right way. To win up here is big for the kids, big for our program and big for the whole school."
To win another title, No. 4 seed Stockdale will have to win in Clovis again -- this time against No. 2 Clovis North, which is ranked ninth in the state and likely will throw ace Jack Labosky in a 4:30 p.m. game Friday.
But at this point, Stockdale (20-10) has won eight games in a row and doesn't feel as if anything is out of reach.
"We have all the confidence in the world," Carter said. "It means everything to me. I've waited my whole life for this -- now we've got to win on Friday."
Carter was a huge reason Stockdale won Wednesday. He allowed Buchanan just five hits and a walk and struck out five in eight innings of work. The Bears (25-6-1) scored on Carter Gambrell's two-out RBI double in the bottom of the second and again when Carter balked home Trenton Kemp with two outs in the fifth for a 2-0 lead.
"You've got to tip your cap to Max Carter," Buchanan coach Tom Donald said. "He threw a great game. We had some bad swings and misses."
But even before the balk, little things weren't going Stockdale's way.
The Mustangs offense killed two early rallies with double plays, including a controversial third-inning play in which Carter was called out for runner's interference, even though he was out at second easily and even though Stockdale had the bases loaded and would have scored at least one run on the play.
"We weren't going to pack it in, though," Carter said. "I just had a feeling we were going to win."
Buchanan started sophomore Connor Loeprich instead of ace Jack Wheeless, who came in 11-0. Donald’s plan was to save Wheeless for a possible championship start, and it nearly worked — Loeprich shut out Stockdale through five innings.
Things turned around in the top of the sixth. Josh Stone, who finished 3-for-4, hit a leadoff single and moved to second on Tanner’s hit. Jamey Carroll hit what might have been another double play, but Buchanan shortstop Kody Batesole bobbled it to load the bases.
Junior Felix hit a sacrifice fly for Stockdale’s first run, and the Mustangs tied the game when Batesole threw wild to first on Kevin Lee’s groundball.
“It was a little uncharacteristic for us,” Donald said. “We had one bad inning there, and it came back to haunt us. In the playoffs, you’ve got to get on a roll and have things bounce your way. That’s not to take anything away from Stockdale; they were better than us today.”
Buchanan loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth with one out, but Carter got Jeremy Vollberg to pop out, and Kemp lined out to Lee at third base.
“My teammates picked me up,” Carter said. “My catcher (Felix) was huge. He was calling pitches, making me feel confident in whatever I threw.”
In the eighth, Tanner walked, moved to second on Carroll's bunt and then to third on a Felix single. He came home, and Stockdale made sure Lemon — who collected career victory No. 380, according to section historian Bob Barnett — will have to hit the road with his team one more time.
“This is the toughest group I’ve coached in 30 years,” Lemon said. “They just don't give up, they don't get down. They just reach down and find another gear.”