BRANDON — On the fifth day of the Saladino Tournament — when pitching staffs are thin and bats are unpredictable — the best teams rely on defensive help.
And that's how Alonso advanced with a second-straight one-run victory, escaping resilient Jefferson 3-2 in Thursday's first semifinal at Brandon.
The Ravens (18-4) are one win away from becoming the third team to win back-to-back Saladino titles. Alonso faces district rival Plant (14-8), which upended Brandon 3-1 in the night's other semifinal.
Alonso can win its third Saladino title in four years.
"We're just trying to win the last game we play," said Alonso shortstop Tito Martinez, who scored the winning run. "I think we're doing a good job of that now. Every time we get into this tournament, we're ready, and I think this is where we play our best ball."
The Ravens had just seven hits, but they rallied at the most critical time. With the score tied, Martinez doubled to open the fifth then scored on Thomas Dorminy's one-out single to right for the eventual winner.
Reliever Chris Chism threw three scoreless innings to preserve the win, but he had help from a pair of game-saving plays.
With runners on second and third with two outs in the sixth, Alonso first baseman Brandon Johnson made a spectacular diving play to his right on Kevin Cruz's shot into the hole and threw to the pitcher covering to end the inning.
And with Jefferson down to its final out with runners on first and second in the seventh, Chris Mejia made a diving catch on Andre Davis' ball in left-center to end the game.
"Those are game-winning plays," Chism said. "Without them, we don't win."
Jefferson (16-6) stranded 11 baserunners, including seven in scoring position.
Plant, meanwhile, continued its amazing run. The Panthers entered the tournament a game over .500 and seeded last in the Class 6A-8 tournament, but they beat Brandon, the district's top seed, with stellar pitching.
"This team is the hardest-working team we've had," Plant coach Dennis Braun said. "They never wavered when we were losing a lot of one-run games. Even though we were last place in our district, this team never changed. I think that's a result of us being here."
The Panthers rested their hopes on right-hander Tanner Anderson, who threw 20 pitches in relief in Wednesday's quarterfinal.
Anderson, a junior, gave Plant his best high school start, tossing a complete-game three-hitter on just 86 pitches. He had only two strikeouts but kept the ball on the ground and was the beneficiary of two big double plays that thwarted leadoff singles.
"Tanner was huge," Braun said. "He challenged them all night. That to me is what was impressive. He never backed down. We know they have a great hitting team, and I think that means a little more."
A night after scoring 14 runs and beating Gaither by the 10-run mercy rule, Brandon (17-6) couldn't muster any offense. The Eagles didn't have a hit in the final three innings.
Panthers No. 9 hitter Sean Henderson hit a two-out, two-run single in the second to give Plant the lead. Stan Rowe added a sacrifice fly in the third.