The bleary-eyed Merced College baseball team gathered together at 9 a.m. on Thursday and got loaded onto a chartered bus.
The 263-mile trek to Feather River College in Quincy is normally about a five-hour jaunt, but the bus arrived in a little less than seven hours.
The Blue Devils hopped right off and hit the diamond in an effort to familiarize themselves with the field ahead of today's NorCal first-round, best-of-three playoff series opener.
The 2 p.m. first pitch could have just as easily been tossed from MC's mound, but you won't hear the Blue Devils complain.
"It was between us and Chabot for the No. 5 seed," MC coach Chris Pedretti said. "They probably had a few bigger names on their schedule and so they got the nod.
"The six, seven and eight seeds were all conference champions -- so they had to host -- and that dropped us down to ninth."
And that insured the Blue Devils wouldn't be sleeping in their beds on Thursday evening.
Still, MC has been so focused the last couple of weeks, Pedretti doesn't think it matters where the team plays.
"It's really been that way for weeks now," Pedretti said. "Ever since we locked up second place and knew we were going to the playoffs, the guys have been fine-tuning what we do."
Pedretti thinks a portion of that added intensity stems from the lingering memory of last year's playoff collapse.
Down 1-0 in the best-of-three series to West Valley, the Blue Devils jumped to a 14-3 lead after four innings.
And couldn't hold it.
West Valley scored 12 unanswered runs, ending MC's season.
"Everybody feels like we should have done more last year," Merced sophomore catcher Wes Borba said. "Our focus this year has been trying to win the conference title and getting back to the playoffs.
"Hopefully we learned something and we can make a deep run."
That run begins against a Feather River squad that closed the season winning 23 of its final 24 games -- after a 4-14 start.
"Historically, teams in that region always start slowly, because snow and other things we don't have to worry about keep them off of the field," Pedretti said.
Feather River likely will be squaring off against the deepest pitching staff it's seen all season.
With three true starters and a bevy of arms in the bullpen, the Blue Devils are built for the best-of-three format.
"You'd hope that gives us an advantage," Pedretti said. "Our strengths all season have been pitching and defense.
"If we perform like we have, I like our chances.
Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NorCal Playoffs, First Round
WHEN: Today, 2 p.m.; Saturday, Noon, 2 p.m. if necessary
SEASON: MC finished second in the CVC. Feather River won 23 of its final 24 games to win the Golden Valley Conference.
BY THE NUMBERS: MC hit .300 for the season and had a team ERA of 3.16. Feather River hit .328 and had an ERA of 4.61.
-- Sean Lynch