Since going 7-10 in his first season at the helm, Bethesda-Chevy Chase baseball Coach John Schmidt has seen his team increase its win total each year. But after losing the middle of his batting lineup as well as his top three pitchers to graduation or transfer, Schmidt braced for his fourth season to be a rebuilding one.

Instead, as the Barons enter Friday’s playoffs with the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the Maryland 4A West region bracket, Schmidt leads what he calls “the best team I’ve coached hands down.”

Leading the way has been junior Joe Feldman. Along with being one of three players to hit three home runs in a powerful lineup, Feldman has stepped up as the Barons’ ace in his first year as a starter.

“Honestly for us, this season has been a pleasant surprise,” Schmidt said. “We lost so many guys, but everybody has been stepping up and contributed at some point. This is a seven-inning team. We’ve learned from some tough loses and had a lot of come-from-behind wins.”

Gaithersburg holds the top seed in the 4A West after closing the season on an 11-game unbeaten streak. Bowie (4A South), Catonsville (4A North) and North Point (4A East) hold the other No. 1 seeds.

Defending state champ Northwest, the 13th seed in the 4A West bracket, will open against Quince Orchard, which seeks to avenge last year’s loss to the Jaguars in region quarterfinals.

“Pitching-wise, we’re in good shape with a one-two punch like Alex Thoms and Daniel Fishback, but it’s all about the draw and who throws against us,” Quince Orchard Coach Jason Gasaway said. “Anybody can get hot at the right time, like last year when Northwest was a six seed and ended up winning it all.”

In the Class 3A playoffs, La Plata will look to reach its second straight state semifinal after earning the No. 2 seed in the South region. Also in that bracket are SMAC rivals Chopticon and Huntingtown.

Reservoir, one of the area’s hottest teams, snagged the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye in the East region. The Gators rode a six-game win streak behind the pitching of Cody Morris, but they still finished just short of capturing their third straight Howard County title. That crown went to Atholton, which holds the No. 2 seed in the East bracket.

Defending state champ J.M. Bennett (East), Potomac (South), Digital Harbor (North) and North Hagerstown (West) hold the top seeds in the 3A playoffs.

After reaching the Class 2A title game last year before falling to Williamsport, Patuxent earned the No. 3 seed and a first-round bye in the South region this spring. The road back to the final will be tough, as the Panthers could potentially face strong Howard County contenders Glenelg, Marriotts Ridge, Oakland Mills and top-seeded Gwynn Park.

To check out the entire baseball bracket and schedule, click here.