COVID-19 High School Sports Spotlights: The Irish of Notre Dame Poised & Hopeful to Follow Up a Historic Season

"So the current situation [COVID 19] makes it even more disappointing as this was going to be the last time they ever play competitive baseball" Coach Drulis

Notre Dame kneels after their win over Hightstown.

By: Keith Noonan

Last Spring, Notre Dame baseball took the conference by storm and had a historic run to capture the Colonial Valley Conference Colonial Division, and Mercer County tournament championship at Arm and Hammer Park. Notre Dame was 24-2 last season, but had lost a lot of players to graduation. At the helm, coach Joe Drulis, who has delivered the program over 300 wins in his brilliant coaching career, 325 to be exact. He has coached the Irish for over 20 years.

“Our team’s expectations and potential was to have an excellent season. From the outside, we went 24-2 and lost many seniors. It looked like it would be a rebuilding year to the outsiders but we have a very good program. We would have been inexperienced but we had a lot of seniors that were ready to step and have a great year,” Drulis said. Notre dame had six players who had varsity experience from last year. These players were going to be the building blocks to help springboard the team to a very successful season, coach Drulis added.

Among the key players, is the tall Right handed pitcher Steven Graver. Graver is getting set to join his former teammate Irish Star pitcher Robbie Buecker at West Point. They will reunite and become teammates again next year when Graver heads up to New York. Graver, however, was focused on this team at Notre Dame. “Heading into the season we had high expectations for ourselves. We knew that losing pretty much the whole starting lineup last year was going to be tough, but we felt that we were ready to be able to go out and play at the same level we did last year. Everyone had been working hard in the offseason to be able to do so,” Graver said.

With those expectations, obviously came excitement about the start of a new season. However, that was taken away from the players in mid- March. “On Thursday, March 12th, our last practice, the players knew that school was closed for the next day Friday, March 13th. We were still scheduled to have our first scrimmage with Rutgers Prep on Saturday, March 14th. On Friday, the news broke that schools were going to be closed for a longer period of time. The scheduled scrimmage for Saturday, March 14th was cancelled. At this point, there was still hope for the season. It was a two-week shutdown of schools and school activities. The news was frustrating but at that point we were all hopeful that we would get back to school and to baseball in late March,” Drulis said.

Graver also thought the season would start, and was just as shocked as his coach when schools remained closed.

“Initially, we had first heard we were going to have a four day weekend so that the teachers could figure out the best way to work the cyber learning. Eventually, that four day weekend turned into two weeks, which turned into another two weeks, and it just kept going to where we are today. None of us expected it to turn out as bad as it has been, but we are keeping our head high hoping that we can salvage a little bit of the season,” Graver said.

These players were going to be the building blocks to help springboard the team to a very successful season

Coach Drulis told me he has maintained strong communication with players, parents, and coaches with e-mails with updates on the situation. “At this point in time, there is still hope for a mini-season,” Drulis said.
Before I spotlight the returning players and seniors in this column, coach Drulis has set up a wonderful way to celebrate the seniors. Drulis created a Senior Spotlight for each of the senior player on the Notre Dame High School Website. It is under Varsity Baseball and the News section. Be sure to check that out!

Here are the Notre Dame Baseball Seniors and college selections:

DJ Almanzor– The College of New Jersey [academics only]
Nick Bellezza– Univesity of Auburn [academics only]
Ryan Conover– Mercer County Community College [playing baseball]
Nick Feretic– Monroe College [playing baseball]
Steven Graver– Army – West Point [playing baseball]
Brett Harris– The Ohio State University [academics only]
Mike McLaughlin– The Ohio State University [academics only]
Shay McGowan– LSU [academics only]
Brayden “Boo” Meskill– Mercer County Community College [playing baseball]
Thomas Mills– Loyola of Maryland [academics only]
Ryan Monaco– Undecided
Jackson Podell– Miami [Ohio] – [academics only]
Gary Sawyers– University of Scranton [academics only]; National Honor Society;

Coach Drulis described how the players felt when they realized the season would be suspended, especially those seniors. “We have 14 seniors on the team and their reaction is one of frustration. This is their senior season and the end of their academic and athletic careers at NDHS. We only practiced one week but a lot of the seniors had improved. This was their turn to perform as we had so many senior starters last year,” Drulis said.

Another unfortunate part of this, as coach pointed out, is that not all the seniors are going to play competitive baseball in college. “So the current situation [COVID 19] makes it even more disappointing as this was going to be the last time they ever play competitive baseball,” Drulis said.

Before the season was suspended, other key players returning include right-hander Nick Feretic- Senior, Nick Bellezza – Senior, Brayden “Boo” Meskill – Senior, Ryan Conover – Senior – RHP, Gavin Martin – Junior – RHP/IF. Here is a spotlight on the returning players.

