By Craig Holt
Despite the loss of several pivotal players to graduation, Nashoba Regional’s hard-working baseball team is ready to scale the mountain once again.
For the record, last year’s climb was the most memorable and thrill-filled in school history. The Chieftains won the Central Mass. Division 1 championship, toppling long-time diamond icon Leominster, 2-1, in the title tilt.
Nashoba followed this up with a good run in the state tournament, eventually losing to Bridgewater-Raynham in the final, 4-0. The Chieftains edged Westfield in a state semifinal, 3-2. Nashoba finished with an eye-popping 21-4 overall record.
“Last year was a great year – we had a lot of chemistry and the kids really liked each other,” Nashoba coach Chuck Schoolcraft said. “We’ve got great kids this year and we’re working hard, but it’s too early to tell just how good we’ll be. There are a lot of very good baseball teams out there.”
The Chieftains kicked off their season last week with games against Lincoln-Sudbury, St. John’s and Leominster. With a win against Leominster, their record coming into this week is 1-2.
In addition to the challenge of filling the voids created by graduation, Schoolcraft and his staff have been dealing with unforgiving elements. Prior to the season-opener against Lincoln-Sudbury, the Chieftains had been on an outdoor baseball diamond just three times for scrimmages. Lingering snow, unseasonable cold, rain and mud have prevented the squad from getting onto its own home field, forcing the team to practice indoors or on other playing fields.
“I’ve been here 14 years and this is definitely the worst that it’s ever been,” Schoolcraft said.
Despite the early-season challenges, Nashoba had more than 70 athletes try out, forcing Schoolcraft and his staff to make some difficult cuts. Along the way, the Chieftains have worked hard each day and improved as they attempt to get things in gear for the upcoming grind.
Having a quartet of hard-working, leadership-oriented senior captains has made the early-season workout regimen all the more easier. This year’s captains are Nick Campana, John Militano, Nick Borsari and Kevin Connelly. The captains have varying degrees of experience and each is a key contributor, both on and off the diamond. Most impressively, the captains understand their roles and thrive on the requisite responsibilities.
“All four captains have good leadership skills and they’ve all done good jobs as captains,” Schoolcraft said. “They will tell the other players on the team what has to be done. They’re supportive. Just a group of real good kids.”
Most importantly, of course, Nashoba’s captains, fueled by the desire to end their high school careers with the proverbial bang, get the job done on the field.
The versatile Campana has been a stellar pitcher who often helps his cause with his bat. Last year, Campana compiled a 5-0 record and had .396 batting average. He is the Chieftains’ ace pitcher this year and willingly answers the call in the big games.
“Nick is a good pitcher, a good hitter and an all-around good baseball player,” Schoolcraft said. “He’s a Steady-Eddy type of player.”
Militano, who will play baseball at Salve Regina College next year, is a star offensive player who hit .340 last spring. Among other things, Militano has good speed, which helps him both offensively and defensively. Borsari is a stud in right-field and gets it done both offensively and defensively. Connelly plays first base and is a solid hitter, swinging at a .320 clip last year. He has also come on as a pitcher and will likely see time as a closer. Connelly was used in this role against Haverhill and threw 26 pitches, including 20 strikes.
“Kevin Connelly is an unflappable kid – nothing bothers him,” Schoolcraft said.
With the season just getting started, the rest of the team, and lineup, is still evolving. Players who look to crack the starting lineup, most notably the graduation-depleted infield, include Derrick Hinckley at third base, John Hannon at shortstop, Matt Sabourin at second base and Mike Kane behind the plate. Other players in the mix include Drew Schartner, Ethan Sprague, Noah Milliard, Greg Cavaioli, David Gauld, Ben Sousa and Charlie Ramsland.
The remaining varsity players who will likely be heard from include Will Aube, PJ Cacciatore, Ian Hart, Brian Heffernan, and Zach Marshall.
When the starting lineup is set and the season is in full swing, Schoolcraft anticipates that his squad will likely be strong in the areas of pitching and defense. Nashoba will also be adept at putting runs on the scoreboard.
“We take pride in our pitching and defense – they’re always Nashoba strengths,” Schoolcraft said. “And this year’s team will definitely be a defensive one with good pitching. We’ll pride ourselves on small-ball, situation hitting.”
The Chieftains will need all of that and more due to a tough schedule. Division 1 is loaded with talent and is topped by traditional powers like Algonquin Regional, Wachusett Regional, St. John’s and Leominster.
Nashoba competes in the Midland B League and that, too, is well-stocked with talent, headlined by Hudson High and Quabbin Regional.
“The schedule is tough, but we’re not afraid of anyone,” Schoolcraft said. “We have to come to play in all our games – we have a target on our heads.”
Of course, Nashoba is used to a difficult early-season schedule. Last year, the Chieftains lost their first two games by a single run, each contest going into extra innings. Nashoba downed Lincoln-Sudbury in its third game and went on to lose just one more regular-season outing the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, the Chieftains’ JV’s enjoyed a standout year as well, finishing with a 17-1 record.
Against that backdrop, optimism prevails. Schoolcraft is happy with the turnout this spring. The team attitude is upbeat, the work ethic outstanding. And the varsity coaching staff, which consists of Matt Lane, Matt Vittorioso, Charlie Tinschert, Chris Klingenberg, and Dylan Poulin, has been great, Schoolcraft added.
The JV’s are coached by Don Martin, while the freshmen employ Trevor Short at the helm. The varsity team managers are Max Ashline and Jimmy Henry.
“Things are going very well,” Schoolcraft said. “We’ve got the best kids in the program, and we’re at the best point in my 14 years. But last year was great. The only way that we can improve upon last year is to win the state title.”