TOWNSEND -- North Middlesex missed out on the playoffs a year ago on the final day of the regular season. Since then, the Patriots have been training to improve on its 9-11 finish.
The Patriots play in the always competitive Midland B division with the likes of Marlborough, Nashoba, Leominster and border rival Groton-Dunstable. Bartelson is hopeful that his team is able to compete for the Mid-Wach B regular season title.
"It would be nice to win the league, but with who are playing against it won't be easy," he said. "It's always tough, even though it's the B division, there are still some very good teams. We are playing strong teams like Nashoba and Hudson. "
The nonleague schedule consists of road games at Mid Wach C foes Oakmont, Clinton and St. Bernard's. Both the Spartans and Gaels are coming off tough seasons in 2012. North Middlesex wraps up its nondivision slate on the final day of the regular season at home with Beverly.
"Even though we are a B-division team, we are still playing some great competition," he said. "We added Marlborough and St. B's this year and hope to bring back the rivalry. Marlborough is already in our league. We end the season with Beverly, who is always a contender for the postseason."
North Middlesex's strongest asset coming into the 2014 regular season is its pitching. The Patriots have five players on their roster who will likely toe the rubber, including seniors Shawn Pinney, Logan Kuzmitch and Sam Ineson.
"My strength right now is the depth at pitching," Bartelson said. "I have five kids who really can pitch, but we will likely go with a four-man rotation. We are carrying 21 kids -- that's the most I have ever had. Ineson has been battling arm problems, but he had a great summer. If he gives me a half a game, that's great. That's the good thing about having pitching depth. Junior Jimmy Ciampa, sophomore David Neuhaus, Kyle Schwartz and Tony Sylvester will all be toeing some rubber."
The senior class will be led by Benjamin Wright, Pinney and Tyler MacDonald.
Every position but center field is wide open coming into the regular season. MacDonald will patrol the power alley in center for the Patriots.
"Tyler MacDonald has been a mainstay in center field since he came up," he said. "He will probably be our leadoff hitter. He has good range and is a very speedy baserunner."
Getting the starting nod in right field will likely be Pinney.
Pinney possesses a cannon of an arm and will likely be an extra base-hit extinguisher.
"Shawn has probably the strongest arm on our team," the coach said. "Pinney is battling an arm injury -- he had a nerve on his funny bone operated on this offseason. He probably won't be able to throw for us until mid-season."
The battle for playing time in left field is wide-open, according to Bartelson.
Ciampa, a lefty, will likely be the front-runner in left field. Kuzmitch will find his niche all over the field as the Patriots' super utility player.
"Kuzmitch is basically my Lou Merloni," the coach said. "He will do everything but catching -- he probably could do it, but I already have three catchers."
Ben Wright dropped 25 pounds in the offseason and will likely be the favored candidate at catcher. Brennan Borneman and Brendan Lawrence will round out the platoon of catchers.
At second base, Kuzmitch and Jay Cobleigh will battle for playing time. Sylvester, Ritchie Sharp, Kuzmitch and Jared Borneman are the leading four candidates at shortstop at this time.
"I have 21 kids. Hopefully the competition is going to push each other," Bartelson said. "It is the weirdest thing: A few years back, I had no catchers, now I have three. I had no corner infielders, now I have six. It's feast or famine. Hopefully, we don't wait until the last day to qualify. We are looking for a positive season, and we have some catalysts coming out of the winter season with the success of the girls' and boys' basketball teams and the state hockey champions. We are on the path upward."