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TOWNSEND — The North Middlesex baseball team will be faced with their usual rugged schedule as their look to continuing to climb the ladder after finishing 4-16 in 2009. Coach Tom Bartelson is optimistic that the team will keep progressing, citing a number of strengths entering the season.

“I like our pitching depth, including four left-handed pitchers,” said Bartelson. “I think we have better team speed, which should give us the ability to take extra bases. We need to be more aggressive to take advantage of that speed. We have good range in the outfield, more overall depth, and the kids are a coachable and hard-working group.”

A trio of senior captains will lead the Patriots into battle – centerfielder Mike Tenore, leftfielder Ryan Milliken, and catcher-pitcher Matt Canning.

“Mike is injured right now but he provides leadership and good range in the outfield,” said Bartelson. “He is a spray hitter with good speed and probably will bat second or third. Ryan is a smart player who also covers a lot of ground. He is a team leader and offensively he does a nice job of going to the opposite field. He probably will hit fifth or sixth.. Matt was our most improved player last season and he is a great leader behind the plate with the ability to be vocal. He has a strong arm and his offense appears to be improved.”

A pair of sophomores solidified the team defense in the middle of the field over the second half of last season as freshmen, and shortstop Kevin Marciano and second baseman Matt Russell return to add strength at crucial positions.

“Both are solid defensive players and they work well together,” said Bartelson. “Kevin has good speed, has a knack for getting on base and will be our leadoff hitter. Matt is a smart player who is a contact hitter and he goes to the opposite field well.”

The starting positions at the corner infield positions are up for grabs, with three players in the mix at first base and five in the mix at third base.

Competing at first are juniors Matt Clarke and Matt Foley, and sophomore Justin Roberts.

“Matt Clarke got varsity experience last season and he also pitched well,” said Bartelson. “He is a good defensive player and is working on his offense. Matt Foley and Justin are both up from the junior varsity team. Matt is a big target at first, and Justin is hitting the ball well. The starting first base position is totally up in the air.”

Competing at third base are senior Tyler Goulding, juniors Kevin Quin, Zach Caraviello and Michael Powell, and freshman Brandon Cole.

“Tyler came off the bench last season,” said Bartelson. “He is experienced and can always be counted upon to give 100 percent effort. He has a great attitude and is an outstanding team player. Kevin, Zach and Michael are all up from the JV team. Kevin has a strong arm and a good bat. He has worked on his pitching over the summer. Zach is a smart player who loves the game. He is doing well in learning the catcher position and could be the backup. Michael is working hard and could see time on the mound. Brandon has good skills and is smart. He is hard working and focused, has good size and hits his spots and has good command on the mound.”

The starting rightfielder is a battle between sophomore Mike Skelly and junior Jesse Reed, who both could also see time on the mound.

“Mike provides power from the left side of the plate,” said Bartelson. “He is a smart player who is learning the system and he could be the number three or five hitter. “Jesse is a line drive hitter with some pop and he is a steady defensive player.”

Senior Ken Izbicki is a key member of the Patriots mound corps, complete with talent and intelligence.

“Ken is a very important pitcher for us,” said Bartelson. “He is a great kid and is a smart pitcher with good off-speed stuff. He was injured last season but we are glad to have him back.”

What is the key to the season for the Patriots?

“It is important that we allow only three outs an inning and not make mental errors,” said Bartelson. “We are in a tough league and have a very tough overall schedule, but our goal is to make the Districts and to be more competitive against the best teams on our schedule. We are trying to instill a winning attitude. The kids have been very focused and I think we could surprise some people.”