Jeff Mejia has guided the Northern Essex Community College baseball team to the NJCAA Division 3 World Series in each of his four seasons as head coach. This season, the Haverhill-based Knights (24-16) advanced to the national title game before falling to two-time defending champ Tyler (Texas) Junior College, 4-3, on June. 1, the program’s best showing on the national stage. Three players — sophomore center fielder Colby Maiola (North Reading), sophomore shortstop Jordan Roper (Lynnfield), and freshman lefty Evan Glew (North Andover) — were named to the all-tournament team. A Salem State graduate who served in Operation Desert Storm with the US Army, Mejia was a three-sport athlete (football, track, and baseball) at Everett High, graduating in 1989.
Q. What was the key to this year’s deep run in the tournament?
A. The team closeness really was the key this year. It sounds cliché, but it really was a family affair with these guys. They were extremely close from the time we started in fall. We fundraise all the money to go on a spring trip and coming off several successful seasons, we played a very hard schedule down there. We went down and were banged up but guys didn’t make excuses and we came back 2-10. I talked to a couple people and said I wasn’t worried. This team bought in and they don’t quit and then we went on a spectacular run and won 21 of 25 games and kept getting better and better.
Q. What made you most proud this season?
A. I would say the way they stuck together, the way they bought in. As a coach, it’s very rewarding when you’re teaching things and implementing different things about the game and guys are giving their all and doing their best and working their tails off on what you’re asking them to do. It’s so rewarding. Plus, when kids are getting scholarship offers to four-year schools, that’s most rewarding.
Q. Are there many players who are getting scholarships off this team?
A. We have at least four kids going to Division 1 schools off this team right now and several have received offers from Division 2 and a few are looking at high-end Division 3 schools. That’s not to mention a huge core of players who are coming back next year who we are very excited about.
Q. What happened in the final game? You had a 3-0 lead in the third and Tyler and they rallied to win?
A. It was the closest final game in their three-year title run. It was baseball. We have a chance to get out of an inning and a guy slips and the ball gets thrown away and they get two runs. Then they got the big hit. They’re a good team and we went toe-to-toe with them. Athletically, we felt we’re just as good as them, but they certainly have more depth, certainly on the pitching mound. Offensively and defensively we’re real close to them now.
Q. Tell us about your all-tournament players, starting with Colby Maiola?
A. He’s as good as they get defensively in center field. He’s 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds and runs like the wind. Offensively, from the left side, he led the country in slugging percentage. A lot of scouts watched him at our games and he played well in front of the scouts all season. He’s signed to play at UMass Lowell and that will be a great place for him.
Q. Jordan Roper?
A. A dirt dog. That’s my one-word evaluation of him. Or two, if it’s two words. He’s a grinder and works extremely hard. He’s a kid with a chip on his shoulder because he didn’t have any of those Division 1 offers out of high school and now a few Division 1 schools are interested. The University of New Orleans wants him to fly down and visit. He’s a leadoff hitter and he’s tough as nails.
Q. And Evan Glew?
A. He’s something special. He proved it at the World. Series. In one game, they had the bases loaded in the ninth inning and he went strikeout, strikeout, popout. He had a win and two saves. He’s a lefthander who had as good a slider as anybody down there in the tournament and he has the velocity to move on to the next level. He’s doing a good job in the classroom and if he continues to do that, he’s going to be the next Division 1 guy.