Both outfielders, Oak Forest’s Evan Gamboa earns praise from older brother Matteo. ‘That was a big-league play.’

Junior outfielder Evan Gamboa wasn’t expected to start this spring in his first varsity season for Oak Forest. But not only has Gamboa earned an everyday role, he’s batting .548.

By coming through with a couple key hits and throwing a runner out at the plate from center field Wednesday night, Gamboa also earned some lofty praise from one of his biggest role models.

His older brother, Mateo, a senior outfielder for the Bengals.

“Seeing him backing up that throw at second and then throwing that kid out from center was huge,” Mateo said of Evan’s big defensive moment. “That was a big-league play.

“This is his first year playing center field and first year playing varsity. He’s doing a great job.”

Evan Gamboa kept doing what he has been doing, finishing 2-for-3 with an RBI single and a run while lifting Oak Forest to a 4-1 victory over host Homewood-Flossmoor in Flossmoor.

Roosevelt recruit Christian DeGroot went 3-for-3 with a double for the Bengals (19-4), while Mateo Gamboa — a Wisconsin-Oskosh commit — contributed a double and a run.

Andrew Dawson threw 4 2/3 innings, striking out five and allowing just one earned run for the win. Ashton Janowski pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings for the save.

Ricky Hamm went 2-for-3 with a double and a run for H-F (9-11), while Cameron Williams also ended up 2-for-3. Henry Humes struck out six in five innings, allowing two earned runs.

Evan Gamboa put the Bengals in front with an RBI single in the second inning. He led off the fifth with a single and scored on a wild pitch.

He continues to impress Oak Forest coach Ronald Czarnecki.

“We actually didn’t foresee Evan starting this year, but he’s really taken that role and ran with it,” Czarnecki said. “He does a fantastic job and he does everything we ask him to, whether it’s getting on base, stealing bases. He doesn’t get too big with his swings.

“He plays great defense for us, too. He’s an all-around player.”

It helps that Evan always has his older brother there to motivate him.

“Seeing Mateo do everything growing up, I always wanted to do the same things,” Evan said. “I wanted to be just like him.

“It’s a competitive household. We have three other brothers, too. It’s all boys in our family, and we’re just pushing each other to be our best.”

The Gamboa brothers are multisport athletes. Both Evan and Mateo play soccer for the Bengals, while Mateo is on the basketball team as well.

Evan used to play basketball before giving it up to focus more on baseball. But some of the best brotherly battles still take place in that sport.

“We have a little cement pad with a portable hoop at home, and me and Evan have some crazy competitive games,” Mateo said. “I’m not going to lie, Evan usually beats me, even though I’m the one who still plays basketball.”

The two brothers have been competing in a wide variety of sports their entire lives.

“My dad was very specific about us wanting to try everything,” Evan said. “He threw us into every sport. He even put us in football, which we were definitely not prepared for. That definitely wasn’t our sport.”

The Bengals, meanwhile, picked up their third straight win and their seventh victory in the last eight games, the only loss in that stretch coming to undefeated Lincoln-Way West.

“I wouldn’t trade anybody on this team for anybody else out there,” Mateo said. “We’re a family.”

Of course, seeing the success being had by the one member of his team who is literally his family is extra special for Mateo.

And Evan also is having a blast.

“I love it,” he said. “The coaches are great, the teammates are even better.

“And it always helps to have this kid (Mateo) around here to help me out.”