Madison’s Jake Nielsen fires a strike in the Warhawks’ 12-2 win over Langley on May 2. (Photo courtesy of Mark Gjormand)

THE PAYOFF: Madison is staring down a playoff run with a 18-game winning streak in hand. The Warhawks (18-1) face McLean on Monday night with a chance to finish out a one-loss regular season. They’ve done it all with mostly new faces in the clubhouse, a testament to Coach Mark Gjormand’s annual success.

Madison returned only two starters off a ballclub that won 20 games last season. It brought back only 13 innings of experience on the mound. Quickly, the Warhawks — who haven’t lost since Opening Day some 49 days ago — found a recipe to make it work.

“It sounds crazy,” Gjormand said. “We expected to be good. We had a lot of good players coming back. They just weren’t starters.”

Seniors Jake Nielsen and Ryan Kopka emerged as a powerful pair of 1-2 starting pitchers. Sophomore Matt Howat proved a capable third starter after navigating tricky lineups against rival Oakton on April 1. By then, the Warhawks already had won five straight.

By spring break, they were in full flight. They went to South Carolina and dominated Charleston’s top teams. They’ve allowed six runs over six games since returning.

“We just take it one game at a time and keep playing our game,” senior shortstop Nick Conforti said. “[The winning streak] doesn’t feel anywhere near 18 games.”

Madison plays with a pace unfamiliar to high school baseball. The game keeps moving. That 6-3 win over Oakton back in April, a game that featured five pitching changes and nine runs, took a cool two hours.

Nielsen especially said he likes to get on and off the mound. In the name of keeping the game going, he tries to go an entire outing without shaking off catcher Matt Sylvia. He’d rather have to throw another pitch, he said, than allow a batter to get comfortable in the box.

“When he steps in and looks up, I want him to see me waiting,” Nielsen said.

It’s easy for one game to roll into a couple wins, Conforti said, when the Warhawks are economical with their time. A decent pace lends itself to batters putting the ball in play. That keeps the defense engaged and keeps momentum going when it’s time for Madison to pick up the bats.

In their last three games, the Warhawks have outscored their opponents 34-2.

“The pitching and their tempo, that keeps us going,” Conforti said. “One pitch rolls into another. We’re not standing around. We’re having fun.”

» OFFENSES ARE PICKING UP IN clutch moments to end the year. Here are the region’s RBI leaders.

WCAC quarterfinal results

» WITH A LINE DRIVE SINGLE to center field in the bottom of the seventh inning, Willy McGuigan sealed Paul VI’s 1-0 victory over Gonzaga in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference quarterfinal and sent the Panthers into the WCAC semifinals against St. John’s.

Junior Thomas Russell retired the last 13 batters in a one-hit shutout, and McGuigan ended the pitchers’ duel by hitting the first walk-off hit of his varsity career.

“It was euphoric. It was amazing,” McGuigan said. “I haven’t felt a baseball moment [like it] in my life. It was awesome seeing all my teammates running out, and more importantly it’s going to advance us.”

» DYLAN HUNTER HAD THREE HITS and two RBIs as top-seeded St. John’s (20-6) beat visiting Bishop Ireton (9-15), 6-2, in a WCAC quarterfinal. Senior Bruce Hudson pitched four innings in the victory.

The Cadets will face Paul VI in a best of three series, starting Monday.

» SENIOR ZACHARY HUDDLESTON HIT A walk-off single with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning to send third-seeded Good Counsel (13-10) past sixth-seeded McNamara (8-18), 3-2.

The Falcons will face second-seeded DeMatha in a best of three series in the WCAC semifinal, also starting Monday.

» MOST OF THESE HITTERS WHO started the season hot are ending it hot, too. Here are the area’s leaders in hits. 

» THE LANGLEY SAXONS HAVE WON eight of their last 10 games. If not for red-hot Madison, they’d be making a run for first place in Virginia Conference 6. The reason why: senior Danny Hosley, a catcher turned shortstop and pitcher.

