The names of more than a dozen girls are forever posted on the backside of the backstop at Coach Fred Powell Softball Field at Williamstown High School.
They were the players on Powell’s back-to-back state championship teams. The Braves won consecutive Group 4 state championships in 2008 and 2009.
In the decade since, the program has had a coaching change (Powell retired five years ago) and has been in rebuilding mode. There are signs of hope for more lengthy playoff runs, however, and many of those signs can be found in the athleticism and talent of sophomore center fielder McKenzie Melvin.
“She’s very aggressive at the plate and she sees the ball really well,” Williamstown coach Dan Torcasio said. “She’s only struck out three times this season. Since I’ve been here for five years, she’s the best hitter I’ve had as a head coach.”
Melvin entered play on May 16 hitting .432 with seven home runs, four triples and seven doubles in 24 games this season and already has 66 career hits in 48 total high school games. Less than two full seasons into her prep career, Melvin is on pace to make a run at the all-time Williamstown hit mark: Katie Trotter finished with 135 in 2009 (Tiarra Sanabria, 120, is in second).
“For me,” Torcasio said, “I look at the future and it’s bright, knowing I’m going to have her in that three-spot for the next two years.”
Melvin took some time following a Braves win to chat with South Jersey Sports Weekly.
South Jersey Sports Weekly: I’m looking at your numbers and it seems like you have a handle on this hitting thing. How long have you been playing softball?
McKenzie Melvin: I started playing when I was 10 for the Little League in Monroe. And then I moved up to travel, and so I play there, too.
SJSW: What’s your favorite thing to do on the field: playing center field, hitting, running the bases?
Melvin: I like both (offense and defense) because when I get up there I try to get confident and keep my eye on the ball to get as many good hits as I can. And then in the outfield I like diving for the ball, getting good plays like that, and throwing people out at home, too.
SJSW: Who taught you the game?
Melvin: My mom (Kelley McLaughlin Melvin) played softball in college. She got a full ride to North Carolina (but ended up playing at Rowan) and my dad (Walter Melvin) played men’s softball, too. So I started because of my mom.
SJSW: What’s the highlight of your high school career?
Melvin: Probably the (seven) home runs I have (this year).
SJSW: How many did you hit last year?
Melvin: I think three?
SJSW: So you’ve already doubled that amount. That means next year, what, nine or 12? [Laughs]
Melvin: Yeah, I hope so! I’m trying to get 100 hits, so…
SJSW: … that’s what I was saying about your hitting, you already have (66) as a sophomore. What’s it mean to you to be going at this pace?
Melvin: It means a lot. I’m trying to break the school record if I can. But 100 hits is the first goal I want to reach.
SJSW: I was looking at the metal banners behind the backstop, the players on the 2008 and 2009 Williamstown teams that won Group 4 state championships. What would it mean to start a run like that while you’re here?
Melvin: Oh my God, it’d be so good. We haven’t won for a while, so me just being here and winning states would mean so much to me, because I’d get to be a part of that opportunity.
SJSW: You’re only a sophomore but I assume you want to play softball in college?
Melvin: Yeah, definitely. I really want to go to college. I play travel and we play in showcase tournaments where colleges watch us. So I’m trying to get colleges to look at me.
SJSW: Do you have a favorite class at Williamstown?
Melvin: I like all of them, but drawing class is fun. It’s easy.
SJSW: Do you have a favorite teacher?
Melvin: I had a teacher last year, Mr. (Mark) Shockely, I loved him, he’s my favorite.
SJSW: What other sports are you playing?
Melvin: I play volleyball, too.
SJSW: Did you try other sports as a kid?
Melvin: I ran track, I played basketball, I did cheer. I did all of it. But (softball) is my number one sport.
SJSW: Do you have a favorite pro team or sport to watch?
Melvin: I like the Phillies. And I like to watch football, too.
SJSW: Who would you consider your funniest teammate?
Melvin: Probably Jill Frisone.
SJSW: And how about the smartest student on your team?
Melvin: Probably Kylie Abriola.
SJSW: Anything your binge watching now?
Melvin: I’m watching “Star.”
SJSW: “Star?” What’s that about?
Melvin: It’s about these singers and there’s all of this drama.
SJSW: That sounds fun.
If you were to have a walk-up song, what would you pick?
SJSW: Probably “Sweet but Psycho” (by Ava Max). I really like that song. I play it all the time and people get annoyed with me, because I just play it over and over and over again.
SJSW: That’s great.
Any significance to your number, 14?
Melvin: It’s my birthday, Feb. 14.