Baseball – 2019 Shore Sports Network All-Shore First Team
2019 Shore Sports Network All-Shore Baseball Team
Selected by Shore Sports Network Baseball Editor Matt Manley, based on statistics, first-hand accounts and input from coaches.
David Melfi, Sr., Jackson Liberty
A model of consistency since his breakout sophomore season, Melfi was a rock behind the plate for the Lions and a menacing player with the bat in his hands. In his final high-school season, Melfi led the Shore Conference in doubles, home runs and RBI, finished third in runs scored and slugging percentage and finished top-12 in both batting average and on-base percentage.
Melfi closes out his career as the Shore Sports Network Player of the Year and what pushed him to the finish line ahead of some of the other worthy candidates to appear later in this post was his ability a the most important defensive position on the field, as well as his knack for the big moment. Five if his 10 home runs came in postseason tournament games, including two in a win over two-time defending Central Jersey Group III champion Allentown – the second of which was a seventh inning walk-off blast.
In the young history of the Jackson Liberty program, Melfi is now the all-time leader in hits (127), home runs (19), doubles (45), runs scored (98) and RBI (106). Read more about Melfi’s record-breaking season and career in his Player of the Year story.
Ron Cole, Sr., 1B/RHP, Neptune
It has been quite the three-year ride for Neptune and Cole since the 2017 season. Cole was an integral part of Neptune’s surprise run to the Central Jersey Group III final in 2017 but could not shoulder the load the team needed him two during a disappointing follow-up season in 2018. This year, Cole and the Scarlet Fliers were even better than they were two years ago from start to finish, with Cole enjoying a monster season at the plate.
Cole entered the season with a reputation as a flame-thrower on the mound and a free-swinger with pop at the plate. The University of Kentucky commit had some dominant starts mixed with some rough ones, but remained relentless in the batter’s box. He was one of 26 players at the Shore to hit .400 or better and his eight home runs was third in the conference behind Melfi and Manasquan’s James Harmstead.
The biggest of the eight homers was a game-winning, two-run, walk-off home run to center field to beat No. 1 Wall on April 24. During a three-game stretch in early May, Cole hit a homer each against Shore and Matawan twice to up his total to six. He capped his season with a grand showing at the plate and on the mound, striking out eight and allowing one earned run over 4 2/3 innings and going 3-for-3 with a home run in a 7-4 loss to Hopewell Valley in the Central Group III Tournament. While it was a tough ending for Cole and the Fliers, both he and his team showed their resilience with a bounce-back 2019.
James Harmstead, Sr., 3B/RHP, Manasquan
Of all the top candidates for the 2019 Player of the Year award, it is safe to say that Harmstead was the best pure hitter of the bunch. The Monmouth University commit has been raking at the varsity level since he was a freshman and in his final high school season, he became the Shore’s most feared hitter, Manasquan’s all-time home-run king and an All-Shore First-Teamer for the first time.
Harmstead finished first in the conference with an eye-popping 1.076 slugging percentage – more than 100 points better than runner-up Rocko Brzezniak of St. John Vianney. He also finished second in home runs behind Melfi, third in the conference in RBI, fourth in on-base percentage and sixth in batting average. Harmstead even led the Shore Conference in triples, with four of the five going to the spacious centerfield grounds at Manasquan’s home field.
Harmstead’s early-season RBI came in bunches, as the senior third baseman collected six against Monmouth, eight in a two-homer game vs. Shore Regional and five more in game No. 2 vs. Shore – all by April 16. He later had a two-homer, eight-RBI game vs. Holmdel on May and also hit three of his homers in tournament games. He hit a solo blast off Rutgers commit Braedin Hunt in a Monmouth County Tournament loss to CBA, went deep in a blowout win over Ocean in the Shore Confernece Tournament round of 16, and belted an opposite-field bomb at Middletown South in the SCT quarterfinals. Harmstead leaves Manasquan with 102 hits and school records in both single-season (nine) and career (16) home runs.
Vincent Bianchi, Sr., SS/RHP, Red Bank Catholic
As a sophomore in 2017, Bianchi emerged as a reliable starter on the mound for the Caseys and came back as a junior limited on the mound by a sore arm but more than capable of playing a standout shortstop and swinging a potent bat near the top of the lineup. As a senior, Bianchi put it all together, giving RBC 46 dominant innings on the mound and putting up numbers at the plate that put him squarely in the conversation for Player of the Year in the Shore Conference.
