By Rich Fisher | Contributing Editor
Robbie Buecker was having trouble finding the words, so he turned to Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield for inspiration.
“We woke up this morning feeling dangerous,” Buecker said, using Mayfield’s catchphrase, “and I think it showed tonight.”
It sure did.
Photo Gallery: Notre Dame vs Hopewell Valley – Mercer County Tournament
Buecker pitched a three-hitter and was part of a devastating top-of-the-lineup as the third-seeded Notre Dame baseball team took a 9-3 win over defending champion Hopewell Valley in the Mercer County Tournament final May 14 at Arm & Hammer Stadium, Trenton. It was the Irish’s ninth overall MCT title, fourth this decade, first since 2015 and sixth under coach Joe Drulis.
And it could not have come against a more fitting opponent.
It was ND’s first win over Hopewell since April 9, 2014. The Irish had lost six straight since then, and were ousted from the last two county tournaments by the Bulldogs.
“It’s a storybook ending,” shortstop Ryan Mains said. “We’ve never beaten them; to come back and win a game like this as seniors is unbelievable. We step up in big moments. We have a lot of talent, a lot of leadership and we came out with the win.”
Buecker, named tournament MVP, was coming off a no-hitter with 14 strikeouts in a quarterfinal win over Steinert. Steven Graver won the other two MCT games against Nottingham and Lawrence, and Irish pitchers had allowed just six hits and no runs in the first three games.
Fourth-seeded Hopewell (15-6) ended that streak and held a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the third. But ND (19-1) scored one in the third, five in the fifth and two in the sixth to clinch it. Buecker, now 7-0, retired the final 10 batters he faced.
“Oh man, it’s been one heck of a ride so far,” Buecker said. “For four years, we’ve been waiting for this. I can’t even describe it. It’s been such a great year. All the kids bought in, we’re a family and it showed tonight. Kyle [Rosica] making that big [diving] catch in the outfield. Guys in the infield laying out for balls, jumping in the air. It just showed how bad we wanted it, and it’s awesome.”
After the bottom of the order led the offense in the semifinals against Hun, the top five hitters exploded in the finals as Mains, Buecker, Nick Feretic, Jake Kmiec and Rosica combined for eight hits, three walks, two triples, five RBIs and six runs scored.
“We’re confident in all of our team,” Mains said. “The bottom can be just as good as the top, and tonight it just happened to be us guys. Everybody stepped up.”