For Jared Melone, one of the defining moments of his senior baseball season came on the basketball court in Abington’s gym.
It was the first round of districts and the Knights had pushed the eventual District 1-AAAA champion Galloping Ghosts to the limit but trailed with little time on the clock. Essentially out of guards, Melone was forced to bring the ball up and could only get off a desperation shot as time expired, leaving the Knights disappointed and feeling that they had come so close.
“I don’t think anyone expected us to win but after that game everyone was upset, we had a chance to win and we left everything out there,” Melone said. “That was what I wanted to bring into baseball.”
Melone had been to the top, winning a baseball state title as a sophomore, but the Knights missed out on states entirely his junior year. With one last round in a North Penn uniform, he wanted to make sure that feeling at Abington wasn’t there at the end of baseball season.
The senior found his voice as a leader and helped North Penn capture its second state title in three years and has been selected as the The Reporter/Montgomery News Baseball Player of the Year.
From the moment he came up to varsity about midway through his sophomore year, it was always evident Melone had the talent. Mixing agility with his strong frame, Melone was a force at the plate and a rock solid defender at either first or third base. He approached the game with a quiet confidence with an emphasis on the quiet, letting his play speak for itself.
“From the time he stepped on the field as a sophomore to his last inning as a senior, he was just consistently productive,” North Penn coach Kevin Manero said. “There was never a doubt about whether he’d be ready or healthy on anything like that. There was always a quiet confidence, he’s not a real vocal guy, not real loud but he was loud in the way he plays.”
While being the no-nonsense quiet guy worked as a sophomore and somewhat as a junior, it wasn’t going to be enough in his senior year. Melone said part of the reason the 2014 team didn’t reach its goals was a leadership void and an expectation that things would be easy as the defending state champions.
When the Knights didn’t make it out of districts, Melone said it took the pressure off of them for this past season, but also showed the upperclassmen it was on them to lead the team. Manero was adamant about that as well, Melone saying his coach beat the message like a drum throughout fall ball and offseason workouts.
Again, it would be the hardwood that helped shape Melone’s baseball season. With his college commitment out of the way and with a clear head, Melone joined the basketball team for the winter and quickly found his teammates were ready to drop plenty of constructive criticism on him. Melone, who didn’t have the same hoops background, quickly realized everything his teammates were saying was meant to help him and in turn, the team, to be better.
After a surprisingly impactful basketball campaign, Melone saw the value in using his voice and applied it on the baseball diamond. Manero recalled a late-season game at Souderton where the Knights trailed most of the way before rallying back to win where Melone truly stepped into his role as a leader.
“I was standing in the third base coach’s box and most of the team was up at the backstop close to the field cheering our guys but there were a few of our guys back by the dugout,” Manero said. “I distinctly remember hearing Jared turn and say ‘hey guys, let’s go, get up here. It’s a huge situation, let’s get up here and get in the game.’ That’s when he started to really be the leader in more than just the way he plays and I think we needed that little extra on-field leadership.”
Maturity defined Melone’s senior year, both in embracing the role of a leader and his approach at the plate. He said he stopped worrying about his average and focused on winning plays like moving runners or bringing in runs. Melone pointed to a five-game stretch where he hit about .200 but drove in seven runs as something he learned was just as valuable as a few more hits.
Melone thanked his close friend and teammate Michael Pulli for his constant pep talks that helped Melone through his slump before the senior found his swing at the very end of the regular season. While being the vocal leader was a bit outside his comfort zone, Melone found his voice knowing that anything he said was to benefit the team and once the games ended, he and his friends would go right back to poking fun at each other and having a good time.
“Every team needs someone to stand up so I tried to help out the younger kids,” Melone said. “I feel comfortable with all those guys, we’re all great friends and none of us are scared to point something out that someone else did wrong because it’s just constructive criticism. On the field, we’re not trying to make fun of anyone, off the field we make fun of each other all the time but on the field we all know we’re trying to help each other out.”
With a renewed stroke, Melone started the district playoffs on a tear, then came around again late in the state run, collecting a pair of hits in the state title game. As he hoisted the trophy at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park for the second time in his career, Melone noticed it felt a little different.
“As a sophomore I dreamed of being the senior who got to go out on a high note that everyone would remember,” Melone said. “It was a great experience. All of us did so well, if we had just one less person I don’t think we would have been able to do it. It was a real team effort.”
Melone will continue his career at La Salle, where he hopes to keep improving as a player and hopefully, if everything falls right, get drafted though he emphasized his education and career after baseball come first. At North Penn, he and his teammates certainly accomplished their goal of setting the Knights up to be one of the top programs in the state. He said the challenge is there for the classes coming up to continue building and push North Penn into that top tier.
Along with his fellow regulars, Melone credited Manero for the way he keeps the players focused and guides the program and the players on the bench, who despite not getting regular at-bats or playing time, still brought it every day and impacted the state title run in their own ways.
Even as they go their separate ways, this group will always have its three year run together. Still, that doesn’t make it any easier for Melone to know his time with some of his best friends is up.
“I hope next summer I’ll be able to play with a few of them but I’ll miss them,” Melone said. “We hang out almost every day. We go to the gym, we still throw around and hit together. It’s something I’ll miss but something I’ll remember forever.”