While opponents monitored RBC’s schedule to keep tabs on Bianchi’s pitching availability, his offense as a plus defender at shortstop alone was First-Team worthy. The St. John’s commit finished No. 14 in the conference with a .427 average and backed it up with plenty of production. His 37 RBI were second behind only Melfi for the lead in the entire conference, he was one of nine players in the Shore with at least 10 doubles and his 14 extra-base hits were tied for seventh.
On the mound, Bianchi served as co-ace of the Caseys along with sophomore Shane Panzini. He threw 5 2/3 innings in a combined no-hitter with junior John Nimeth against Jackson Memorial in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinal round, then beat Manasquan in the next round to send the Caseys to the championship game. Bianchi’s only loss of the year came against Delbarton and ace Jack Leiter, who is headed to Vanderbilt and was selected by the New York Yankees in the 20th round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft despite assuring teams that he would be going to college. In that game and several others throughout the year, Bianchi flashed a fastball that hit 93 miles-per-hour and caught the eye of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who drafted him in the 35th round of the First-Year Player Draft.
Grant Shulman, Sr., 3B/RHP, Wall
In his final season as one of the Shore’s top all-around talents, Shulman was a constant in the middle of the order for a Wall squad that finished No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 and captured its first NJSIAA Group III crown since 2004. Shulman hit over .400 for a second straight season, got locked in at the plate during the postseason, played another season of textbook defense at third base and served as Wall’s closer for most of the year after catching on as its No. 2 pitcher last year.
Shulman’s numbers alone tell most of the story, as the Rutgers commit racked up the third-most hits at the Shore, cracked a total of 10 extra-base hits, finished in the Shore’s top 20 in batting average, runs scored and RBI and also swiped 10 bases to boot. To get the full effect of Shulman’s impact, one has to a) watch him man third base and b) check his postseason numbers. While words can only do Shulman’s defense at the hot corner so much justice, breaking down his postseason at the plate is far more tenable.
From the start of the NJSIAA Tournament on May 20, Shulman went 16-for-30 (.533) with two doubles, a triple, a home run, 10 runs scored and 10 RBI in eight games – six in the Group III Playoffs and two more in the Shore Conference Tournament. He hit his lone home run of the season in a 10-5 win over Jackson Liberty in the SCT quarterfinals and capped his All-Shore season by going 3-for-5 with a two-run double in the Crimson Knights’ 10-2 win over West Morris in the Group III championship game, cementing this senior classes winning legacy with a long-awaited state championship.
Alex Iadisernia, Sr., RF, Jackson Memorial
No offense in the Shore Conference was scarier that Jackson Memorial’s when the Jaguars were on. A few hiccups in tournament play sidetracked an otherwise impressive season and dragged down some of the numbers on Jackson’s high-scoring lineup. From the start of the season, Iadisernia led the way for Jackson Memorial, establishing himself as one of the state’s toughest outs. His .528 averaged was the second-best in the Shore behind only Ranney’s Charlie Chropuvka, whose team played a much, much softer schedule, and Iadisernia also finished in the Shore’s top five in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and hits.
Iadisernia’s most memorable performance came in a regular-season showdown against Bayonne – a game that pitted two of the top teams in Group IV against one another. Jackson Memorial trailed the Bees 7-2 heading to the bottom of the fourth and already got two runs back when Iadisernia came to the plate with the bases load. With one swing of the bat, the left-handed-swinging Elon commit launched Jackson Memorial into the lead with a go-ahead grand slam and later hit the tie-breaking RBI single in the bottom of the sixth that gave the Jaguars the lead for good in a 12-8 win.
After that win over Bayonne, Iadisernia was hitting a ridiculous .607 on the season through his team’s first 19 games, which included all 17 of his extra-base hits. Even after cooling off over the season’s final two weeks, the Elon-University-bound right fielder put up numbers that put him in the top tier of hitters in the Shore Conference in 2019. He finishes his career with 128 hits in four varsity seasons that included a South Jersey Group IV championship in 2018.
Connor Keenan, Sr., CF, Jackson Liberty
While Jackson Liberty was home to the Shore Sports Network Player of the Year in David Melfi, the Lions also had arguably the Shore’s best leadoff hitter setting the table for a large portion of those 46 RBI. Keenan followed up a 2018 All-Shore campaign with an even better 2019 as a senior, finishing No. 2 in the Shore Conference in total hits, No. 9 in batting average and in the top-five in extra-base hits and runs scored.
