Through the crack of a wood bat on the diamond, there is a winning mentality that swirls in the air surrounding the Braintree High baseball program.
In his 12th season at the helm, coach Bill O’Connell once again finds himself shuffling through lineup cards early in the season as a new wave of varsity players challenge each other for starting positions.
“We always try to identify competition,” said O’Connell. “Six games in, we still have players who are competing with each other and pushing each other.”
But even with only three returning starters on the roster, the taste of success is something the program has become accustomed to.
Under the bright lights of Campanelli Stadium last June in Brockton, Braintree (22-3) captured its second straight Division 1A Super 8 championship. Since the Super 8 tournament’s inaugural season in 2014, the Wamps have appeared in all three finals.
This season, Braintree is off to a 6-0 start that has been a pleasant surprise for O’Connell with such a wide mix of sophomores, juniors and seniors.
For all this success to happen, it begins early on.
During April vacation, the Wamps help the local Little League teams along with other bonding and community events. O’Connell and his coaching staff are constantly in contact with the JV program to identify players who could help the Wamps in the future.
“I think we have very dependable and very dedicated mentally tough kids. We are always keeping an eye on the future and we are always talking to the younger players to help keep the program stable and to keep it consistent,” said O’Connell.
Braintree athletic director Mike Denise said that O’Connell “has a system in place and is consistent with his system and his system works. The kids believe in it.”
“He cares about the kids and wants the kids to be successful. It’s almost like a fulltime job for him. He puts the time and effort in because he knows that athletes in this community are really important and wants to put out the best product year in and year out.”
Still, losing a core group of seniors can sometimes set a program back, but for the Wamps, it has accentuates the program’s depth.
Ace Scott Creedon, the Super 8 championship game winner the past two seasons, now calls the mound at Broward College (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) his home.
Senior Jack Andrews has stepped up on the hill and done nothing but impress. Mainly a platoon at shortstop when Creedon was on the mound last season, Andrews came up through the program as a pitcher and is off to a 3-0 start this spring.
“Jack doesn’t need to fill [Creedon’s] shoes. He is a great ballplayer himself and knows how to play the game,” said O’Connell.
With senior Justin Files (back) out, sophomore Jackson Duffy has confidently patrolled centerfield like a four-year starter and his speed added an extra element of attack.
Last year’s Super 8 hero, junior Alex Kennedy , has seamlessly made the transition from outfield to behind the plate and is one of the most dangerous hitters in the Bay State.
The season for a lot of the players also doesn’t just begin at the end of March either.
“We have an outstanding commitment in the offseason. We encourage them to play other sports, but our kids are not too far away from the batting cage,” explained O’Connell, who was a three-sport athlete at both Walpole High and Springfield College.
A winning mentality has firmly been established within the Braintree baseball program. Each player, no matter a regular starter or varsity backup, has the DNA of winning flowing through their blood.
Winning not as an individual but as a team has become the identity of the team on the diamond, in the classroom and in the community.
“We have tried to create a cultural that whether you are a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior on the team, we are all together,” said O’Connell.
■ Malden junior Jared Martino is generating quite a bit of interest as a quarterback prospect, with visits this spring to Coastal Carolina, Rhode Island, and Rutgers.
On the mound, he put on a showcase Saturday afternoon in a 4-0 shutout against Medford, tossing the program’s first no-hitter since 2002 — and just the fourth in 31 years.
“It was kind of a historic day also because it was the first head-to-head matchup of former [Greater Boston League] schools in the NEC,” said Malden coach Steve Freker.
Lou LoConte, a 6-foot-5 right fielder, saved the no-no in the seventh, making a leaping grab on a drive off the bat of Jack Fargo with two runners on base.
“I think it would’ve went over anyone’s head, period,” added Freker. “Saved a no-hitter and saved the game “
In an 82-pitch performance, Martino struck out six, walked three, and hit a batter . . . He was not alone. St. Mary’s sophomore Bobby Alcock fired a perfect game with 15 strikeouts in a 3-0 win over Arlington Catholic on Monday. He needed just 86 pitches to retire all 21 batters he faced.
