Baseball – SSN All-Shore First Team
Shore Sports Network All-Shore Team
Teams selected by Shore Sports Network Baseball Writer Matt Manley based on statistics, first-hand accounts and input from coaches.
David Melfi, Jr., Jackson Liberty
A starter behind the plate since his freshman year, Melfi is an All-Shore catcher for the second straight year and a first-teamer for the first time. The Lions backstop went from 19 extra-base hits as a sophomore to 20 this year, but his home-run total spiked from two to seven this year – just one of many offensive numbers that improved for Melfi. He increased his batting average by 80 points, drew 10 more walks and upped his slugging percentage by nearly .250 points.
Melfi went without a home run for the first 11 games of the season before hitting his first off Shore Sports Network Pitcher of the Year Trey Dombroski in a 4-3 loss to Wall. After going 0-for-3 against Lacey on May 1, he “bottomed out” at .375/.508/.583 before tearing the cover off the ball over the final four weeks of the season. In Jackson Liberty’s last 12 games, Melfi hit .524 (22-for-42) with seven doubles, a triple and six home runs – good for an eye-popping 1.167 slugging percentage. He hit two homers and drove in seven in a win over Pinelands and hit NJSIAA Tournament home runs against Burlington Township and Group III champion Allentown.
Melfi is the centerpiece of a talented 2019 class at Jackson Liberty, which will be among the Shore’s most experienced, accomplished teams in 2019 after winning 20 games with a junior-heavy squad in 2018.
Phil Marcantonio, Sr., Freehold Boro
Although Freehold Boro could not quite overcome the loss of some key seniors from last year’s Central Jersey Group IV finalist – particularly in the pitching staff – the Colonials still had one of the most feared hitters in the Shore Conference. Marcantonio drew 18 free passes this year – seven on hit-by-pitches – and when pitchers did challenge them, he made them pay to the tune of a batting average just shy of .460. His .852 slugging percentage was fourth among Shore Conference catchers and his five home runs were third among backstops and landed him in the top 10 in the Shore overall.
Marcantonio hit one of the season’s more memorable home runs in the early going – a 400-plus foot shot that broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the seventh inning during a 3-2 win over Marlboro. Whatever the numbers from this season say, Marcantonio flashed as much raw power as any hitter in the Shore and his consecutive All-Shore selections at catcher reflect that he was indeed one of the Shore’s top offensive players over the course of his junior and senior seasons. He will continue his career in college at Kean University.
Craig Larsen, Sr., Toms River North
Larsen was a force at the plate and at shortstop for the Ocean County and Shore Conference Tournament champions, which earned him the Shore Sports Network Player of the Year. Read about Larsen’s outstanding 2018 campaign in the Player of the Year story.
Aurelio Licata, Jr., Middletown South
For the second straight year, Licata was one of the Shore’s top offensive players while playing on a team that struggled mightily to keep opponents off the board. Middletown South scored more runs per game (7.9) than all but one team (Jackson Liberty) in the Shore Conference this past year but finished seventh-worst in runs allowed per game (6.54), which made every bit of that offense necessary just to finish 11-13 with a win each in the Monmouth County and NJSIAA Group IV Tournaments.
For his part, Licata did more than enough to aid the scoring cause and, statistically speaking, was one of the Shore’s best batsmen in 2018. The Seton Hall commit finished a very close second in the Shore Conference to Riley Maypother of St. Rose in both batting average and doubles, with both batting leaders finishing the season as the only two Shore players to hit .500 or better. Licata’s .797 slugging percentage trailed only Larsen among shortstops and his .635 on-base percentage – rooted in 21 walks to go with his 33 hits – was the top mark in the Shore Conference.
Team success – or lackthereof – might have doomed a number of standout performers this season when it came to All-Shore standing, but Licata’s performance at the plate considering his standing as a strong defensive shortstop was so overwhelming, no shortcomings of his team could prevent a second straight All-Shore season and a first ever appearance on the First Team.
Riley Maypother, Sr., St. Rose
If anyone is wondering how playing in Class B Central aided Maypother this season consider this: the senior slugger hit everything in sight. The numbers Maypother put up would be impressive in batting practice and his divisional exploits even included homering twice in the top of the seventh inning of a 12-2 win over Keyport.
While he is clearly several levels above the divisional competition he faced this year, Maypother also dominated teams outside the division as well. During St. Rose’s run to the Monmouth County Tournament final, he went 9-for-15 with two home runs, a double, 10 runs scored and four RBI, including leadoff home runs in back-to-back MCT wins over Manalapan and Monmouth Regional.
