LODI — Matt Burrows kept his cool after tempers heated up.
A benches-clearing melee in which no punches were thrown seemed to spark the Manteca High senior pitcher in the second of two Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV semifinal-round contests with East Union at Tony Zupo Field Monday night.
He went on to retire 14 of the final 16 batters he faced in a 3-2 victory that sends the Buffaloes to their first-ever championship-game appearance.
In the top of the third inning, Manteca (20-9) cut a 2-0 deficit in half after Michael Timmins dropped a single to center, scoring Zach Gase (hit by pitch).
But things got ugly on the same play as Gabe Rellamas was gunned down at third for the final out. He and third baseman Jordan Kron got tangled up, and a shoving match between the two ensued.
The chatter between players continued in the middle of the third inning as the Buffaloes took the field. Both coaching staffs responded by gathering the troops in separate huddles to restore order.
That was Burrows’ cue to shine.
“I don’t like to see that, but it seemed to put a fire under our kids for some reason — especially Matty,” Gene Ballardo said.
And did he ever shine.
Burrows crushed a game-tying home run in the fourth inning, and after Rellamas drove in the winning run in the fifth Manteca rode its stoutly-built hurler to victory.
Burrows entered the seventh inning with his pitch count at 100, but that took no steam off his fastballs. He struck out two, including the final batter to secure the win.
“There was no discussion … there was no question that I could finish this game off, “Burrows said.
After a shaky start, he fanned nine, walked three and hit one while allowing just three hits over 111 pitches — this after his pitch count eclipsed the century mark in Thursday’s 13-8 upset over top-seeded Central Catholic in the first round.
“There was no stopping him,” Ballardo said. “He was on a mission.”
And so ends what was an epic five-game, season-long series between the rival clubs.
Each of the five Manteca-East Union games this year was decided by one-run margins, including the two they split in the regular season.
On Saturday, Manteca opened the best-of-three series with a 6-5 win, but earlier Monday East Union prevailed 4-3 to force the rubber match.
“It was a great series — every game (decided) by one,” East Union coach Dan Triglia said. “I told our boys it doesn’t matter how it ended up; I could be no more proud of what they did today. They just competed.”
Game 2 was a back-and-forth affair in which Daniel Miramontes, slowed by a hamstring pull, smashed a two-run homer in the sixth for a 3-2 Manteca lead.
East Union (17-8) immediately bounced back in the bottom half with back-to-back doubles from Brock Swift and Carrillo. Alex Dias drove in Carrillo with a sacrifice fly for the deciding run.
The Lancers racked up 10 hits against Manteca ace Kevin Peck in Game 2 and had leadoff base runners in 11 of the 14 innings played Monday. Swift, meanwhile, was terrific on the bump, striking out six to zero walks and scattering five hits.
The first pitch was thrown an hour and 3 minutes later than the scheduled 4 o’clock start time as section officials had to get replacement umpires for the two no-shows.
All that did was further raise the anticipation of what ended up being two thrilling games.
Manteca — an out-bracket team on an incredible postseason run as the No. 8 seed — awaits the winner of today’s Oakdale-Los Banos matchup. Defending section champion Oakdale, which shares the Valley Oak League title with East Union this year, won the first game Saturday.
The Division-IV title game is set for Memorial Day.