Kevin Martir and Jose Cuas were baseball stars in high school, and now they’ve helped turn-around the University of Maryland team into a stellar program.
As the former Grand Street Campus stars, close childhood friends, and former college roommates were getting set to play for an Atlantic Coast Conference title with the Terrapins this season, the two sophomores realized just how far they and the program had come. Maryland finished 10 games under .500 in conference play the year prior to the their arrival.
“Once we advanced to the championship game in the ACC tournament we looked at each other and said, ‘We’re doing this,’ ” Cuas said.
They didn’t stop there.
Maryland lost in the conference final to Georgia Teach, but made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 43 years. The Terrapins squad wonn its first NCAA regional title by beating Old Dominion and South Carolina. Maryland was a victory away from its first ever trip to the College World Series after beating Virginia in the first game of a three-game series, but lost the next two in early June. This was the program’s first 40-win season.
“It’s just something I will never forget,” Cuas said.
Achieving their goals together made the campaign even more memorable for Cuas and Martir. The two have known each other since they were eight years old, and spent many summers playing ball together as high school kids with the New York Grays travel team.
They stuck by their commitment to Maryland as high school seniors despite coach Erik Bakich leaving for Michigan and John Szefc taking over in College Park. Their focus was on winning, no matter who they were playing for.
“I remember saying to [Cuas], it’s crazy how we are starting to win championships together and how it’s pretty sweet that we are together winning, building something good for the program,” Martir said.
Cuas and Martir have been winners throughout their careers. Martir was the first New York City player to win the Catholic and Public School Athletic League baseball titles in consecutive years. Cuas was by his side, helping him to the latter at Grand Street. Szefc said both of them played huge roles in the team’s success because competitors like them don’t accept losing.
“They are used to having success,” Szefc said. “They, along with several others we have, they were part of the reason why we had such a successful year. They were tired of being surrounded my mediocrity and they didn’t want to deal with it anymore.”
Cuas rebounded from a tough freshman season by having a breakout campaign. He hit .279 with 13 doubles, a team-leading five home runs and was tied for the club lead with 42 RBI.
“I was really happy for him all the time,” Martir said. “Every time he hit a home run, I’d be the first one jumping up and down.”
Cuas, who also played a superb shortstop, said it took him some time to get used to competing at the college level and shortened his swing. He produced big hits throughout the Terrapins’ playoff run.
“I want to get a big hit in the regionals, super regionals,” Cuas said. “It’s those moments as a kid you look forward too, and I’m definitely living the dream.”
Martir’s season, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly a bed of roses. He batted .269 with 29 runs scored and 26 RBI. He felt he could have been better, but never let it affect him behind the plate. Martir made just three errors and did a superb job handling the Maryland pitching staff. His bat came around when it mattered most.
“He hit over .400 in the last five weeks of the season, and really had some big, big hits for us,” said Szefc. “He had big at bats when it mattered.”
It was moments like this that the duo dreamed about when they came to Maryland. They wanted to be a part of change in the culture, and start leading the Terrapins to new level of success. Cuas and Martir, after getting a taste of what that like, want more in the years to come.
“After this year we are definitely considered a baseball school now,” Cuas said. “We left the ACC with some noise.”