The final numbers put Maypother all over the Shore Conference leader board. He finished first in the conference in average (.518), slugging percentage (.976), doubles (16) and runs scored (39) while finishing in the top-five in hits (second), triples (tied for fourth), stolen bases (also tied fourth) and on-base percentage (fifth). He also tied for seventh in both home runs and RBI, putting him no worse than seventh in any of the 10 categories tracked by Shore Sports Network. He was also St. Rose’s big-game pitcher, logging a 2.15 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 26 innings on the mound. Maypother will continue his career at East Tennessee State University after a dominant two-year stretch for the Purple Roses.
T.J. Scuderi, Sr., Toms River South
Scuderi got off to a scorching start to his senior season, even as his relatively inexperienced Indians team was still finding its way. He reached based successfully in his first 10 plate appearances of the season, including a 4-for-4 game with two walks against Toms River North with first-teamers Jared Bellissimo and Craig Larsen pitching. In Toms River South’s first seven games alone, Scuderi was 15-for-22 (.682) with five doubles and three home runs.
Although he certainly did not keep that pace up all season and he had a relatively quiet tournament resume, Scuderi routinely hit quality pitching throughout the season. He went 9-for-15 against pitchers who made one of the three All-Shore teams and was 4-for-6 with a double against Toms River North ace Jared Bellissimo. One of Toms River South’s most impressive wins of the season came against Group III champion Allentown, a game in which Scuderi went 3-for-4 with three doubles.
Scuderi is set to play for Monmouth University next year after a stellar three-year varsity career that included three All-Shore seasons and two First-Team selections. He finished his career with a .399 average, 99 hits and 10 home runs during his Indians career.
Justin Scotto, Sr., Monmouth
Since transferring to Monmouth Regional from Robbinsville ahead of the 2017 season, Scotto has been an on-base machine for the Falcons and one of the best contact-plus-speed players in the Shore Conference, if not the best. He finished among the Shore Conference Top 10 in batting average (10th), hits (sixth), on-base percentage (fourth), runs scored (fourth) and stolen bases (second) while playing a standout center field for a Falcons team that finished No. 10 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 after reaching the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals.
Scotto’s most cringe-inducing stat is, without a doubt, the number of times he was hit by a pitch over the last two seasons. After wearing a school record 20 pitches as a junior, Scotto was drilled 16 more times this past season. His fearlessness in the box led to an on-base percentage of .602, which made him one of four players to check in with an OBP of .600 or better.
Against All-Shore pitchers, Scotto, went 6-for-14 (.429) with two doubles and a triple and performed well in tournament games (9-for-27 with three doubles and a .454 on-base percentage) as well. Scotto will continue his career at Pace University.
Giovanni Ciaccio, Sr., Manalapan
If Scotto was the blueprint for the centerfielder hitting leadoff, Ciaccio was a nearly identical version – minus all the bruises from getting drilled 16 times. Manalapan’s leadoff man led the Shore Conference with 27 walks and struck out only six times over the course of the season and despite all of that contact, Ciaccio somehow did not creep over .400 with his batting average – a testament to the defense that was played against him.
It’s not that Ciaccio did not hit the ball hard, either. His 19 extra-base hits were the fifth most of any Shore Conference player, with his 13 doubles ranking fifth in the conference and his five triples tying him with Colts Neck’s Anthony Galason and Lacey’s Jorden Jurkiewicz for the Shore Conference lead. He also turned his .543 on-base percentage into offense for Manalapan by swiping 14 bases and scoring 35 runs – the second-most in the conference behind Maypother.
Ciaccio is set to continue his career in college after signing a National Letter of Intent to play at Division II Long Island University Post.
David Glancy, Jr., Red Bank Catholic
After a slow start at the plate in his junior season, Glancy made up for lost time in a big way. He entered an April 26 game against Monmouth Regional without a home run and hit seven the rest of the way, including three solo shots in three consecutive plate appearances against that Falcons in that April 26 win. Those seven home runs were tied with Melfi and Larsen for the second-highest total in the Shore Conference this season and his .779 slugging percentage landed him in the top 10 in the Shore and second among outfielders behind only Scuderi. Not bad for a guy who had not homered in a high school game prior to this season.
