BOLTON -- During the preseason, Nashoba Regional baseball coach Chuck Schoolcraft said "it could be a great season or it could be a tough season."
So much for a difficult year.
It's been a wonderful regular season for the Nashoba baseball program. The Chieftains somehow managed to replace 13 seniors off last year's tourney team to win the Mid-Wach B title for the first time in Schoolcraft's 12 years at the helm, and also earned the top seed in the Central Mass. Division 1 tournament with a 17-3 record.
No bad, right?
"We're trying to put our games behind us," said Nashoba shortstop Jordan Edmonds during Friday's practice, where the temperature topped out over 90 degrees. "We've trying to carry the momentum of the season into the playoffs.
"It's there for us to take if we play the way we know how to play."
The Chieftains are completely focused on the task at hand: winning in the tournament.
"We just come out to the field and we're ready to play," speedy Nashoba center fielder John Militano said. "Anybody who they put us up against, whether it's Leominster or anybody, we're ready to beat."
Nashoba earned a first-round bye and will host No. 8 Algonquin -- winner of 10 straight games and perhaps the hottest and scariest team that no one wanted to face in the D1 tourney -- at 4 p.m. Monday in a quarterfinal.
"We know it's one-and-done, so there should be a lot of motivation there to win on Monday," Schoolcraft said.
The Tomahawks (12-9), who also got hot at the right time last season and eventually rode that momentum to a Central Mass. title, met Nashoba on May 4 at home and fell to the Chieftains, 6-5, in eight innings. Algonquin hasn't lost since.
"Our guys know it's going to be a hard-fought game," Schoolcraft said. "We know they're good and we know what they did last year. The guys know what they're up against, but these guys are a confident group and they're not going to back down from anybody.
Algonquin defeated Marlboro, 5-4, on Thursday in a first-round game to advance to the quarterfinals.
"We were actually hoping for Algonquin," said Drew Foster (4-1, 0.97 ERA), the ace of the Nashoba staff who will start on the mound on Monday. "Losing to Marlboro twice doesn't really put a good thought into our heads going into the postseason. We were all rooting for Algonquin because we know we can beat them and we beat them out there. There's no reason why we can't do that here."
Foster said he can't wait to make his first postseason start and his teammates can't wait to flash the leather behind their go-to guy -- a hard-throwing righty they have so much confidence in.
"Sending our ace to the mound, we'll take him against anyone," Edmonds said. "We'll face anyone with him on the mound."
The first round and quarterfinals have been a house of horrors for Nashoba under Schoolcraft. While Schoolcraft took over the program 12 years ago and has now qualified for the postseason 10 times, wins have certainly been few and far between in the postseason. Nashoba has never advanced to the semifinals under Schoolcraft. It's a tough statistic to swallow, but the Nashoba head coach doesn't shy away from that cold, hard fact.
"Of course it's a heavy burden, but it's a heavy burden on me (more) than it is on them," Schoolcraft said. "These guys are carefree and don't think of things like that. I think about things like that, but they don't. They just want to win. When they go out and play on Monday it won't be because coach Schoolcraft is a quarterfinal guy or the program hasn't gotten there in so many years."
Nashoba might be the top seed, but it knows it has to earn that billing and win when it matters the most.
"Yeah, we went 17-3, but that really doesn't mean anything," Foster said. "We haven't even started districts. I think we're definitely overlooked, but that doesn't really matter to us. We're still going out there to win. It's better for us if they're going out there overlooking us because they're not going to know what to expect."
Schoolcraft has been a major reason why Nashoba's a perennial playoff team now, and his team knows winning in the tourney would be a great way to pay back their coach for everything he's done for this rising program.
"We were feeling like that about the league title as well," Edmonds said. "He hasn't had that either since he's been here, and we worked hard for that. We're ready to set a bunch of new standards for this program and go out with a bang, for sure. We're trying to give him all sorts of new milestones for him to remember and for us to remember."
Foster said Nashoba is hungry to win for everyone involved in the program.
"For him, we'd definitely love to get him a district championship," Foster said. "He deserves that more than anybody, but we're playing for ourselves right now. It's about the kids on the field and it'd be a bonus to just get him that district title."
And Nashoba isn't just going to be satisfied with a quarterfinal victory. These players have lofty expectations and losing early in the postseason would be a major disappointment, considering how much time and effort they've put into the season.
"Our No. 1 goal is to get into that state title game and I think everyone on this team has that mentality," Militano said.
Foster agrees that the big picture is a trip to the state title game.
"Semifinals, that's way too short for us," Foster said. "We want to get all the way. We want to make it to states, that's our goal. We set our goals pretty high and we're planning to reach those goals."
Nashoba's talent has certainly taken over this year, as it was a perfect 10-0 in the Mid-Wach B and also rattled off 14 straight victories before closing the regular season with a 5-2 loss to Marlboro.
Nick Campana, Militano, Edmonds and Ian Coull are all hitting over .300, while the pitching staff has been lights-out with Foster, Campana, Jack Sarnoski, Edmonds and Nick Borsari.
"We've got all the talent in the world," Foster said.
Talent on offense, defense and on the mound is one thing, but it's that secret ingredient of team chemistry that makes this club "special," according to Schoolcraft.
"These guys have been excellent together," the Nashoba head coach said. "It's not like we've had superstars here this year, but it's been a great team effort. Every week or every game there's someone else stepping up and doing something. Team chemistry is so, so important."
Foster said the entire team gets along with one another. You can see that bond on the field when the Chieftains compete between the white lines, too.
"We all love each other and get along great," Foster said. "I've never seen a team that gets along this well. We're a good team, a solid team."
And a team that has a chance to make this a great season.
Follow Chad Garner at twitter.com/CGARNER23