HAVERHILL — The number is five and counting.
And Northern Essex Community College baseball coach Jeff Mejia definitely plans on continuing to count the number of successive Region 21 titles and trips to the Junior College Division 3 College World Series for the Knights.
Many at the college are still celebrating the Knights’ runner-up national finish this month but Mejia is busy solidifying his incoming recruits, both freshmen and transfers, and he likes what he’s seeing.
“Right now, we have 10 freshmen coming in and four transfers,” said Mejia. “It’s going to be a very good class. Six of the 10 are pitchers and two of the arms could be as good as any I’ve had here.”
If true, that’s quite a statement since Northern Essex pitchers have included All-American Ryan McAuliffe of North Reading, who is now a stalwart for St. John’s University, and this year’s ace, Evan Glew of North Andover.
Mejia is not disclosing the identities of next year’s newcomers just yet for a rather understandable reason.
“In the past, I’ve announced them and Division 3 schools see it and then come and take them away,” said Mejia. “That doesn’t help us.”
Although the Knights will be without standouts like Region 21 Player of the Year Colby Maiola of North Reading, standout shortstop Jordan Roper and catcher Keith Linnane of North Reading, Mejia believes he’ll be returning a strong nucleus around which to build.
The returnees include Glew, leading hitter and All-American Traverse Briana (.474), sparkplug second baseman Brahiam Ortega of Lawrence and third baseman Nick Bruno.
“I’m very comfortable with the nucleus we’ll have,” said Mejia. “I think we’ll be very good again.
“We’re trying to use that old Everett football saying. We don’t want to rebuild, we want to reload.”
To be successful, Mejia will rely on the formula that has been so successful. That means an intense offseason program and the annual preseason southern trip to Florida. Playing against some of the top teams in the country this spring, the Knights seemed to be reeling when it returned with a 2-10 record.
“We consider our trip an extension of our training and so important,” said Mejia, who is considering a trip to Texas next year. “I actually think our time in Florida was more successful this year than years when we won a lot more games.
“We found out a lot about the team and changed a lot. We moved Ellido Reyes from first base to left field, we put Traverse at first base and we found out that Nick Bruno could really play third base.
“And the team really came together. I’m so proud of the way they came back and gelled after that 2-10 start to win 20 of the next 24 games before the tournament.”
Along the way, there were plenty of highlights, including a stunning amount of extra base hits (20 home runs, 84 doubles, 11 triples), terrific performances on the mound by Glew, some great base running by Roper and outstanding defense by Maiola, Merrimac’s John Sirois and others.
It all culminated with the remarkable performance at the World Series, one that Mejia is laying the groundwork to try to reach and surpass next year.
Several Northern Essex players will continue their career next year. Here is the current update.
Colby Mailo UMass Lowell
Keith Linnane UMass Amherst
Anthony Dally West Virginia Tech
Robert Barry Ave Maria College
Jordan Roper University of New Orleans or St. John’s University
John Sirois Undecided
Gianni Esposito Undecided