Keenan padded his stats early against some of Jackson Liberty’s weaker competition but saved plenty of thunder in his bat for the stretch run. Of his career-high five home runs, four came in tournament play and were part of a blistering-hot postseason for the Jackson Liberty senior center fielder. During the three tournaments – the Ocean County Tournament, Shore Conference Tournament and Central Jersey Group III Tournament – Keenan hit 16-for-33 (.485) with three doubles, four home runs, 10 runs scored and 13 RBI in nine games. He homered at least once in each of the three tournaments, including a solo blast in his final high-school at bat to cut the Lions’ deficit vs Northern Burlington in the CJ III semifinal to 5-3. Keenan also drove in five runs in a 12-10 SCT win over Colts Neck, in which he went 3-for-5 with two doubles and a home run.
Like his teammate, Melfi, Keenan eclipsed the 100-hit mark for his four-year varsity career, finishing up with 108 knocks, which included 22 doubles. Melfi was the headliner in Jackson Liberty’s senior class but Keenan’s contribution over the last four years was immense for a Jackson Liberty program that won 60 games over the past three seasons.
Teddy Sharkey, Jr., CF/RHP, Wall
After announcing his non-binding commitment to Florida State in the offseason, Sharkey backed it up with one of the Shore’s best seasons by a two-way player – one that rivaled what Bianchi did for Red Bank Catholic, perhaps even eerily so. Like Bianchi, Sharkey finished with an on-base percentage of .500-plus thanks to a Shore-best 26 walks, rapped 14 extra-base hits and posted an ERA of under 1.00 in better than 40 innings – the only two players in the conference to check those two boxes.
At the plate, Sharkey was steady throughout the season and carried that over into the playoffs. He hit .294 with three doubles, four walks and seven runs scored during Wall’s six-game run to the Group III championship. In a 3-1 win over Colts Neck, Sharkey threw the first four innings and knocked in the first run with an RBI double. He later earned the win in Wall’ 10-2 win over Northern Burlington in the Central Jersey Group III championship game.
On the mound, Sharkey emerged as Wall’s No. 2 starter behind Trey Dombroski. The junior right-hander won one game each in the Monmouth County Tournament, Shore Conference Tournament and NJSIAA Group III Tournament while making four starts across the three tournaments. Earlier in the year, Sharkey threw six dominant innings to beat Ocean, 4-1, on the road, then buried the Spartans in the second game of the series by going 2-for-2 with a triple and three RBI. Sharkey hit his lone homer of the year against Toms River North – a game in which he started and won on the mound as well. With Wall losing a lot of senior talent to graduation, Sharkey will be the Crimson Knights’ top returnee in 2019, as well as one of the best at the Shore.
Rocko Brzezniak, Fr., SS, St. John Vianney
Brzezniak stepped into the Shore Conference spotlight as a much-hyped freshman already committed to Louisville and did anything but disappoint in his first high-school season. Already committed to Louisville, Brzezniak already cemented himself as one of the Shore’s top hitters in year one. He was one of only four players in the conference to hit .500, finishing third behind Chropuvka from Ranney and Iadisernia from Jackson Memorial. His corresponding .608 on-base percentage was also third in the conference and his .952 slugging percentage placed him second at the Shore behind only Harmstead.
Brzezniak also finished fourth in the home run department and his seven long balls could set the stage for a potential run at all-time Shore Conference record of 30, set by Ocean graduate Keith Weinkofsky in 2007. During his breakout season as a freshman, Brzezniak hit his homers in bunches, starting with one each in a two-game set against Neptune. The second of the two home runs was an opposite-field, go-ahead, three-run shot off Kentucky commit Ron Cole in the top of the sixth inning and part of a stretch in which Brzezniak homered in three straight games.
After a brief lull in home runs, the Lancers freshman got back on the horse with three home runs during a two-game sweep of Colts Neck. After cracking two homers in the first game, Brzezniak homered again during a six-RBI performance to help St. John Vianney complete the sweep. He capped his season of homers with one in a 14-0 drubbing of Donovan Catholic in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A opening round – the final touch in one of the best freshman seasons of offense the Shore has seen in some time.
Sam Collins, Sr., SS/RHP, Point Boro
At first glance, Collins is a lanky, 6-foot-2 shortstop with a slap-hitting style out of the lead-off spot and junk-baller’s actions on the mound. Watch him more closely, check out the numbers and you will find one of the Shore’s best all-around talents and player who can do just about anything on a baseball field. Over the past two years, Collins was as instrumental as any player to his team’s success and few players in the area stepped up during tournament time the way Collins did.
