The Mavs baseball team has won at least a share of the conference title every year since Marvin Ridge High School opened in 2007. They’ve gone 109-38 in six seasons under coach Mark Mennitt, who’s spearheaded the program since its inception and developed the Mavericks into a Union County baseball power. And with single-digit losses in a season becoming the norm, it has created lofty expectations for the Maverick program that once again sits at the top of Southern Carolinas conference standings.
“There’s certainly an expectation that comes with playing here,” said senior Zach Kuchmaner, who’s started on the varsity team since moving to Marvin from Ohio after his freshman year. “I wouldn’t call it pressure, but definitely an expectation. It keeps things exciting, coming out here and knowing that we have the capability of winning 20-plus games a year and only losing a handful here and there. People definitely expect us to win and I think that’s a good thing. We have good coaches, good players and we always win.”
Despite their continued success in the league’s regular season, those winning ways have routinely come to a halt in the playoffs and prevented the Mavs from reaching their ultimate goal of winning a state championship – a goal that has been in the back of their minds since the program began. In 2012, when the Mavs went 22-5, they fell to South Rowan in the first round of the tournament. Last season after their 26-4 run, they made it to the regional round but slipped against Weddington, who would go on to win their second consecutive state title.
It’s created bitterness in the mouths of the Mavericks – a bitterness that can only be overcome by winning a state championship in their own right.
“Every week this season has been getting a little more exciting because we’re playing better and better and getting closer to our goal,” Kuchmaner said. “And our goal is winning the state title. That’s the goal and anything less than that’s a disappointment.”
Disappointment is exactly what characterized the start of the Mavericks season. They fell to defending Class 4A state champions South Meck in their season opener on Feb. 27. They lost to Ardrey Kell, 6-3, the next week, and dropped their third game, 2-1, to Charlotte Country Day. Maverick fans and opposing teams alike began to question if this season would be a rebuilding season after losing seven seniors from last year’s squad.
Despite the hesitancies, it wasn’t long before the naysayers were hushed. Picking up their first win in an 11-5 manhandling of Nation Ford, the Mavs continued the momentum and went on a 10-game win streak, proving that they’ve still got it.
“We do have a couple of young guys playing that was an adjustment when we started the season,” Kuchmaner said of their slow start. “But we weren’t swinging the bats well either. That comes with experience, too. Once we started to swing the bats we started playing better and getting wins.”
Their signature win came on April 8, when the Mavericks dismantled defending Class 2A state champion Piedmont, 12-5, in a game that Kuchmaner said put the Mavericks right where they needed to be. When the two teams met again in the three-game series, the Mavs won 3-0 before falling 3-0 to the Panthers and ending their winning streak.
“When we beat Piedmont that first game, it was huge,” Kuchmaner said. “That was a very big win for us. Everyone was really high on them but we came out there and beat them by seven runs. That’s where I thought we really came together as a team and started playing to our potential.”
Kuchmaner has been the driving force for the Mavs, helping to extract their potential with both leadership and raw talent. He’s leading the team batting .542 and has 32 hits with 20 RBIs and five doubles. The lefty also has an ERA of 1.76 on the mound.
With Kuchmaner teaming with two lefty counterparts in University of Arizona commit Max Wotell (1.63 ERA, .400 BA) and Hunter Colonna alongside Jacob Henderson (.357 BA) and Jason Curtis (.368 BA), the Mavs have the talent that Kuchmaner says is strong enough to beat anyone – especially with the team coming together as the season has progressed.
And they’ll need every bit of that talent and more as the Mavs get ready to take on Weddington (12-6, 8-4) to round out the regular season in a rivalry matchup that’s become arguably the biggest in Union County.
“Weddington’s a great team,” Kuchmaner said. “Every game we play against them is going to be close. It’s an exciting atmosphere and knowing they’re the two-time defending state champions makes it that much more exciting. The thing is, we all know each other from playing each other and from travel ball. We’re close with each other so playing on opposing teams in a tense atmosphere is kind of fun.
“It’s become such a rivalry because we all want bragging rights to see who’s better. It amps it up.”
Kuchmaner said grabbing the three-game series would be a tough task for the Mavs, but a huge accomplishment that would provide just enough fuel to get them ready for the conference tournament and playoffs. On April 29, they took a step in the right direction, blowing past Weddington in their first game, 11-1, which ended with the 10-run mercy rule, and securing their seventh consecutive first place conference finish.
“I think we’ve got the capability to go all the way,” he said. “Last year we were so close but just couldn’t get there because things weren’t falling our way. But this year – this year we’ve got a great chance.”
Knowing that his time as a Maverick is drawing to an end, Kuchmaner, who hasn’t decided where he’ll be suiting up next year but has several offers on the table, said he’s ready to make the most of his time left and go out on top.
“Playing here at Marvin, it’s really been awesome,” he said. “To come out here and play on this field every day – it’s the best field I’ve ever played on and better than most of the college fields I’ve played on. It’s a testament to the program here and the coaches. I’ve been blessed to be a part of that and want to go out with it all.”