Nick Feretic– Senior – RHP/3B – CVC hitter of the year. Nick was the Triple crown winner for the CVC league for the 2019 season. Nick had 37 hits and batted .481 last season. Nick earned All-CVC and All-Area Honors. Top-notch pitcher, as well, Nick was clocked at 91 MPH last summer. Nick was 4-2 and 2 saves with a 2.13 ERA. Nick is a 2nd team selection for the Perfect Game/Rawlings Pre-season All-Region team [Northeast region]. Nick is a four year program basketball player. Nick earned All-CVC honors this year. Nick resides in East Windsor, NJ. Nick is going to attend Monroe College in New York City, New York to play baseball.

Steven Graver– Senior – RHP – 7-0 last year with a 1.12 ERA. All-CVC and All-Area Honors. Steven is an Honorable team selection for the Perfect Game/Rawlings Pre-season All-Region team [Atlantic Region – because Steven lives in Pennsylvania]. Steven is a four year basketball player; All-CVC honors this year. Steve resides in Yardley, PA.
Steven will be attending Army-West Point this coming Fall for baseball.

Nick Bellezza– Senior – RHP/IF – Nick was 3-0 with a 2.88 ERA with many quality innings as well on the Varsity last year. Nick earned All-CVC Honors. Nick will be attending Auburn University [not playing baseball in college]. Nick is an honor roll of distinction student. Nick resides in Yardley, PA.

Brayden “Boo” Meskill– Senior – C/IF – Brayden was a starting varsity catcher for ½ of the Varsity games last year. Brayden batted .270 last year on the Varsity last year. Boo resides in Bordentown, NJ. Boo will be attending and playing baseball at Mercer County College this coming Fall.

Ryan Conover– Senior – RHP – Ryan had limited action on Varsity last season but had an excellent summer season with Post 31 – Hamilton in the American Legion League. Ryan resides in Hamilton, NJ. Ryan is an Honorable team selection for the Perfect Game/Rawlings Pre-season All-Region team [Northeast Region].

Gavin Martin– Junior – RHP/IF – Gavin was the team’s DH last season and batted .280 for the season. In the summer, Gavin was the Rookie of the Year and the Batting Average Champion [.471] for the Mercer County American Legion League. Gavin is an Honorable team selection for the Perfect Game/Rawlings Pre-season All-Region team [Northeast Region]. Gavin is an honor roll student. Gavin resides in Bordentown, NJ. Gavin has been in contact with: Rutgers [New Brunswick], Richmond, St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia, Seton Hall, and Rider University.

Jake Renda– Renda is an Honorable team selection for the Perfect Game/Rawlings Pre-season All-Region team [Northeast Region]. Jake is an All-County Football player. He is a Division I recruit in Football [QB & TE – Princeton U. – QB; University of Connecticut; Penn State – TE; Virginia Tech – TE]

Kenny Schirmer– is an Honorable team selection for the Perfect Game/Rawlings Pre-season All-Region team [Northeast Region].

James Watson– is an All-County 1st team Varsity Soccer player.

Brendan Brzezinski– was a starting linebacker for the 10-1 Varsity Football Team as a soph.

Logan Eilbacher – C/IF
Brendan Buecker – C/IF
Jack Hughes – 1B/3B/OF
Scott Bruett – RHP/IF
Lance Eilbacher – RHP/IF/OF

Finally, You may be wondering what coach Drulis is doing with his time away from the field. The coach has racked up 325 wins in 20 years, he has been a staple in the dugout for the Irish.

“I am a retired business teacher [2 years at NDHS and 35 years at Bensalem, PA]. I have 30 years coaching experience in high school football and 25 years in baseball at the high school level. Spring cleaning has taken on a whole new definition at our house. A lot of purging of old lesson plans, baseball paperwork, and football clinic notes. A lot of clean-up in the basement, garage, and attic. My wife, Kathy, is very happy that the clean-up is actually happening. My wife and I have incorporated a one hour walk each day in addition to the “honey do” list,” Drulis added.

Coach Drulis also praised his coaches, and if the season does start, the players should be ready.
“Our coaches have put together a running and throwing program for our players. Coach Bob Reilly and Coach Charlie Battis developed the programs for our athletes. The program has had to be modified a few times. NDHS strength and conditioning coach, John McKenna, has developed a conditioning program for all the spring sports at ND,” Drulis said.

Finally, for a teacher and a coach who has spent his life in the classroom and on the field, distancing himself from both during this time is a new experience for coach Drulis. “It feels kind of strange that we are not going to the field for practice or games. We had started preparing for the season so everyone [players and coaches] were in a groove, getting ready for the season. We only logged a week of practice but the coaches were able evaluate the players. A lot of the players had shown improvement,” Drulis said.