Feast your eyes on this incredible offensive stat line:

  • .556 batting average
  • 10 doubles
  • 10 RBIs
  • 14 runs
  • 2 strikeouts
  • .603 on base percentage
  • 1.344 OPS
  • 13 steals in 14 attempts

And on the mound:

  • 2-1 record
  • 3 saves
  • 1.56 earned run average
  • 29 strikeouts in 17.2 innings pitched

» WILL SCHUBERT IS A LATE bloomer, Arundel Coach Frank Hood said. Sure, he might be, but that doesn’t give enough justice to the immensity with with Schubert has burst on to the scene for the Wildcats.

A lightly-recruited junior who played on junior varsity last season, Schubert has an 0.18 ERA. In 38.1 innings, he’s allowed one earned run. He has 39 strikeouts. He has an opponent batting average of .154. He most recently pitched in a 16-2 win over Meade, allowing a season-high four hits.

“He’s exceeded our expectations so far,” Hood said.

The reason behind Schubert’s metamorphosis is his slider. His worst pitch at the beginning of the season, Schubert’s slider now works in tandem with his fastball and makes Anne Arundel County hitters look foolish.

While the fastball runs inside to right-handed hitters, the slider dances to the outside. Pair that with a curveball and a changeup, and you get a starting pitcher primed to dominate.

» POOLESVILLE JUNIOR ZACH WIDENHOFER will never be labeled as a power hitter. He’s a pure contact hitter, one that brought a .472 batting average into the Falcons’ game against Bethesda-Chevy Chase.

His identity as a hitter had not changed by the end of Poolesville’s 4-2 victory on Saturday, but his breadth of experience had. Widenhofer’s first career homer, a three-run shot with the Falcons trailing by a run in the bottom of the fifth, sealed the win for the Falcons (12-2) and pushed their winning streak to five games.

“Everyone circled around him at home plate,” Coach Steve Orsini said. “Not just because they won, but because they believe in one another that someone will make a play.”

» HAROLD CORTIJO IS NOT LETTING go of the lead for strikeouts. Here are the area’s leaders on the mound.

The Post Top 10

1. Riverdale Baptist (24-1) Last week: 1

Harold Cortijo struck out 10 in 5.2 innings in the Crusaders’ 7-3 win against Avalon on Friday.

2. Madison (18-1) LW: 2

The Warhawks have already locked up the top seed in the Virginia Conference 6 tournament.

3. Spalding (20-5) LW: 3

The Cavaliers defeated Baltimore’s Archbishop Curley on Sunday to earn the second seed in the MIAA tournament.

4. Patriot (15-2) LW: 4

The Pioneers’ 3-2 win over Osbourn on Thursday was their ninth in a row.

5. Severna Park (16-2) LW: 5

The Falcons came from behind to topple county foe Chesapeake before concluding their regular season with an 8-5 win over North County on Thursday.

6. St. John’s (20-6) LW: 4

The Cadets advanced to the WCAC semifinals after a 6-2 win over Bishop Ireton on Saturday.

7. Chesapeake (14-2) LW: 6

Dylan Young held Severna Park to one run over six innings, but the Cougars’ bullpen fell flat in a 3-2 loss.

8. Northwest (12-3) LW: 8

The Jaguars’ five-game winning streak came to a stunning end at the hands of Bethesda-Chevy Chase in a 12-4 loss last Thursday.

9. Sherwood (14-3) LW: 9

Seniors Brendan Collins and Kush Desai hit homers in the Warriors’ 12-3 win over Paint Branch last Tuesday.

10. C.H. Flowers (15-1) LW: NR

The Jaguars were a class above the rest in Prince George’s County during the regular season, outscoring their final five league opponents by a combined score of 99-16.

Dropped out: Reservoir

On the bubble: DeMatha, Reservoir, Damascus

Inside Baseball

» Carter Bosch: the best pitcher you’ve never heard of — The Washington Post 

Check out his line from a shutout against Maret last week…

» Who’s better: Severna Park or Chesapeake? This clutch home run decides for us. — The Washington Post

» The complete and total rundown of WCAC quarterfinal Saturday — The Washington Post

» ‘Great baseball moment’: Watch as this student manager with cerebral palsy lines a base hit in first at-bat — The Washington Post

Eric Goldwein contributed to this report.