NRHS Baseball Season Opens Friday

Published in the April 2, 2008 issue of Stow Independent

By Jordana Bieze Foster

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Close may be close enough in horseshoes and hand grenades, but in baseball you either make the playoffs or you don't. After just missing a shot at postseason play a year ago, Nashoba Regional head coach Chuck Schoolcraft is confident that this year's squad won't have to settle for almost.

“Last year we just missed by one game,” Schoolcraft said. “This year there's no doubt I expect to make districts and compete for the league title.”

With 10 seniors and nine juniors on the varsity roster, the Chieftains should have maturity on their side, particularly with regard to pitching. Though they lost starter Pete Rucinski (now playing for UMass-Lowell) and closer Eric Hvoslef to graduation, senior tri-captain Andy Staszewski of Bolton returns as the staff ace, and at least six other pitchers have varsity experience. They include Alex DeSisto and Evan Delaney, both senior southpaws from Stow; Paul Murray and Ryan Sivret, both junior righthanders from Stow; and Torrie Nielsen and tri-captain Riley LeFrancois, both senior righthanders from Bolton. Tyler Nikitas, a junior righty from Lancaster, will also be in the mix; starting catcher Matt Murray, a junior from Stow, will take the mound on occasion as well, Schoolcraft said.

There are more questions when it comes to the infield, an area where inexperience plagued the Chieftains early last season. Tri-captain Mark Melone, a senior from Bolton, will return at first base and will be backed up by Delaney and senior Alex Iannuccilli of Lancaster, but other positions remain up in the air—particularly given that a dislocated elbow will keep shortstop LeFrancois off the field until later in the season. In his absence, senior Mike Pessanelli of Bolton and Paul Murray will spend time at short. Pessanelli will also be a factor at second base, along with senior Shane Foster of Bolton. Nielsen and Sivret will compete to succeed Hvoslef at third.

“There are still a lot of question marks,” Schoolcraft said. “Any one of a few guys could be playing second, short, or third. So we're still trying to figure things out, and hopefully over next couple weeks we'll get a better idea.”

In the outfield, junior Mike Murphy of Lancaster will reclaim his spot in center, with Staszewski in right when he's not pitching. Replacing Pete Farragher in right field will be DeSisto, Iannuccilli, or Lancaster sophomore Jon Cushion; the ubiquitous Paul Murray could see time in the outfield too, Schoolcraft said.

“Paul's a pretty good athlete,” Schoolcraft said, not just in reference to the time the junior has logged on the varsity football and basketball squads. “He's very versatile on the baseball field.”

Offensively, Melone and Staszewski will provide power from the left side, while Matt Murray, Iannuccilli and Delaney do the same from the right side. Murphy will likely lead off, Schoolcraft said.

Despite the plate experience those players will bring, Schoolcraft acknowledges that it's difficult to make accurate predictions with regard to offensive production.

“Hitting is the toughest thing to do,” he said. “Any of those guys could do real good, or they could do real bad.”

Weather permitting (six of last season's early games were rescheduled), the Chieftains will kick off the 2008 season on Friday at home against Milford, which squeaked into the playoffs last season with a 10-10 record but ended up in the Central Division 1 final. Division winner Algonquin will come to Bolton on April 14. Other key matchups include home-and-away series against Mid-Wach B rivals Westboro (at home on April 28, away on May 9) and Marlboro (at home on May 12, away on May 16).

If the Chieftains' season does come down to the last game, it will be at home against Leominster. But Schoolcraft is hoping it won't come to that.

“This team has a lot of potential, a lot of upside. The question is how well these guys will work together as a team,” he said. “Team chemistry is going to be really important with these guys. But if they all play to their ability, then we should have a pretty nice season. I have faith in them.”

Copyright 2008 Jordana Foster – 24 Kirkland Dr, Stow, MA – Email: – Fax: (815) 346-5239