O’Bryant center fielder Jeffrey Valdez shares a special bond with his teammates, even though he could pass as their younger brother.
An eighth grader, Valdez bats leadoff for a Tiger squad (12-4, 5-0 BCL) that is sitting atop the Boston City League’s North Division.
The blend of youth and veteran leadership has created a winning culture in Roxbury.
“It’s just a connection we have with the team and how we bond,” Valdez said.
“We come through for each other and we just know we don’t crack under pressure. You learn a lot from the older guys. They make you have a different mindset on how they view life and on the baseball field.”
There is youth across the diamond for the Tigers.
The starting shortstop, Yoldi Soriano , and second baseman, Bryant Cabral ,are freshmen, and staff ace Matthew “Pepe” Ruiz is a sophomore.
Despite having a roster consisting of players who range from middle schoolers to high school seniors, the team has formed a camraderie that Ruiz believes has translated to success on the field.
“I feel like we’re not even a team,” Ruiz said.
“We’ve become brothers. This is like my second family to me right now.”
In O’Bryant’s pivotal 4-1 win over East Boston last Wednesday, Ruiz tossed a complete game to earn his third victory of the season. The 5-foot-8 righthander is 3-1 with a 2.10 earned run average, his only loss coming to North Quincy, 4-3.
The win over the Jets (7-4) was the program’s first in three years and put O’Bryant in prime position to clinch a spot in the four-team City League playoffs.
Valdez showed off his blistering speed, scoring a run and stealing a base while Soriano roped a two-run single in the win over Eastie.
When the final out was recorded, a fly ball that Valdez beautifully tracked down in the gap, Ruiz was taken back with emotion. He hugged his teammates on the mound with tears in his eyes.
“That game meant a lot to us,” Ruiz said. “It made us emotional because we always wanted to beat them.”
It hasn’t been easy for O’Bryant though. The young players have been forced to step up as result of a pair of injuries to key seniors.
Iain McGaff, a pitcher/outfielder, got hurt in early April and didn’t return to game action until this week. Alex Reyes , a senior captain and the team’s No. 3 hitter, was cleated in his hand in a game last week. The gash required 17 stitches and ended his season.
O’Bryant coach Ted Curley has no other option but to rely on Valdez, Soriano (the new No. 3 hitter), Ruiz, Bryant, and sophomore outfielder Tristen Walace even more.
“We’ve had to manufacture a little bit but the youth is playing well,” said Curley, in his sixth season at O’Bryant after a highly-successful 26-year run at Milton High.
“They make youthful mistakes from time to time but they’re learning and getting tougher. You want them aggressive but you don’t want them too aggressive. It’s a learning curve.”
One upperclassmen who has been a mainstay in the lineup, senior catcher Jesus Moscat , serves as the vocal leader of the team.
Moscat offers advice to the younger core and leads chants in the dugout. It’s a role he embraces.
“Ever since I’ve been on the team coach has told me I’m a leader,”said Moscat, who is hitting at a .430 clip.
“I feel like I need to be the guy on the bench for the young guys.”
Moving forward, the goal for O’Bryant is clear: to win a City League title.
The win over East Boston was a right step in the direction. And beating a South Boston squad under the direction of Curley’s son, Justin, 5-1 last week didn’t hurt either.
The next step comes May 29th when O’Bryant faces New Mission in a suspended game. The score was tied 6-6 when rain halted play in early May.
A win against the Titans would clinch a playoff spot.
“They’re learning and you hope by the time we get to [the state tournament] they’ll get over that learning curve,” said Curley.
Added Moscat, “We need a City Championship. We have a clear path so anything other than cities is probably a fail for us.”
■ On Tuesday afternoon, BC High senior Mike Vasil is scheduled to make his first start in a month, taking the mound against St. John’s Shrewsbury, the defending Super 8 champion.
A projected first-round pick in MLB’s First-Year Player draft next month, Vasil departed his start against Xaverian on April 23 with arm soreness.
“It was really just some muscle fatigue,” said Vasil, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound righthander from Wellesley.
“That’s what we came to. As long as I’ve worked out, I’d like to have come back sooner. But it was one of those things where we wanted to ease back; do some rehab to gain back strength.”
In his absence from the mound, Vasil supplied production at the plate. In 37 plate appearances, Vasil has collected 11 hits with nine RBIs and a .297 batting average. On the hill, he is 1-1 with a 2.52 earned run average in 9 ⅓ innings, with 20 strikeouts.
“I’m ready,” he said. “The team is doing really well. The team is 8-4 without me on the mound so I’m pretty confident that they’re going to do their thing behind me. The offense is going to carry itself. I’m just treating it like a regular start again. I know it’s a big game but I’m just really looking forward to get back out there again and show them what I can do.”
