After winning two straight N.C. 3A state championships, Marvin Ridge baseball coach Mark Mennitt said he’s noticed a difference in how opponents, fans – and the media – view his Mavericks.
“I think since we did repeat last year,” Mennitt said, “the pressure, in some ways, keeps mounting, but we become a story now – which is a great thing – when we get beat. We’re not a story when we’re winning. We’re a story when we get beat. It’s a compliment, really.”
Led by four Division I recruits, Marvin Ridge (23-6) has advanced to the third round of the state playoffs. They take on Fred T. Foard (16-5) next week after cruising past East Rowan 11-1 in a second-round playoff game Friday.
At stake for Marvin Ridge is a shot at a third straight state championship, a feat few teams have been able to achieve before them.
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It’s a luxury having those two (Alex Leshock and Demarco Reaves) out there (in the outfield). Fly balls are outs. Those guys go get it.
Marvin Ridge baseball coach Mark Mennitt
East Rutherford (2A) and South Stokes (1A) won three straight from 2002-04. They are the most recent teams to triple. Before that, St. Stephens (2A) won three from 1971-73. Gastonia High won six straight 2A titles from 1946-51. Clemmons (1948-50) and Pleasant Garden (1939-41) also did the three-peat.
“We know it hasn’t been done a lot,” Mennitt said, “but we can’t look at that. We play pretty loose as a group. We understand who we are and we will give it our best shot. If we win, it’s fantastic. If we don’t, it’s not because we didn’t give it our best shot. I think we have the recipe to go back (to the championship round) but I’ve seen plenty of teams with the recipe that don’t get there.”
At Marvin Ridge, Mennitt has slowly built the Mavericks into a baseball dynasty. His teams at Marvin Ridge have won 215 games and 10 straight conference championships. During the state championship runs, Marvin Ridge is 81-16.
This year’s team is led by the four college recruits, who are all producing in big moments.
Left-handed pitcher Jake Kuchmaner, a 6-foot, 180-pound East Carolina recruit, is 8-0 with an 0.35 ERA. Jason Cornatzer, a 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher, is 7-2 with a 1.92 ERA. And outfielders Alex Leshock (Appalachian State) and Demarco Reaves (Coastal Carolina) have been sure-handed in the outfield.
Leshock is hitting .386, which leads the team, and Reaves leads the team in on-base percentage (.550). Between them, Leshock and Reaves are 50-for-57 in stolen base attempts.
“It’s a luxury having those two out there (in the outfield),” Mennitt said. “Fly balls are outs. Those guys go get it. They are good quality, high caliber athletes.”
Both pitchers can throw in the high ’80s regularly. Kuchmaner’s speciality pitches are breaking balls and changeups. Cornatzer, who tosses fastballs, can clock into the low ’90s. Combined with the Mavs’ third pitcher, Matthew Helms, Mennitt feels like his team is always going to be in games.
“We can kind of feel our way through until we can find out a way to scratch out some runs,” said Mennitt, a former coach at Independence High.
Now 50, Mennitt said he cherishes all his playoff runs.
He’s just hoping that the 2017 playoffs will bring him another one.
“I don’t like my chances against the field,” Mennitt said, “but we only have to play one team at a time. With our pitching, if we can stay locked in and focused for one game and one pitch and one bat at a time, I think the end result is we can get there. By the same token, (everyone else) is thinking the same thing ... which is what you want.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr