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Miscues hurt Red Riders in OVAC final loss to St. Clairsville

Weir shortstop Luke Gillette throws to first for an out during Saturday's OVAC Class 4A championship game against St. Clairsville. The Red Riders fell, 5-4. - Kim North

ELM GROVE — It’s the little things that win championships. St. Clairsville did those Saturday in claiming its 12th Ohio Valley Athletic Conference baseball title, and the first since going back-to-back in 2015-16.

The No. 2 seed Red Devils (14-6) executed bunts in several key situations to rally for a hard-earned, 5-4, decision over top-seeded Weir (7-3) on the wind-swept and chill-filled Wheeling University diamond at the I-470 J.B. Chambers Sports Complex.

The victory gives St. Clairsville its third Class 4A crown and the fifth under veteran head coach Tom Sliva. The first nine titles came in Class 3A, with the initial seven under the leadership of the late OVAC Hall of Famer Richard “Lefty” Hall. Sliva, who pocketed his 400th career win in the semifinals, now has nine OVAC titles, the first four coming at St. John Central in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002.

“These (OVAC championships) are awfully nice and the kids get excited, but I don’t keep track of how many or when,” Sliva said. “The kids did a nice job today.”

With Weir holding a 3-1 lead entering the top of the sixth, St. Clairsville sent nine batters to the plate while chasing Red Riders starter Tyler Kelly after back-to-back leadoff singles by Drew Sefsick and Mason Myers. Reliever Anthony DiMatteis got Marcus Bush to ground to the hole at short, but the throw to second for the force was ruled late and the bases were loaded. Logan Shields shot to second was fielded but the throw home sailed over the catcher’s head, allowing Sefsick and Myers to both score and tie the game as courtesy runner Harrison Kazmirski took third and Shields ended up at second. Jaren Starks laid a perfect bunt down the first base line that he legged out as Kamzirski raced home for a 4-3 lead. Will Balgoás sacrifice fly to right plated Shields for a 5-3 score.

“We did a really good job of getting some bunts down when we needed to that moved runners up, and we got the key hits when we had to. That’s the key in high school baseball. Put the ball in play and make your opponent make the plays. Thatás what we did, but you can see by the last half-inning, it’s never easy,” Sliva added. “It’s tough to make all the plays all the time.”

Weir threatened in its last at-bat as Trenton Taflan walked leading off and went to third when Jack Scopel cued a single down the right field line. Mason Drobish crushed a ball to deep left-center that Starks tracked down for a sacrifice fly to cut it to a 5-4 deficit. An error in the outfield on a liner off the bat of Thomas Devecchis kept the Red Riders hopes alive with just one out.

However, a comebacker to the mound prevented any movement from the runners and Balgo got a called third strike to end the game.

Tyler Tonkovich, who picked up the win, struggled in the windy conditions as he fanned five and walked a like number before giving way to Balgo with a runner on in the sixth. Balgo, who earned the save, struck out a pair and issued one free pass.

The Red Riders also threatened in the sixth when Grant Wilharm drew a leadoff walk that chased Tonkovich from the mound. Balgo struck out the first batter he faced before inducing an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play.

“You can’t give a good team more than three outs in an inning, that’s just the way baseball is,” Weir head coach David Cowden said. “We fought back towards the end but when didn’t force much during the middle innings after we took the early lead.

“St. Clairsville is a good ballclub and I’m not going to take anything away from them. We pitched pretty good and we hit pretty good, but a play here and a play there and it’s a different game.”

Scopel singled twice and drove in a run for the Red Riders. Luke Gillette had two singles and Devecchis slugged a two-run double in the first that gave the Riders a 2-0 lead. Kelly walked one and didn’t strike out a batter. DiMatteis had one of each.

For Weir, which was seeking its seventh title all-time but first since 1994 and only the second since a four-year run in 1955-58, there’s a lot of baseball left to play.

“With games, graduation and everything that goes on with it we don’t have an open day the rest of the season,” Cowden said. “Weáre going to be pretty busy the rest of the month.”

St. Clairsville travels to Barnesville on Monday while Weir hosts Oak Glen.

OVAC Class 4A Championship

I-470 J.B. Chambers Sports Complex

St. Clairsville 5, Weir High 4

St. Clairsville 0-0-0 0-1-4 0 — 5 11 1

Weir High 2-0-0 0-1-0 1 — 4 7 1

ST. CLAIRSVILLE: Tonkovich WP (5K, 5BB), Balgo SV (6), (2K, 1BB) and Bush; Starks S, RBI; Blomquist 3S, RBI; Balgo SF, RBI; Bush 2S; Shields 2S

WEIR HIGH: Kelly (0K, 1BB), DiMatteis LP (6), (1K, 2BB) and Scopel; Gillette 2S; Scopel 3S, RBI; Drobish SF, RBI.

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