By BRENDAN McGAIR
PAWTUCKET — The line of symmetry was perfect on May 25, 2019 – a day that saw Brandon Ribeiro mow down one Paul Cuffee batter after another while standing tall on the mound at Max Read Field.
Ribeiro personified domination that particular day, firing a complete-game, three-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts compared to one walk. Naturally, he was the winning pitcher as Shea High notched a program milestone by virtue of an 8-0 triumph.
The 2019 baseball Raiders stand out for the simple reason that head coach Dino Campopiano’s crew ended a nine-year postseason drought. Finally, they were able to whistle a more uplifting tune after a near-decade’s worth of lean times.
Making the feat that transpired in the Division III quarterfinals even more noteworthy is that Ribeiro’s older brother Zach was on the roster of the last Shea team that reached the playoffs.
The 2010 Shea team that Zach Ribeiro was a part of ended up making quite the splash as the No. 10 seed in the D-II postseason. Those Raiders advanced to the regional finals before bowing to eventual champion Mount St. Charles.
From one Ribeiro at the decade’s onset, to a member from the same family who also starred in the high school baseball playoffs as the 2010s drew to a close … you can’t script it any better.
Unfortunately, Brandon Ribeiro never got the chance to build off last year’s breakthrough season for Shea. No memories were accrued after his senior season was taken away due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On paper, the Raiders were shaping up as one of the better teams in Division III. Ribeiro along with fellow 2020 Shea graduate Jacob Faria would have teamed up to give Campopiano stability at the front end of the rotation. The plan was to alternate where one day, either Ribeiro or Faria would serve as the starting pitcher while the other held down the fort at shortstop. The next game, you would flip flop and not skip a beat as it relates to production.
Throw in a host of promising underclassmen and Ribeiro had an excellent chance to end his career on a winning note. Alas, a big year never came to fruition.
A two-time all-division player – first team as a sophomore in 2018 and second team as a junior in 2019 – Ribeiro says he “thinks about it, at least twice per week, but you can’t do anything about it,” when asked if he’s found himself playing the what-if game in wake of the R.I. Interscholastic League announcing on April 24 that there wouldn’t be a spring season.
His response tells you that while the frustration of missing out in what would have been his last hurrah in a Shea High uniform has been tough-to-swallow, you can’t dwell too much on something that was something that was completely out of his control.
From a results standpoint, the Raiders during Ribeiro’s freshman and sophomore years struggled to keep their heads above water. A 3-13 campaign in 2017 was followed with a 4-14 mark in 2018. Looking back, Ribeiro never recalled a time when in the face of an avalanche of losses, the atmosphere in Shea’s dugout was neither sour nor negative.
“It was pretty tough, but the teammates around me, they stayed positive. We just had a great group of kids,” he said. “Winning or losing, we looked at it that we got the opportunity to play baseball … get on the field and have fun.”
Last season’s turnaround yielded a 9-8 record during the regular season that earned the Raiders the No. 4 seed. After eliminating Paul Cuffee in the opening round, the magic carpet ride ended with No. 1 seed Exeter/West Greenwich sweeping Shea in the best-of-three Division III semifinals. With Ribeiro and Faria scheduled to return for a 2020 encore, the Raiders attacked the offseason with a singular goal – to be regarded as one of the top teams in the league.
“We worked extra hard in the gym, then the day came [this past March] when Coach Camp told us that we wouldn’t be able to practice until COVID is over,” said Ribeiro.
Eventually, the belief that some form of a spring season could be salvaged became a moot point. For Ribeiro, there wouldn’t be an opportunity to solidify his all-out status as one of the table setters in Shea’s lineup. There wouldn’t be another chance to see if he could match or surpass last year’s playoff pitching brilliance.
“If I had to drive in the last run at the end of the game … I liked having the pressure on me,” said Ribeiro. “It was pretty heartbreaking when it officially came down that I couldn’t play my senior year.”
Stated Campopiano, “As a freshman, he went all out and was aces for us each season. He led off and averaged 20-25 stolen bases. What a hard-working kid.”
The last sentence from Campopiano’s quote holds extra meaning. Until recently, Ribeiro worked as a landscaper.
“It was pretty tough trying to fit work around the baseball schedule and stay focused in school,” he said.
Starting next week, Ribeiro’s lengthy drought from actual baseball competition will come to an end. He plans to catch and pitch for the Howard Rogers entry in the newly-formed R.I. 19-20 Elite Baseball League. Before his preferred positions on the field for Shea were pitcher and shortstop, Ribeiro was a behind-the-plate option for Campopiano.
“It’s going to be enjoyable. A lot of people have tried to help us play our last series of baseball. It’s pretty cool,” said Ribeiro. “It’s good to get back out on the field.”
Ribeiro plans to move to Florida once the summer season is over. College isn’t on the immediate horizon, hence there’s a good chance he’s looking at his final baseball go-around where stakes are attached.
Wins and losses aside, he plans to soak in and treasure every at-bat and every chance to record a putout.
“For me, it’s going to be extra special,” said Ribeiro. “To have games where you’re keeping score … at least it’s something.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03