North Central Mass. was blessed to watch some good high school baseball this spring.
There were thrilling individual performances -- both offensively and on the mound -- great come-from-behind wins and great team storylines throughout the regular season.
High school baseball
It's a great season when 7 of the 9 teams in the coverage area qualify for postseason play. Now, can any of these teams get hot and win a district championship? Better yet, a state title?
The intensity gets cranked up more now. It's playoff time and it's put-up-or-shut-up for Leominster, North Middlesex, Nashoba, Fitchburg, Gardner, Monty Tech and St. Bernard's.
Taking a look at Central Mass. Division 1, all I can say is what a beast of a bracket, headlined by top seed St.
Leominster -- the tri-Mid-Wach A champs with Wachusett and Algonquin -- is stumbling into the playoffs with four straight losses and five of its last six games.
No panic in Leominster, however.
"We don't concern ourselves with what we cannot change," Leominster coach Rich Barnaby said. "All we can do is use the next week to get better and learn from the mistakes that we made over the last four games against the top four teams in Central Mass. I am excited that we can get some good practice time in. The last two weeks have been either rain or games, it has been tough to get into any sort of rhythm."
Leominster faces area foe North Middlesex in a quarterfinal game Monday at 6 p.m. at Doyle Field.
Ace Pat Gallagher is expected get the ball. If it's a vintage Gallagher performance -- pounding the zone in and out with his fastball and dropping that hammer curve and solid change -- it could be lights out for North Middlesex.
But North Middlesex won't go down fighting, especially since the Pats beat the Blue Devils earlier this season in the annual Coaches vs. Cancer game at Doyle Field and are oozing with confidence after a 14-6 regular season.
Plus they have one of the best talents in the area in Patrick Aubuchon.
Aubuchon, only a sophomore, has been a treat to watch swing the bat. The power-hitting lefty who never gets cheated in the batter's box, was third overall in hitting in Central Mass. with a .556 average, including 30 hits, one homer and 24 RBIs.
On the mound he sports a 5-0 record and a 1.10 ERA with 57 strikeouts.
Nashoba Regional -- the No. 5 seed -- travels to No. 4 Algonquin on Monday at 4 p.m. Lefty Cam Roberts, like Gallagher in Leominster, is a must-see pitcher for any high school baseball fan.
And how about No. 10 Fitchburg? The Red Raiders are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2006. What an incredible job of changing the culture by head coach Ray Cosenza. He's been just what the program needed, as Fitchburg finished second in the league and earned a playoff spot. And to think, over the last two years under Cosenza, the Red Raiders won a combined three games. Now, in Year 3, Fitchburg has eight wins and confidence is rising within the program.
Kudos to the Red Raiders for simply qualifying.
Winning at least one playoff game would go a long way in developing more buzz in the program. Sage Bray will do everything in his power to rally this team in the playoff opener at No. 7 Shrewsbury on Saturday.
In Division 3, Gardner got the No. 7 seed at 10-10 and hosts No. 10 Nipmuc on Thursday at 3:30 p.m.
Gardner veteran skipper Gregg Picucci -- a great baseball mind with a no-nonsense, old-school approach -- watched his Wildcats beat Murdock, 4-1, in the regular-season finale to punch their playoff ticket.
Don't sleep on the Wildcats because they have some high-level players like Evan Schoonover (88 strikeouts in 552/3 innings pitched) and Shane Lindermuth to do the heavy lifting.
Quietly and without much fanfare, Monty Tech is 14-6 and hosts No. 9 Northbridge at Fitchburg State University on Thursday at 4 p.m.
The Bulldogs pack a punch on offense with top Colonial Athletic League hitters and seniors Rory Cockerline, Jacob Mahan and Justin Naylor.
Is anyone really shocked that St. Bernard's is back in the postseason? It seems like every year coach Jim Beauregard has the Bernardians back in the playoffs.
This season, however, the Bernardians have been up and down and are No. 7 seed in Division 4 at 12-8.
But remember this team is loaded with experience and top guns like Connor Wironen (.500, 6 HRs, 21 RBIs), T.J. Cooper (.448), Connor Malone (.448, 17 RBIs) and James Xarras (.339, 19 RBIs) hope to make a lot of playoff noise. St. Bernard's hosts No. 10 West Boylston at 4 p.m. Thursday.
St. B's came out victorious over the Lions, 8-2, on April 13, as Wironen belted two homers.
Just remember, many of these same players played on last year's team that advanced to the CMass. Division 4 final. Experience goes a long way in the pressure-packed playoff tournament.
It's been a fun journey for these teams. Now, it's time to turn the page and write a happy ending for 2017.
Follow Chad Garner on Twitter @CGARNER23.