On the surface, the Kean-University-bound two-way talent led the Shore with his 45 hits and finished in the top 10 in ERA among pitchers with 30 innings or more, which rivaled the production of both Bianchi and Sharkey as two-way talents. Those figures alone gave Collins an inside track to a spot on the First Team but it was his outstanding play during the Panthers’ run to their first ever Group II title game that pushed him over the top.
During the NJSIAA Tournament, Collins hit a robust 13-for-22 (.591) in Point Boro’s six games, which included three doubles, a triple and a home run. He had two perfect games at the plate – one a 3-for-3 performance with his lone home run of the season and four RBI in a 17-3 win over A.L. Johnson and another a 5-for-5 day with two doubles and a triple in an 8-4 win over West Deptford in the Group II semifinal. On top of that, Collins went 1-0 in his two playoff starts and completed at least eight innings in each of them without allowing more than a run in either. While ace and St. John’s recruit Nick Guzzi was Point Boro’s big-game pitcher, Collins made a strong case as the most valuable player on one of the best Point Boro teams ever.
Max Winters, Sr., C/RHP, Ocean
Even more than Collins, Winters lives up to the term “utility player” because he contributed to arguably the three more important aspects of the game: he pitched, he caught and he hit, and did them all exceptionally well. While a catcher doubling as a pitcher is not the scarcest occurrence, it is rare to find a catcher the caliber of Winters who also has had the kind of success on the mound that he has had. He only threw 23 innings this season, but still went 4-0 with an ERA well under 1.00 and a sparkling 21-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Winters’s most notable performance was a complete-game win over Manalapan in the Monmouth County Tournament semifinals, which lifted Ocean into the championship game for the first time since 2005. That was also Winters’s last appearance on the mound for the season, but he was far from done contributing for Ocean in big games.
After Ocean wrapped up its final divisional game in Class B North, Winters flipped the switch and closed out his senior season with a torrid run at the plate. Over his team’s final six games – four of which were part of either the Shore Conference or NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III Tournaments – Winters went 14-for-23 (.609) with seven doubles, a home run and eight RBI. He went 5-for-8 with two doubles in SCT games vs. Ranney and Manasquan, went 2-for-3 with a double and three RBI in a state-tournament win over Freehold Boro, and closed his career with a double, a homer and all three Ocean RBI in a 4-3 loss to Northern Burlington. Winters was also a standout goalkeeper on an Ocean soccer team that finished No. 5 in the state and won the SCT championship, adding a multi-sport dimension to his versatility. He will continue his baseball career at William and Mary.
Trey Dombroski, Sr., LHP, Wall
After establishing himself as the best pitcher in the Shore Conference as a junior in 2018, Dombroski set his sights on being recognized as the state’s top pitcher in 2019 and made a pretty compelling case. The Monmouth-University-bound left-hander led the Shore Conference with 11 wins, 126 strikeouts and a 0.55 WHIP, while his 0.37 ERA was the best of any pitcher who threw 25 innings or more on the season. In addition to striking out 126, Dombroski also issued only five walks, including only one over his final 61 2/3 innings.
As incredible as Dombroski’s individual stats were, his place on Wall’s first state championship team in 15 years is what the 6-foot-5 left-hander will want to be remembered for. After laboring to be a pesky Cherry Hill West team that stung him for a career-high nine hits in the Group III semifinal, Dombroski shook off a sore left shoulder and fired a five-hitter with eight strikeouts and no walks in the Group III final to pitch Wall to the group championship.
Dombroski graduates as Wall’s all-time leader in wins (25) and strikeouts (228) while cementing himself as one of the Shore Conference’s top pitchers of the last two decades and a two-time Shore Sports Network Pitcher of the Year. Read more about Dombroski’s season and career in his Pitcher of the Year story.
Nick Guzzi, Jr., RHP, Point Pleasant Boro
Dombroski’s second straight overly-dominant season somewhat overshadowed what a great showing Guzzi had during his junior year while leading Point Boro to its most decorated season ever. He finished second behind Dombroski in wins, third in strikeouts and his 0.78 WHIP was also second behind Dombroski among pitchers who threw at least 25 innings. By the end of the season, Guzzi’s stuff started to pop, with the St. John’s commit hitting 92 on the radar gun during the state tournament run.