■ After stealing a 3-1 win in eight innings over Newton North on Friday afternoon, St. John’s Prep coach Dan Letarte came to the stark realization that though the tilt was a non-league affair, every win counts in a league like the Catholic Conference.
“We just need to win games,” said Letarte.
“We’re looking at the Super 8, but we just need to win games. We’ve been playing really well lately. We’ve just got to keep that up.”
Xaverian (9-6, 6-2 Catholic Conference), ranked 19th in this week’s Globe Top 10, is in the top spot behind a stellar season from senior Sean Birch (3-0 record, 1.56 ERA, and 26 strikeouts). No. 17 Catholic Memorial (9-7, 5-3 Catholic Conference) follows the lead of junior ace Colin McGrath (Quincy), who is undefeated at 5-0 with 34 strikeouts and a .20 ERA. St. John’s Prep (11-4, 5-3 Catholic Conference), riding a four-game winning streak, has the CC’s top hitter in junior catcher Alex Lane (.455 average). Vasil will be a welcome return for BC High (9-5, 3-4 Catholic Conference).
■ A major storyline in the Hockomock League has been Franklin. The seventh-ranked Panthers (14-4) are a legit Super 8 contender were listed on the original ‘Watch List’.
Senior ace Jake Noviello (4-2 record) delivers a fastball that reaches 86 miles per hour.
Franklin fifth-year coach Zach Brown believes his team has made a compelling case to earn a bid into the tourney bid.
“I know that the Super 8 committee has always put emphasis on challenging yourself with your schedule,” said Brown.
“We play 22 games, have Catholic Conference and Bay State games. The Hockomock is outstanding. It’s a brutal conference. A bunch of Division 1 pitchers all around it. Mansfield has two of them, we have one. We’ve certainly challenged ourselves with the schedule.
“Another area of emphasis is do you have the pitching depth to be able to handle the rigors of the tournament. We feel that’s another area that we check boxes. In the end, the dust will settle and they’re going to tell us to show up to a tournament, and wherever that is, we’re going to go there and compete as hard as we can.”
Players of the Week
Kevin Dow, Mansfield — On Monday, the senior registered a pair of hits including a double in the 12th-ranked Hornets’ 10-3 triumph over Franklin. On Friday, the lefthander tossed six-plus innings and struck out 11 Braintree batters in a 5-4 victory.
Andrew Manni, Masconomet — The 6-foot-2 righthander launched Masco into first place in the Cape Ann League on Thursday, firing his second no-hitter of the season on 75 pitches in a 9-0 win over Lynnfield. He also produced two hits and scored three runs.
Jack McKeon, Lincoln-Sudbury — The 6-foot senior catcher belted a two-run home run in the 10th inning against Westford. On Friday, he drove in the game-winning run over Waltham in the fifth inning and finished 2 for 3.
Jack Pawloski, Lexington — In six innings of work for the 10th-ranked Minutemen on Thursday, Pawloski shut out Woburn with 11 strikeouts while allowing four hits. At the plate, the senior went 1 for 2 with two RBIs.
Justin Pratt, Medway — In Wednesday’s Tri-Valley League matchup with Norton, the 5-foot-11 inch junior tossed a no-hitter to blank the Lancers, 6-0. Pratt needed just 74 pitches, fanning four with one walk.
Games to Watch
Tuesday, St. John’s Shrewsbury at BC High, 4 p.m. — The matchup marks the highly-anticipated return of BC High ace Mike Vasil to the mound. He left his start against Xaverian on April 23 with arm soreness.
Wednesday, Xaverian at Plymouth North, 6:45 p.m. — The 19th-ranked Hawks are shooting for a split in their nonleague series after a 4-0 loss to the sixth-ranked Eagles on May 3. Entering Monday’s tilt with No. 16 Silver Lake, the Hawks have delivered a four-game winning streak, while the Eagles have won three straight.
Wednesday, Newton North at Needham, 7 p.m. — In their first and only Bay State Carey meeting of the season, the Rockets (7-8) will look to climb the league standings – currently fifth – and inch closer to the Tigers (7-8).
Friday, Mansfield at Walpole, 3:45 p.m. — A nonleague matchup of Top 20 teams: 19th-ranked Walpole (10-4) and the 12th-ranked Hornets (11-3).
Friday, Reading at Belmont, 2:15 p.m. — This Middlesex League bout features the host Marauders (11-4) looking to remain atop the division. To do so, they’ll first have to concur the Rockets (8-4).Correspondent Chris Bokum also contributed to this story. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Matt Doherty can be reached at email@example.com.