WEIRTON - It's been quite a season for Neffs.
And it's not over.
The fourth-seeded A's Gang (18-8) scored twice in the first inning and three times in the fifth in eliminating top-seeded, and defending champion, Weirton, 5-3, Monday night on Edwin J. Bowman Field in the Steel Town.
NEFFS’ Jon Nagel is congratulated at home pitch by winning pitcher Matt Masarick (22) after hitting a mammoth two-run homer in the A’s Gang’s three-run fifth. They won, 5-3, to advance to the Steele and Cook Insurance Ohio Valley Baseball League’s championship series against Barton.
"This is a first for Neffs. A first for Neffs," manager Dane Koch exclaimed after the hotly-contested Game 3 of the best-of-3 semifinal series in the Steele and Cook Insurance Ohio Valley Baseball League playoffs.
"We've kept each other up throughout the playoffs," he added. "We're a pretty close-knit group. We don't want to just make the championship series, we want to win it."
With the victory, Neffs will meet No. 2 seed Barton (19-4) Wednesday night at Henning Field in Crescent in the opener of the best-of-5 series. The first pitch is slated for 6 p.m.. The teams split a pair of regular-season contests.
The A's Gang, which had never made it out of the first round before, snapped a 2-all deadlock with three runs in the top of the fifth inning.
With one out, Fred Owens doubled to the fence in left on an 0-2 pitch from veteran Weirton lefty Steven Buffo. Two pitches later, Clay Francis laced a single to center that easily scored Owens. Buffo then got ahead of Jon Nagel 0-2 before delivering an offering that the former Martins Ferry standout sent towering over the trees well behind the 315-sign down the leftfield line to give Neffs a 5-2 advantage.
"That was huge, but so was the RBI single by Clay," Koch noted. "That's what we've done all season. Someone picks someone else up and we feed off of it."
Weirton got one of those runs back in the bottom of the fifth when Rudy Nagy slugged a solo shot well over the rightfield fence off Matt Masarick, who improved to 10-1 on the season.
Masarick, another Purple Rider alum, worked five frames, striking out two and walking a pair. He yielded three hits, but also hit three batters.
"My curveball slipped out of my hand on two of those," he explained of the hit batsmen.
Neffs grabbed a 2-0 lead in its first at-bat as Josh Nagel legged out a one-out infield single. Owens lined a single to center and, with two outs, Jon Nagel sent a run-producing single back up the middle.
It looked as though the visitors would add to that margin as the next two hitters reached on errors, but Buffo got a called third-strike to end the threat.
Weirton (18-6) tied the game in the bottom of the inning when Buffo was hit-by-a-pitch leading off and Eric Sperlazza walked on a 3-2 pitch. Nagy looped a RBI single into shallow left and Seth Fluharty was plunked with a pitch to load the bases. One out later, Chris Bittinger's fly ball to center was deep enough to plate Sperlazza, making it 2-all.
However, the Red Dons would get no closer as Owens relieved Masarick to start the sixth. The hard-throwing righthander fanned three and walked one. He didn't allow a hit or walk a batter.
The batter he walked, pinch-hitter Michael Buffo, started the bottom of the seventh, but Owens retired the next two batters on strikes. When second baseman Clark Kasprowski fielded Nagy's grounder and threw to first for the final out, it touched off a long-awaited trip to the finals celebration by the A's Gang.
Neffs out-hit the Red Dons 9-3 as Jon Nagel led the way with a single and home run that produced three runs. Owens was the only other A's Gang member with two hits, a single and double.
Nagy had two of Weirton's three hits.
"We played with a bulls-eye on our back all year," Sperlazza, who serves as Weirton's player/manager. "It seemed like everyone was playing their best baseball against us. We didn't take care of business when we had a two-run lead in Game 2," he added.