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TOWNSEND – Rome was not built in a day and all things require patience. That is North Middlesex baseball coach Tom Bartelson’s strategy with the Patriots after they jumped from one win to three last season and the outlook is even better for 2008 as the building process continues.

“We are looking to build off the progress we made last season,” said Bartelson. “We increased our win total and had a lot of close losses. The goal is to change those close losses into wins and continue to improve as a team.”

Leading North Middlesex into battle this season will be a trio of senior captains. Centerfielder Kyle Miklinevich and left/right fielder Mike Cronin will see time on the mound while Ryan O’Neil is working his way back from injury.

“Kyle has good range and a solid arm in center,” said Bartelson. “He will open up the season in the clean-up spot because of the solid pop he has in his bat. On the hill, he is a control pitcher who will throw strikes and he will get a couple of starts this season.

“Mike will play one of the corner spots in the outfield and is a spray hitter at the plate who will be in the seventh or eight spot,” said Bartelson. “Pitching wise, he aggressively pounds the zone with strikes and pitches to contact. Ryan will start the season at designated hitter but will catch when he is healthy. He will be in the third hole in the line-up and is a solid all-around hitter and a steady run-producer.”

Two other seniors will be key performers as Usman Mughal is the starting shortstop, and Matt Cotone will get work as the closer.

“Right now, Usman will hit in the sixth or seventh spot and is a streaky hitter who can do a lot of things well,” said Bartelson. “He has a great work ethic and strives to get better every day. He will see some time on the hill and has good movement on his pitches. Matt is a power pitcher who is working on his off-speed pitches. I see him doing well in a late inning role. Offensively, he is a promising hitter who will also see time at third base.”

Making up the 1-2 combo on the mound will be juniors Ryan Sharp and Corey Lewis. “Ryan will be the opening day starter and is a big right-hander who picked up two of our wins last season,” said Bartelson. “He has power stuff with a solid fastball, slider and a cutter and does a nice job going after hitters. Corey is more of a finesse pitcher who has solid control and mixes a change-up and curveball in well with his fastball. Both of them will also see time at third base during the season.”

Juniors Rob Mershon and Justin Lonardo-Roy both will have spots in the opening day line-up.

“Right now, Rob will be a starting corner outfielder and will bat most likely in the fifth spot,” said Bartelson. “I also could see him getting some work in long relief. Justin will be behind the plate and has put in a lot of hard work in the off-season. He has good pop at the plate and can spray the ball to all fields. He has been a pleasant surprise.”

Juniors Andrew Lonardo-Roy and Corey Dows are battling for the second base position.

“Andrew has experience at second and is a consistent, smart player,” said Bartelson. “On the mound, he hits his spots, has a decent curve ball and will get some starts. Corey has excellent footwork at second and is a solid left-handed bat at the plate. I project him as a second hitter because he makes solid contact and can go to all fields.”

Rounding out the class of ’10 are first baseman Eric Guild, utility man Mike Maillet and outfielder John Dolciotto.

“Eric will most likely be the opening day first baseman and he provides a solid glove,” said Bartelson. “He is a left-handed hitter who will bat towards the bottom of the line-up. Mike will play everywhere except pitcher and catcher. I see him getting a lot of time at different spots. John is a corner outfielder who has had a good off-season. He has good range and a decent arm and is a spray hitter at the plate.”

Adding depth are three sophomores who will get their shots to make their mark – catcher/first baseman/third baseman Matt Canning, outfielder Michael Tenore, and shortstop Zach Dupell.

“Matt is learning the ropes but is a smart kid who is picking things up quickly,” said Bartelson. “He does a nice job at the plate of going with the pitch and has been solid early on. Michael has good instincts and a solid arm and is extremely fast. There are still things he has to work on but he is progressing nicely. Zach has a great attitude and loves the game. At short, he has great range and is just a real natural. At the plate, Zack is improving, but he is a still a work in progress.”

With a deep, talented roster, Bartelson likes the hand he has been dealt going into the season.

“For the first time since I have been here, we have pitching depth and that is key,” said Bartelson. “I have nine kids that I believe can get outs for me and that is big.”

What are the expectations this season?

“I believe we will improve strongly on what we did last season,” said Bartelson. “As always the goal is to make the Districts and go from there. I expect at least seven or eight wins from this team and know we will surprise some teams. If we can get a couple of breaks, I could see us making it into the post-season.”