NECC baseball team

With a chance to win a national title, members of the 41-2 Northern Essex Community College baseball team mean business.

HAVERHILL — All the studying, all the preparation for the year is done. On to final exams for the Northern Essex Community College baseball teams.

The Knights, as dominant as a program can be, have — almost unfairly — owned this spring, rolling up a 34-2 regular season mark and riding a 28-game win streak into Thursday night’s Region 21 Tournament opener here at Trinity Stadium.

Nobody was looking past last night’s opponent, the Community College of Rhode Island, but with all due respect to any club that stands in NECC’s way over the coming weeks, a passing grade will only be had with a national title.

“We want to win the whole thing. That’s definitely the goal, but we don’t overlook what we have to do now,” said coach Jeff Mejia, who took the Knights to within one victory of that goal in 2016, falling to Tyler (Texas) CC in the title game.

“We always talk about our goals in reverse. We want to win a national title. To do that we have to win the districts. In order to do that you have to win the regional.

“That’s the motivation for all of us. These kids want to win.”

Like usual, this Northern Essex team is a melting pot. It has been for decades. All Mejia has done is make it more than just regional. The hunt for ballplayers now goes coast to coast.

Sure, NECC remains a vital weapon for student-athletes needing some help or a fresh start from around the Merrimack Valley. There are three athletes from Haverhill on the current roster, including last night’s playoff starter Dallas Vaughan.

But athletes from all over the nation find this school now. It offers opportunity and exposure.

“It’s unreal. The team we have is the best team I’ve seen in my entire life,” said Haverhill’s Tyler McDonald, now the team’s closer in his third year with the program.

“I landed here my first year. I didn’t have the grades or the looks coming out of (Haverhill High School). I was asked to come back this season, what a dream it’s been.

The school has given me an opportunity to transfer, get a good scholarship, and it’s developed me into a better baseball player. They really have developed me educationally and athletically.”

Whether you’re an unheralded ex-Hillie making the most of this chance or a kid like California slugger Richard Matos, the goal is pretty much the same.

“These guys came here with the same mindset as me, the same mindset as anyone else here,” said McDonald, who will transfer and play at Division 2 Franklin Pierce in the fall. “They want to play baseball at a competitive level, and either be able to transfer to a four-year school or get drafted. I’m going to Franklin Pierce for baseball. I didn’t think it was possible even before the season started.”

The will to win and win big isn’t just a by-product of athletes trying to kick-start their careers. Mejia has found a special vein of players that care for each other and are willing to fight, not just for their own good but for the good of the team.

“We have goals we’re looking to accomplish. We want to win it all. We’re pretty honest, we start talking about it in the fall, and we talk about it constantly,” said Mejia. “All these kids have individual goals. They all want to get to a four-year program, if possible, get some scholarship money and make it much easier burden on their parents. The further we get, the more opportunity they get. They understand that.

“The compete level, I’ve never had an issue with that. Guys are trying to get to the next level. It’s a fun thing to watch.”

Amesbury’s Logan Burrill is another NECC success story that could play a major role in the run.

He came to campus with plenty of apprehension and fear of the unknown three years ago. It didn’t take long to understand the mission.

“I heard about the program. I was a little bit surprised how good it is here. Everyone comes here and gets better,” he said. “I came here three years ago. Winning the national title has been the goal for three years.”

What Burrill put in, NECC gave back. Next fall, Burrill will head to play at UMaine.

“My expectation has always been to go Division 1 and then get drafted,” said Burrill. “I had no offers out of high school. and now I’m going to UMaine.”

Mejia has built a monster at NECC, a baseball-playing monster, and now just one goal remains.

“We’re giving guys opportunities. The better opportunities we get this group, the more the next group wants to come here,” the coach said.

“Be honest, build relationships. The policy around here is brutal honesty and it’s working. We’re going to stick with that.”

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