SANTA ANA — Steve Thobe knows firsthand of Rancho Santiago's past postseason struggles and made sure they weren't repeated this time.
He gave up no hits and struck out two in the final two innings to close out Rancho Santiago's 5-1 victory over Riverside in a Southern California playoff game Sunday afternoon at Rancho Santiago. The Dons earned a berth in the State tournament that starts Saturday at Sacramento City College.
Riverside forced the second game by winning, 5-4, Sunday morning.
Thobe was a redshirt in 1991 when his brother J.J. lost a ninth-inning lead, allowing Riverside to advance to the State tournament. He was the designated hitter last season as Los Angeles Pierce beat the Dons, 1-0, to advance to State.
"I was kind of thinking while I was warming up that there is no way we were going to lose to (Riverside) twice," Thobe said. "This is a lot of fun. This feeling is awesome, I can't explain it. We're going."
Thobe was working in relief of freshman starter Ethan Wychoff (2-1), who turned in his best performance of the season. Wychoff gave up one run on four hits in the first seven innings.
"You have to give Ethan all the credit in the world," Rancho Santiago Coach Don Sneddon said. "All year long we have been telling (the pitchers) that it will take the whole staff for us to get to the State tournament."
Wychoff gave up a run in the first inning, then held Riverside at bay for the next six. His biggest challenge came in the fourth when the Tigers had runners on first and third and two outs. Wychoff escaped by getting Travis Howe to look at a third strike.
Rancho Santiago, the top-ranked team in Southern California most of the season, came back with four runs in the fourth.
Tony Truel singled and went to third on Derek Brown's double. After Darren Troilo grounded out, Thobe flied to right, scoring Truel.
Ryan Andersen bounced a single to left to give Rancho Santiago (38-9) the lead, 2-1. Chris Lugo capped the inning with a two-run home run to left, his third.
The final run came in the eighth when Brown doubled and scored on a two-out single by Thobe.
Thobe ended the game in style by getting Josh Deakman on a called third strike.
It is the first time since 1988 that Rancho Santiago has reached the State tournament. The Dons had lost in the regional playoffs each year since.
"It's a long time in coming," Sneddon said. "It's nice to finally be invited to the dance. After the first game, I felt the team didn't panic and we just came back like we have all season."