Last year will definitely be a very tough act to follow for first-year Northern Essex Community College baseball coach Jeff Mejia.
In the final year of Chris Sullivan’s three-year coaching reign, after all, the Knights were Region champions and finished third in the Division 3 World Series while compiling a 30-10 record.
Even a veteran team would have a tough time matching that record, but the 2013 Knights are anything but experienced. Seven of the team’s nine positional players graduated and an eighth, leading hitter Pat Parker (.507), transferred to UMass Lowell.
Mejia, however, is optimistic that he has the ingredients, with a combination of freshmen and transfers to go along with a few holdovers, to concoct a season that might even rival last year.
“This is a good team and the potential is great, said Mejia, who was an assistant at Suffolk University the last seven years and directs the Rams Athletic Complex in his hometown of North Reading.
“The kids who are back want to do what they did last year and I think it’s possible. We have a lot of talent.”
Mejia is particularly high on his pitching staff.
“We have great pitching depth and that’s going to be so important,” he said. “We have 12 guys who can do the job.”
Returning from last year are Derek Dolan, Nick Goodwin and Chris Martin, all of whom pitched well, while freshmen Dan Peters from Salem, N.H., and Manchester Memorial’s Zack Beckwith show great potential. Franklin Pierce transfer Josh Cummiskey also shows a lot of promise and Lawrence’s David Quazada looks like he could be an effective closer.
The infield looks solid. Returnee Tyler Johnson will likely be at third base with Martin or Endicott College transfer Alex Ray at second base. Trevor Bouvier from Salem, N.H., could be “something special” at shortstop with Division 1 potential according to Mejia while Quazada and Jacob Raynor will battle at first. Freshmen Chris Legerstrom and Anthony Caiani will duel at catcher.
The outfield also looks strong with Haverhill freshman Jonathan DelaCruz, transfer Chris Andella and all-around talent Daro Mendrano the likely starters.
“Daro hits with power and has outstanding speed, and DelaCruz can really get to the ball — he’s our fastest guy,” said Mejia. “Team speed is going to be huge for us. It’s good if you have guys under 7 (seconds, for 60 yards) and we probably have a dozen. DelaCruz is at 6.4.”
The Knights leave for a preseason trip to Florida this week in which they will play seven games in five days. Their first scheduled game in New England is March 24 at the Community College of Rhode Island. The first scheduled home game is April 4 against Mass Bay.
“We have the pieces ... we just have to put them all together,” said Mejia. “We’ll be strong up the middle and I think the hitting will be pretty good. The thing we have to worry about is overconfidence.”