Grand Street Campus shortstop Jose Cuas saw fire in his younger brother’s eyes and conviction in his voice. Alex Cuas, the Wolves’ freshman right-hander, wanted the ball.
Joe Cuas didn’t think twice – he reached for his phone last Thursday night and convinced Grand Street coach Melvin Martinez to give his brother the nod in last Friday’s Monroe Tournament final.
Alex Cuas made his older brother and coach look smart. One day after he picked up the save against tournament host Monroe, he tossed a complete-game two-hitter, walked one and struck out five, leading the Wolves past Bryant, 11-1, and to the showcases’ coveted crown in the Bronx.
“It was an opportunity I wish I had, I got it and I did the job,” he said.
In two days, he went from being “Jose’s little brother,” to the team’s closer and No. 4 starter, which Martinez announced later.
“I never imagined this,” Alex Cuas said. “This tells me I can do it against good teams in big spots.”
Working fast, with confidence and poise, and pounding the strike zone with multiple pitches, he kept Bryant’s potent lineup at bay. Nick Alvarez had the Owls’ only two hits, an infield single in the second and well-struck single in the sixth. Alex Cuas faced his toughest jam in the fifth, but stranded two runners aboard by fanning Joseph Cox on a tailing fastball. Bryant’s lone run came in the fourth on an Elijah Rodriguez fielding error.
Alex Cuas varied his approach, starting certain hitters off with late-breaking curveballs and others with low 80’s fastballs. He worked the corners and went up and down to change eye level, rarely getting too much of the plate. It wasn’t like Bryant hit into tough luck either; few balls were squared up.
“That phone call paid off,” Jose Cuas said. “He’s becoming a horse.”
Grand Street gave him breathing room in the seventh by scoring seven times as Jose Cuas, Darry Guerrero and Ernesto Lopez each drove in two runs with clutch hits. The Wolves struck first with two runs in the second, the first scoring on Kenny Linero’s throwing error and Kelvin Flores driving in Rodriguez with a bloop single to left. Top prospect Williams Jerez plated Grand Street’s third run with a 380-foot sacrifice fly to center in the third.
“We just showed everybody the talent we have,” Jose Cuas said. “Every year we’re underrated, we’re not expected to go far. But this year we prove a point winning this tournament. People now have to watch out for Grand Street.”
It was a memorable week for Grand Street, which topped defending city champion Tottenville, Bronx powerhouse Monroe and Queens A West co-leaders John Adams and Bryant and won the loaded Monroe Tournament for the first time.
“I’ve been waiting 15 years for something like this,” Martinez said. “Even when I was growing up at August Martin High School [in Queens], the Monroe Tournament was the most prestigious tournament in New York City. It’s everybody’s dream. All the top teams are here. For us to come out on top like this is absolutely incredible.”
When Alex Cuas completed the victory with a 1-2-3 seventh by retiring Christian Aubry on a comebacker, he was mobbed on the mound, his older brother the first teammate to leap onto his shoulders.
Considering the citywide playoffs are more than a month away, the celebration was somewhat over the top – unless, of course, Grand Street was merely practicing for the real one in June.
“We got one more [championship] to win,” said sophomore outfielder Geraldo Gonzalez, who doubled twice and scored twice.
Martinez had no issue with the mosh pit on the mound. He was pleased to see his kids enjoy themselves considering all the work they have put in and the teams it beat to win the tournament.
“We’re sending a major statement here today, saying we are the team to beat here in New York City,” the coach said. “Right now we’re the most balanced team I’ve ever had. It reminds me a little of Tottenville from last year.”