Baseball – 2019 SSN Player of the Year: David Melfi, Jackson Liberty
There is such a thing as a coaches’ trust and then there is what Jackson Liberty coach Jim Rankin has when the game was in the hands of his four-year starter at catcher.
David Melfi spent four years honing his craft at the varsity level for a program that has barely existed a decade, all while rewriting its record-book, taking it to new heights and making a believer out of many more people than just his head coach.
Following All-Shore seasons as both a sophomore and junior, Melfi finished off his career with one of the most impressive all-around seasons for a catcher at the Shore and is the pick for the 2019 Shore Sports Network Baseball Player of the Year – the first Player of the Year of any kind from Jackson Liberty.
Just on the numbers, Melfi has an iron-clad case to be recognized as the Shore’s top player from the past season. The Wagner College commit led the Shore Conference in doubles (14), home runs (10) and RBI (46), finished third in runs scored (37) and slugging percentage (.943), finished fifth in hits (38) and was top-12 in batting average (.437) and on-base percentage (.533).
Two more factors made Melfi’s case as Player of the Year undeniable. First, he built on his reputation as one of the best defensive catchers in the state with his prowess blocking balls, working with a diverse pitching staff and throwing out base-runners at a 37-percent clip. He was the defensive captain on a 23-win Jackson Liberty team that went 14-0 in divisional play.
Secondly, Melfi was lethal in the clutch. The Lions spent most of the season bludgeoning teams with their relentless lineup but when they did find themselves in a bind, Melfi was a reliable source for a big at-bat. He tormented B South rival and eventual Central Jersey Group II champion Point Boro during a crucial regular-season series that clinched Jackson Liberty the Class B South title. Melfi hit a two-out, game-tying RBI single in the top of the seventh as Jackson Liberty rallied from a two-run deficit and beat the Panthers, 5-4, on the road.
After that win, Rankin summed up what was running through his mind with Melfi – whom he called the “best player he has ever coached” – at the plate and the B South title on the line.
"No doubt," Rankin said when asked if he thought Melfi would come through in that spot. "He is pretty much automatic."
Two days later, in the second game of the regular-season set, Melfi hit a tie-breaking solo home run off Point Boro standout Sam Collins in the bottom of the fourth as the Lions went on to beat Point Boro, 5-2.
Five of Melfi’s 10 home runs this season came during tournament games. He hit one homer each in wild wins over Brick Memorial (11-10) in the Ocean County Tournament quarterfinals and Colts Neck (12-10) in the Shore Conference Tournament round of 16 and also belted a home run off Wall right-hander Ryan Napolitano in a 10-5 loss to the Crimson Knights in the SCT quarterfinal round.
Melfi had plenty of big moments and standout games at the plate: a two-homer game vs. Washington Township at a Coaches vs. Cancer event; his 100th career hit on a home run vs. Lakewood; a six-RBI game vs. Barnegat; and a five-RBI game vs. Lacey. None, however, matched what he did in the NJSIAA Group III quarterfinals.
Facing two-time defending Central Group III champion Allentown, Melfi turned in his signature effort of the season. He blasted a two-run home run in the first inning to help the Lions jump out to a 3-1 lead before the game was suspended by rain and lightning. When the teams resumed the next day, Allentown kept Jackson Liberty’s dangerous lineup in check and rallied to tie the game, 4-4, in the top of the seventh inning.
With his team reeling after giving up the lead, Melfi came up to lead off the bottom of the seventh and worked the count full against Allentown workhorse Jack Nitti. On Nitti’s 3-2 offering, Melfi launched a fly ball to deep right field and cleared the fence for an opposite-field, game-winning home run to send Jackson Liberty to the sectional semifinals for the third straight season with a 5-4 win.
David Melfi Career Stats
That home run proved the be the last in Melfi’s decorated four-year career at Jackson Liberty, where he re-wrote the program record book. He established new all-time marks in hits (127), doubles (45), home runs (19), runs (98) and RBI (106) and his 46 RBI this season were the most in more than a decade at the Shore. It was also a single-season program record, as were his 10 homers and 37 runs this season and his .457 batting average last year.
Melfi climbed the ladder of the Shore’s elite in his four years, winning a starting job as a freshman, earning a second-team All-Shore selection by Shore Sports Network in 2017 and climbing to the First Team as a junior last season. The only way to improve this season was to be the Shore’s top position player and by the end of his all-around brilliant senior season, Jackson Liberty’s best player in its young history did just that.