By Bill Burt
---- — TYLER, Texas — Haverhill resident Jonathan DelaCruz could be a poster boy for Northern Essex Community College.
He is local. He has talent. He needs a little guidance. And he’s taking what the school has offered him and has run with it.
DelaCruz, 19, is in Tyler, Texas, for National Junior College Athletic Association Division 3 World Series.
The freshman rightfielder and his teammates are among the top eight teams in the country. The tournament opens today with the NECC playing No. 10 ranked Nassau Community College in Garden City, N.Y., a suburb on Long Island.
“Jonathan is probably the fastest kid in our (New England) region,” said NECC head coach, Jeff Mejia. “He is an unbelievable talent. You see he hasn’t played as much baseball as other kids had before he came here. But he’s getting better every day. He’s learning something new every day.
“As the season has progressed he’s become one of the best players in (New England),” said Mejia.
Not coincidentally, Mejia’s team has followed the lead-off hitter’s lead.
After a 2-6 start, Dela Cruz got hot. And so did the rest of his team.
“I’ve learned a lot this season,” said DelaCruz, who played four years of varsity ball at Haverhill High. “Coach Mejia is honest with me. He tells the me truth. And it’s made me better.”
DelaCruz, who was a centerfielder at Haverhill High, was immediately inserted into right field at NECC.
“I don’t think they knew anything about me when I got here and put me in right field at the start and I’ve never left,” he said. “Next year I’ll probably move to center.”
While he leads the team in steals (14) and can turn a grounder in the hole into a single, his ability to get to balls in the outfield, says Mejia, is unmatched.
“He gets to balls others can’t get to,” said Mejia.
“It’s amazing how much ground he can cover.”
DelaCruz isn’t alone.
Six other regulars are hitting .295 or better, including first-team All-Region Chris Andella, who is hitting .410.
NECC also has a few pitchers, including freshman Zachary Beckwith of Manchester. N.H. (4-2, 2.83 ERA and 40 Ks in 47 innings).
“It’s amazing how much better we are now than we were at the beginning of the season,” said Dela ruz. “Now, it seems, everybody is contributing.”
DelaCruz was among a few players who turned it around in the regional semis, when NECC trailed 9-0 through four innings. NECC came back and won 12-11 to advance to the championship.
“We are never out of a game, and I mean never,” said DelaCruz.
“It doesn’t matter what the score is. It doesn’t matter what inning it is.”
DelaCruz said he will return to NECC for his second year, with the hopes of continuing to get good grades and perhaps earn a Division 1 scholarship.
“I love this place. I’ve really matured here and the baseball has been better than I expected,” said DelaCruz.
“I’m close to home and I’ve learned a lot about myself. This was a great choice for me. And I love playing baseball here, too.”
NECC at the World Series Today: NECC vs. Nassau Community College, 7 p.m. Tomorrow: If wins, NECC plays at 7 p.m.; if loses, plays at noon. Note: NJCAA Div. 3 World Series is double-elimination tournament. Info: leagues.iscorecentral.com/njcaad3worldseries