Matthew Honchel hit a solo home run, tripled and went the distance on the mound to pick up the win. Tyler Devine had a two-run single in the first to get the Titans’ going and into the semifinals for the first time.
“This means a lot because this is the biggest thing that has ever happened in my life,” Devine said. “I’ve been looking forward to this ever since the season started.”
Ahead 3-1, Buckner’s shot proved to be a backbreaker. On Tuesday, Buckner hit a three-run home run off the Ford sign in left field. Lexington Legends’ president Alan Stein said Thursday he didn’t think anyone had ever hit the sign.
“I’m just glad it didn’t break,” Stein said.
Buckner jokingly made a prediction he was going to hit the sign before the game.
“We were just goofing around and I said I was going to hit the Ford sign, and Seth Heath said he was going to hit the clock. I guess mine came true,”¿Buckner said.
But his slam Thursday may have been just as impressive. A stiff wind was blowing out to right field, and several balls got pushed right in the wind. Buckner managed to get enough of Tim LeMastus’ pitch and muscle it over the left field wall to put the Titans ahead 7-1. John¿Ingram and Honchel led off the inning being hit by pitches and Devine had a bloop single to center to set up Buckner for his big blast.
“Everybody’s wondering where this power is coming from. But if you watch us take (batting practice), you see the kind of power that he has,”¿Mercer coach Jeremy Shope said of Buckner. “He has big-time power and he’s seeing the ball right now. It’s made a big difference for us.”
Mercer has scored 80 runs in seven postseason games, and got going early again Thursday.
Clay Cinnamon singled to left and Honchel walked. They came in when Tyler Devine ripped a single to center field as Mercer went up 2-0.
“I try to jump on a pitcher early, because when I get behind I’m not as aggressive,” said Devine, the team’s junior cleanup hitter.
In the third, Honchel took LeMastus’ 3-1 pitch and yanked it out to right field and onto the park’s Pepsi Party Deck to put the Titans up 3-0.
“It was 3-1 (count), he grooved a fastball, and I swung,”¿said Honchel, who has a team-high eight home runs.
“I told the guys in the dugout this pitcher is going to get us in some pitching counts if you don’t swing at bad pitches,” Shope said. “He got a 3-1 pitch he was sitting on, and you saw what happened to it.”
Honchel (9-2) also proved solid on the mound. He allowed just two earned runs on seven hits, striking out nine and walking two on 121 pitches.
“We wanted to go right at them and not have another Somerset where we give up four runs in the first inning off walks,” Honchel said of the Titans’ 12th Region final game. “Everything I had was on. I have a new pitch (slider) that this game I found it. I threw it last week in intrasquad and it felt good and I threw it today.”
The Mustangs finally got to Honchel in the bottom of the fourth when Joe Russo walked and later scored on Ryan Bruce’s single. In the fifth, Quint Heady scored on Matt Rowe’s fielder’s choice and Jon Coartney scored an unearned run on a fielder’s choice in the seventh.
“He really came out focused and pitched early. And that was key to get them out early because their lineup is really good,” Shope said. “He’s pitched against some big-time teams, and he’s done a good job.”
About the only thing that didn’t go perfect for the Titans were the four errors they committed. While they didn’t hurt Mercer on Thursday, Shope said they have to play sounder defense tonight.