Barton punched its ticket for a repeat trip to the Steele and Cook Insurance Ohio Valley Baseball League championship series Monday night.
However, the Braves' 13th straight victory didn't come as easy as it appeared after they scored four times in the top of the first. They had to hold off a strong rally by homestanding St. Clairsville, 5-4, before a huge crowd at Memorial Park, thus sweeping the best-of-3 semifinal series 2-0.
"We came out like gangbusters, but then we relaxed and missed some signs and did some little things wrong, but we got the job done," Barton manager Billy Timko said. "They (St. Clairsville) are a very good, young team with a lot of talent."
BARTON’S DUSTIN Hynes awaits a throw to the plate Monday night as St. Clairsville’s Anthony Pierro slides head first across home plate. The Braves held off the Titans to advance to the championship series.
No. 2 seed Barton will now await the winner of the other semifinal between top-seeded, and defending champion, Weirton and Neffs, the No. 4 seed. That series is 1-1 and will be decided on Edwin J. Bowman Field in the Steel Town Wednesday at 6 p.m.
The best-of-5 championship series will start Tuesday in Weirton if the Red Dons win Wednesday. If Neffs wins, Game One will be in Crescent at Henning Field. The first-pitch, regardless of the site, is set for 6 p.m.
"The guys know how to win, but they need to get the killer instinct in them," Timko added.
With Barton nursing a 5-4 lead entering the bottom of the seventh, Timko called on Nick Rocchio to shut the door. However, the former Bellaire multi-sport standout allowed back-to-back singles by Anthony Pierro and Jordan Meyer leading off. He then walked Mackenzie Koehler to load the bases, but that's when he knuckled down.
The hard-throwing righthander struck out Dom Garay and TJ Sliva swinging on 3-2 pitches before ending the game, and the Titans' season, when Myron Jellison went down on strikes.
"That's not exactly how I wanted to do it, but I got the job done and that's all that matters," Rocchio admitted.
Barton came out swinging against St. Clairsville's Sammy Vincenzo as they collected six hits - a double and five singles - off the just-graduated southpaw, who is headed to Potomac State.
Rocchio walked and circled the bases when Dustin Hynes banged a double off the fence in left. Jordan Yager singled as Hynes took third. Derek Miller's infield single got Hynes across the plate. After a double play stalled the rally, Jordan Barbina laced an RBI single through the left side of the infield. Joel Atkinson singled to right as Barbina scooted to third. He would score on Anthony Rocchio's base hit through the right side of the infield, making it 4-0.
The Braves added to their lead in the fourth as A. Rocchio reached on an infield single leading off. One out later, he would race home on older brother Nick's double to the fence in dead center, upping the count to 5-0.
St. Clairsville started to pack away, slowly but surely, with a run in the bottom of the fourth. Sliva's double to the rightfield corner plated Garay, who drew a two-out walk from Barton starter, and winner, Mike Muklewicz.
The Titans drew even closer with a two-third fifth as Casey Tennant, who came on in relief of Vincenzo, drew a leadoff walk. One out later, Pierro also walked and Meyer singled sharply to left to load the bases. After the second out was recorded, Garay slapped a single back up the middle that scored Tennant and Pierro, cutting the deficit to 5-3.
That hit ended Muklewicz's day on the hill as veteran Vinnie Kirkpatrick came on to retire the only batter he faced in the inning to end the threat.
St. Clairsville touched Kirkpatrick for a single run in the sixth when Jellison led off with a single. Tennant hit the sinking drive to left-center that just got past a diving Ryan Kreiter and rolled to the fence as Jellison rounded the bases. Centerfielder Yager retrieved the ball, threw a strike to N. Rocchio, who was playing shortstop at the time. He, in turn, nailed a perfect peg to third baseman Barbina who applied the tag to the hard-sliding Tennant.
That set the stage for the last at-bat dramatics.
"Bases loaded. Nobody out. I thought, oh my God!" Timko recalled. "But Nick got himself into it, and he got himself out of it."
Hynes led Barton's 13-hit attack with a single and two doubles. A. Rocchio had a trio of one-base raps, while Miller and Barbina evenly split four singles.
Meyer was the only St. Clairsville player to record more than one hit with a pair of singles.
Muklewicz struck out two and walked three while giving up four hits in 4 innings. Kirkpatrick yielded a pair of hits, while Rocchio earned the save.
Vincenzo and Tennant combined for two base-on-balls, while not striking out a batter.
No one for St. Clairsville wanted to comment.
Coming in a close second was the play Jellison made on a tapper in front of the plate, turning it into a 2-6-3 double play in the top of the seventh.
Barton400 100 0 - 5 13 2
St. C. 000 121 0 - 4 8 0
Batteries: Muklewicz, Kirkpatrick (5), N. Rocchio (7) and Hynes. Vincenzo, Tennant (5) and Jellison.
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