Glancy’s three-homer game helped get him going at an opportune time for him and his team. During the Monmouth County Tournament, Glancy went 7-for-14 with three doubles, a home run and six RBI in four games to lead the Caseys to a second straight MCT crown. That four-game stretch was the foundation of a strong overall performance during RBC’s tournament schedule, during which Glancy went 10-for-23 with four doubles and two home runs over the MCT, Shore Conference Tournament and NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A Tournament.
Glancy also picked up a single against Delbarton right-hander and Vanderbilt commit Jack Leiter and homered off of Virginia Tech commit and Bergen Catholic left-hander Chris Gerard – proving he can do damage against some of the top pitchers in the state. The junior outfielder is still uncommitted and is drawing Division I interest as he eyes a big senior season for himself and his team, which is due to return a host of talent in the everyday lineup.
Tom Ruscitti, Sr., Central
Ruscitti endured, by his standards, a season-long slump during his junior year only to come out on the other side with a monster senior campaign for a Central Regional team that won 18 games and finished No. 8 in the Shore Conference after reaching the SCT final. He was an All-Shore catcher as a sophomore before going the entire 2017 season without a home run and hitting under .300. As a senior, Ruscitti fine-tuned his approach and the result was a Shore-Conference-best 10 home runs, which also set a single-season record at Central. He also holds the all-time home run record at Central with 14 for his career.
Even in his rebound senior season, Ruscitti took three weeks to really get warmed up. He was hitting .308/.438/.500 with two doubles and a home run through the first eight games of the season before going on a tear over the final 19. From April 23 on, Ruscitti hit .466 with six doubles, nine home runs, 26 RBI and a slugging percentage of 1.034. In Central’s nine games between the Ocean County, Shore Conference and NJSIAA Group III Tournaments, Ruscitti’s numbers were in near-lockstep with his overall production for the year, with a .407/.529/.778 postseason line compared to a .417/.524/.869 for the entire year. He also homered in each of Central’s NJSIAA Tournament games.
Ruscitti raised his game against the best teams in Class A South. He hit four home runs in three games against Jackson Memorial – the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 – and after hitting two home runs against the Jaguars on April 26, he homered twice in Central’s next game against No. 5 Jackson Liberty four days later. Ruscitti also went 4-for-9 with a double in three games vs. No. 2 Toms River North, including 2-for-2 with a walk in the SCT championship game against Mariners ace Jared Bellissimo. After fighting through a challenging junior year, 2018 was a worthy end to a record-setting career for Ruscitti, who will continue his career at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Grant Shulman, Jr., Wall
While Shulman showed plenty of promise as a sophomore in 2017, the all-around breakout he turned in as a junior this past year was beyond what could have been reasonably expected. He went from .236/.295/.273 as a wiry sophomore to .449/.490/.674 as a much stronger junior with excellent defense at the hot corner in both seasons. This year, he was one of five Shore Conference players to log 40 hits and was the main reason Wall went from a slightly-above-average offensive team in 2017 to one that did much more to back up its stellar pitching staff.
Speaking of the pitching staff, Shulman was part of Wall’s three-headed monster in the starting rotation and as great as ace Trey Dombroski was to open the season, Shulman more or less matched him over the first three starts of the season. Shulman’s junior season on the mound was more in line with what he did in 24 1/3 innings as a sophomore, when he pitched to a 1.44 ERA, although he did increase his strikeout rate from 4.03 strikeouts-per-seven-innings to 8.69 punchouts-per-seven thanks to a more powerful fastball to go with his wipeout slider.
Shulman’s signature pitching outing was overshadowed by his counterpart, A.J. Smith, in Wall’s 1-0, nine-inning loss to Central in the Shore Conference Tournament final, in which Shulman struck out 11 over 7 1/3 scoreless innings. At the plate, the left-handed-swinging junior went 5-for-13 with three doubles and three RBI in four NJSIAA Tournament games. Shulman will be one of the Shore’s top returning two-way players in 2018 and he recently announced a non-binding verbal commitment to play at Rutgers University.
Nick Hohenstein, Sr., Christian Brothers Academy
With one of the most advanced approaches to hitting at the Shore or anywhere, Hohenstein was a tough out for pitchers all year long for a CBA team that spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 before fizzling out at the end thanks, in part, to injuries. Hohenstein’s 29 combined walks (24) and hit-by-pitches (five) trailed only Scotto among Shore Conference hitters and his .581 on-base percentage was good for sixth in the conference.
