CRESCENT - Defending champion Barton finds itself in a must-win situation when it welcomes Neffs tonight if it wants to host a first round playoff game later this week.
The Braves (13-6) split a Steele and Cook Insurance Ohio Valley Baseball League doubleheader Sunday afternoon on the sun-baked Henning Field diamond.
Barton defeated West Liberty 12-5 in the first game before suffering an 8-3 setback at the hands of Weirton in the nightcap. Earlier in the day, the Red Dons (14-5) blanked the league-leading Wheeling Cardinals, 3-0, at Patterson Field in Elm Grove.
"We're in a tough stretch of games right now," Barton manager Billy Timko allowed. "These were our fourth and fifth games in five days, and we play again Monday.
"We hit the ball everywhere today and got guys in scoring position, but we couldn't come up with the big, clutch hit when we needed it the most," he added. "We left the bases loaded in the first and second innings, and you can't do that against a good team like Weirton."
Overall, Barton stranded 13 runners on the bases, with seven reaching at least second base.
Weirton took a 1-0 lead in the first when left-handed hitting Russell Rigel sliced a triple just out of the reach of a diving Jourdan Yager in left-center. Rigel would walk home when Rudy Nagy sent a towering sacrifice fly to deep right.
The Red Dons added to their margin in the second as Dom Garay stroked a leadoff double to left-center. Nelson Rodriguez followed with an infield single as Garay took third on the play. The duo then executed a double steal to perfection as the lead grew to 2-0. Chris Fluharty's single back up the middle made it 3-0.
With the Braves unable to come up with any type of offense at crunch time, Weirton kept padding its lead with two more runs in the third.
Another double steal resulted in a run and Garay singled in the other.
Barton finally got on the board against lefty Darin Heatherington in the third. Joel Atkinson's groundout scored Mackenzie Koehler to make it 5-1.
A three-run Weirton sixth all but sealed the deal as Logan Linder's bases-loaded gap shot to left cleared the bases.
Koehler pounded a two-run single in the bottom of the sixth, but it was too little, too late for the hosts.
Heatherington, the son of Steubenville head baseball coach Fred, went the distance.
He struck out just two and walked an eye-popping 11 in throwing 136 pitches, of which only 61 went for strikes.
"Darin gave us a gutsy outing on the mound," Weirton manager Eric Sperlazza said.
"He didn't have his best stuff, but he made clutch pitches when he had to and we played good, solid defense behind him."
Casey Tennant, who just hurled a one-hitter against Marshall County on Thursday, was pressed into mound duty again when scheduled starter Tyler Kurtz was late in arriving due to work.
"Casey didn't pitch bad on just two days rest," Timko noted.
"We just didn't get the big hits."
Koehler was the lone Brave with multiple hits.
Garay led Weirton with three safeties.
With the win, the Red Dons cemented themselves in third place in the regular-season standings.
They travel to Shadyside tonight to conclude the regular season.
Meanwhile, Barton and rival Maynard are tied for fourth place with one game remaining.
Should both emerge victorious tonight, the Braves would get the nod because the teams split their regular-season series, but Barton tallied more runs in the two games.
IN THE first game, Barton led 5-4 before exploding for five runs in the fourth and two more in the fifth in pulling away from the Hilltoppers (9-9).
Atkinson knocked in three runs with two singles, while Dustin Hynes singled and tripled to plate two more.
Jordan Murry and Mike Muklewicz evenly split four base knocks, with Murry driving in two runs and Muklewicz one.
Yager slapped three singles.
Anthony Rocchio had two base raps and Ryan Kreiter drive in a run.
Koehler fanned nine in his route-going performance.
Tonight's game begins at 6.
WL 103 000 1 - 5 9 0
Bart 212 520 x - 12 13 0
Batteries: Alward, Wales (5) and Jones. Koehler and Hynes, Murry (5).
Weirton122 003 0 - 8 12 1
Bar 001 002 0 - 3 5 1
Batteries: Heatherington and Garay. Tennant, Kurtz (6) and Hynes.
North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org