“He has just kept getting better and better with his command of the strike zone,” said St. Mary’s coach Derek Dana on the 6-foot-2 sophomore. “He has really dedicated himself to the game and believes in himself.”
Alcock finished the perfect game throwing 62 strikes on only 82 pitches.
Also on Monday, BC High senior righty Gavin Reilly blanked Malden Catholic, 2-0, on no hits, fanning six. Lawrence senior Abel Acosta yielded no hits in a 6-0 shutout of Tewksbury. In an 11-0 win over Minuteman, Greater Lawrence’s Junior Veras struck out 13 in a no-no. On Saturday, Xaverian junior Sean Birch pitched six hitless innings in a 15-0 win over Norwood in the Challenge to Cure ALS Tournament at Monan Park in Dorchester.
■ The Massachusetts Baseball Coaches Association (MBCA), in conjunction with the John Hancock Fenway Fantasy Day, are sponsoring a high school home run derby in the North, South, Central and West sections of the state. One finalist from each section, along with the winner from last year and neighboring states, will compete at Fenway Park on June 3. On Sunday, May 7, the sites are Lynnfield High (North); Xaverian Brothers (South); Millbury High (Central); and Bullens Field, Westfield (West). Teams are also encouraged to participate in the high schll all-stars program, which give teams the opportunity to fundraise and sponsor a Dana-Farber patient’s participation in Fenway Fantasy Day. The top three fundraising teams will take the field at Fenway.
All proceeds from pledges and donations will go to the Dana-Farber Jimmy Fund. To register, please visit www.JimmyFundFantasyDay. org.
■ On Monday, Brockton High honored the loss of 15-year-old freshman Isaias Caban , who died in a car accident on April 18. His father threw out the first pitch before the varsity game wearing his sone’s No. 8 jersey. The Boxers rallied form a 6-1 deficit for a 7-6 win in extras against New Bedford.
Players of the Week
Max Barsamian, Weston – Two outs, bases loaded, full count, with his team trailing by two runs. Barsamian came to bat with the opportunity every player dreams of, and smacked a walkoff grand slam to give the Wildcats a 7-5 victory over Bedford.
Zach Begin, St. John’s Prep – The senior allowed just one hit over six innings of work and struck out nine to lead the No. 2 Eagles over Walpole on Saturday.
Dean Borders, Danvers – It took just 53 pitches for Borders to dismantle Winthrop, 4-0, on Monday. The senior scattered two hits, picked off two runners and struck out five in his dominant performance.
Steve Hajjar, Central Catholic – In a 6-4 win over Methuen, the junior southpaw opened the game with a three-run double before taking the mound to strike out 11 for his second victory.
Chris Phieffer, Bridgewater-Raynham – With two outs and two strikes, Phieffer ripped a two-run single to cap a three-run seventh inning and propel the Trojans past Marshfield, 3-2, on Monday.
Games to Watch
Thursday, Barnstable at Nauset, 4 p.m. – After being dealt its first loss (Sandwich), Barnstable will look to bounce back against a Nauset team that has won its last three games by a 21-9 run differential.
Thursday, Hanover at Plymouth South, 4 p.m. – The Indians (5-2) are off to a surprising start and sit atop the Fisher Division of the Patriot League. But South (2-3) has a chance to move into a tie for first place with a victory.
Saturday, St. Mary’s at Austin Prep, 10:30 a.m. – The Spartans and Cougars will make up a game originally planned for April 12. St. Mary’s is off to a roaring 6-0 start. Prep has rattled off three straight wins after dropping its first two contests.
Monday, Central Catholic at North Andover, 4 p.m. – In this Merrimack Valley tilt, the undefeated Knights will play host to a Central squad that has dropped two of its last three games but still has a lethal pitching staff led by senior Sam Lara and junior Steve Hajjar.
Correspondent James Duffy also contributed to this story. Karl Capen can be reached at email@example.com. James Duffy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.