The careful pitching Hohenstein faced limited him to 23 RBI, a seemingly modest number until you factor in that Hohenstein had only 55 official at-bats. His 2.39 at-bats per RBI was fourth in the Shore Conference behind Robby Smith of Rumson-Fair Haven, Mike Mohr of Henry Hudson and Ricky Voss of Monmouth Regional. Hohenstein also clubbed five home runs and was one of three Shore Conference players, along with Larsen and Ruscitti, to hit two homers in a game on two different occasions. Hohenstein hit all five of his home runs during a six-game stretch, with two coming against Howell in the first game of that stretch and two more coming against Manalapan at the end of it.
Hohenstein’s ability and production on the mound pushed him over the top as a All-Shore First-Teamer for the second straight year. He pitched to a sub 2.00 ERA with 60-plus strikeouts in 40-plus innings, making him one of eight pitchers in the Shore to reach all three of those benchmarks this season. His most dominant performance on the mound was a 14-strikeout outing against Freehold Township and he managed to remain mostly effective in shorter stints down the stretch despite battling an elbow ailment. Hohenstein’s 90-plus-mile-per-hour fastball and dangerous bat make him an intriguing player to follow as he continues his career at La Salle University.
Trey Dombroski, Jr., Wall
Dombroski led the Shore Conference in ERA for the second straight season and was even more dominant during his junior season, which ended with a Shore Sports Network Pitcher of the Year Award in 2018. Read about Dombroski’s standout season on the mound here.
Zack Johnston, Sr., Raritan
Although Raritan returned a host of players from a Class A Central division championship team in 2017, one thing the Rockets did lose from that team was ace Matt Birdsall. That left Johnston to assume the role of No. 1 starter and after it got off to a frustrating start with a loss to Marlboro on opening day, Johnston flipped the switch and carried Raritan farther than the Rockets have gone in 14 years. His eight wins tied for the most in the Shore Conference while his 71 innings and 87 strikeouts led the way. Even with so much volume, Johnston still finished eighth among Shore Conference qualifiers (20 innings) in ERA and third in WHIP.
Johnston tormented rival Rumson-Fair Haven in three starts this season, including a nine-inning shutout in the opening round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II playoffs. In those three starts against the Bulldogs – which boasted two players with an on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) of 1.100 – Johnston allowed two earned runs on 13 hits with 30 strikeouts and three walks in 21 innings. That nine-inning shutout in a 1-0 Raritan win kicked off a stellar state tournament for Johnston, who went 3-1 with a 0.93 ERA, 25 strikeouts and three walks in 30 NJSIAA Tournament innings.
Johnston’s performance led Raritan to a second straight Class A Central title, the program’s first Central Jersey Group II title since 2012 and its first overall group championship game appearance since 2004. Although his season ended with a loss, Johnston held Pascack Hills – the No. 1 team in the state to end the season, according to NJ.com – to two earned runs over seven-plus innings in the Group II final and had allowed only one earned run when he left the mound with none out in the top of the eighth inning. The Rockets will miss Johnston’s bulldog mentality and big-game prowess when he heads to Felician University, which means Raritan once again must replace an ace.
Jared Bellissimo, Sr., Toms River North
If Bellissimo was not the best dual threat in the Shore Conference, it would take a great job of arguing on behalf of anyone else to successfully make that case. Bellissimo was solid on the mound during the first month of the season, but was flat-out dominant over the final month, which included only tournament starts for the Mariners’ big-game pitcher. In those six starts, Bellissimo went 5-0 with a 0.84 ERA, a 0.72 WHIP, 43 strikeouts and six walks over 33 1/3 innings to help Toms River North repeat as both the Ocean County Tournament and Shore Conference Tournament champions.
Only two of Bellissimo’s starts in the postseason result in complete games, but both could be classified as his two biggest starts of his season. Bellissimo allowed two unearned runs and struck out nine in a 3-2 win over No. 1 Jackson Memorial in the OCT semifinals, which avenged two regular-season losses to the Jaguars. The other was a four-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts and two walks in a 4-0 win over Central in the Shore Conference Tournament final, in which Bellissimo also drove in two runs.
Bellissimo did most of his major damage on offense during the regular season, including a three-game stretch in which he hit four home runs. Prior to that stretch, Bellissimo had never hit a home run in a high school game, a drought that he ended by hitting two home runs in a seven-RBI performance against Southern on April 9. He followed with a homer each in wins over Brick and Jackson Memorial. Bellissimo was a starter on three OCT and two SCT championship teams and will bring his winning ways to Rutgers University next season.