Before Point Boro made its march to the Group II championship game for the first time in school history, Guzzi carried the Panthers to another first. The junior right-hander earned the win in each of Point Boro’s last three wins in the program’s first ever run to an Ocean County Tournament title. Prior to 2019, the Panthers had never even been to the championship game, but Guzzi made sure to change that with back-to-back dominant outings against Toms River South (six-hit shutout) and Toms River East (one hit, eight strikeouts in five innings) in the quarterfinals and semis. He then closed out the run by pitching into the seventh inning and beating a tough Jackson Liberty team, 10-7, in the championship game.
In the Group II Playoffs, Guzzi got off to an unsuspecting start when he pitched only two innings in a 17-3 blowout win over A.L. Johnson in the sectional quarterfinals. Guzzi, however, turned up the heat in the next round, shaking off a first-inning home run to throw a one-hitter with nine strikeouts and two walks in a 6-1 win over top-seeded Governor Livingston on the road. He did not get to take the ball again until the championship game and although he suffered his first loss of the season in a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Pascack Hills, he took a one-hitter into the sixth inning against the two-time Group II champion while going toe-to-toe with Maryland commit and Cleveland Indians 36th-round selection Ryan Ramsey. Although the 2019 season ended with a disappointing result, few players at the Shore have a more promising outlook for 2020 than Guzzi.
Shane Panzini, So., RHP, Red Bank Catholic
By the end of his freshman season, Panzini already began to make his case as Red Bank Catholic’s best arm and came into the year ready to prove he was just that over a full season. The only pitchers in the Shore Conference with a better ERA than Panzini’s 0.66 mark either pitched fewer than 40 innings or were Trey Dombroski. Within his 53 dominant innings, Panzini allowed only 20 hits and ran a WHIP of under 1.00 – tied for the 10th-best mark in the Shore Conference among pitchers with 20 innings or more.
Panzini and Bianchi split up the pitching duties in Red Bank Catholic’s biggest games and were the driving force in the Caseys’ run to a second ever Shore Conference Tournament championship. Panzini pitched his best regular-season game when he beat Manasquan, 1-0, while striking out 12 in a two-hitter. Manasquan would later get revenge by handing Panzini his first loss, although he allowed just one run over five innings in the 1-0 loss to the Warriors. His other loss came in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A quarterfinals against Notre Dame, in which Panzini allowed just one earned run over six innings in a 3-2 Irish win.
After the bitter disappointment of losing at home in the state tournament, Red Bank Catholic recovered by beating Manasquan in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals behind a complete game from Bianchi and handed the ball to Panzini for the championship game, despite Bianchi being eligible to pitch by the day of the game. Panzini made the most of his opportunity to start, pitching a one-hit shutout with four strikeouts and a pair of walks while topping out at 91 miles-per-hour on the mound as the Caseys beat Manalapan, 5-0. After ending his season with a high-note on the field, Panzini made news off the diamond by announcing his non-binding verbal commitment to Virginia.
Pat Reilly, Jr., RHP, Christian Brothers Academy
CBA entered the seasons expecting to turn its one-two pitching punch of Joe Escandon and Braedin Hunt loose on Class A North and the Shore Conference. While Escandon returned to All-Shore form and Hunt found his groove out the bullpen by midseason, it was Reilly that turned out to be CBA’s most dominant starting pitcher. In his first varsity season, the 6-foot-5 junior and Northeastern commit completed an All-Shore campaign that included the third-best ERA at the Shore among pitchers with at least 40 innings, trailing only Dombroski and Panzini.
It did not take long for Reilly to establish himself this season as one of the Shore’s most promising arms. With a fastball creeping into the low 90-miles-per-hour range, Reilly struck out 16 with no walks in a two-hitter against Allentown in his first start, then followed that performance up by one-hitting St. Peter’s Prep. Over his first 16 varsity innings, Reilly ran a 26-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 16 innings.
Reilly would go on to pitch in four tournament games and win all four for the Colts. The biggest of the four was a three-hit, 12-strikeouts performance over six innings to beat Dombroski and Wall, 1-0, in the Monmouth County Tournament quarterfinals. In the next round vs. Manasquan, Reilly battled wet conditions to make it through four innings and hit a huge go-ahead, two run homer in the fifth to give himself the win. He would later pitch 5 2/3 shutout innings in a win over Neptune and five innings without an earned run in a win over Paul VI in the NJSIAA South Non-Public A quarterfinals. After his breakout season as a junior, Reilly is poised to return as one of the Shore’s best in 2020.