(WORTH MENTIONING is an ongoing feature from the South Jersey Glory Days staff in which we recognize a player, coach or team for doing something outstanding, give our thoughts on why it’s important, and what it means for the particular program mentioned. If you see or hear about something worth mentioning, email South Jersey Glory Days Publisher Dave O’Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org).
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Many times, a high school sports team will take on the personality of its coach, and nowhere is there a more glaring example of this than with the Delsea Regional baseball team.
Joe Smith may have the most average name in America, but he’s anything but average when it comes to coaching baseball. He hates losing probably twice as much as he loves winning. He’s won sectional championships at both Williamstown and Delsea, and every year puts together a team that seems to always defy the doubters. Rarely do the Crusaders have guys who throw 90+ miles-per-hour, or who hit a ton of home runs. But they are like a school of piranhas, gnawing and grinding on you until they get the victories they are looking for.
This season Delsea — which is coming off a South Jersey Group 3 title in 2022 — is 13-4 and hasn’t lost back-to-back games all year. The Crusaders are in the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic semifinals on Saturday and are in second place in the Tri-County Royal Division behind Cumberland and Timber Creek, two teams they’ve already beaten this year. They have a win at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic hosted by Mainland, three wins in the Diamond Classic, and wins over tough teams like Bordentown and Pennsville.
It’s definitely death-by-a-thousand-cuts when it comes to facing Delsea. The Crusaders have just 29 extra-base hits in 17 games, but as a team they are hitting a robust .356 and have scored 125 runs this season, an average of 7.4 runs per game. They’ve drawn 93 walks, have 13 hit by pitches and have stolen 40 bases. And the pitching staff has been just as good. Smith has used nine different arms who have combined for a 2.49 ERA. And the best thing about Delsea pitchers is they make other teams earn it. They have nearly twice as many strikeouts as walks and have allowed just 37 earned runs all year. And they throw strikes. Delsea pitchers average about 17 pitches per inning, which is pretty darn good for a collective high school pitching staff.
But what stands out the most when watching this team — and Kevin Minnick of nj.com may have said it best when he retweeted a South Jersey Glory Days update from the recent Diamond Classic quarterfinal win over Egg Harbor Township — is the way the Crusaders just battle. Every inning, every pitch, they know they aren’t the most talented team in South Jersey but they want to be the toughest to beat. And so far, they are a pretty darn tough out.
On Tuesday, somehow Delsea beat an EHT team that started pitcher Cameron Flukey, who’s committed to Coastal Carolina and tops out around 97 miles-per-hour. They just scraped and clawed, bunted, put pressure on the EHT defense, forced a few errors and squeezed out a 4-3 win.
“These guys have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder,” Smith said after that game. “I love coaching these kids. They are tough, hard-nosed kids who never give up, and they are gamers. Coaches coach, but the kids make the plays, throw the strikes and get the base hits. They are the ones grinding it out.”
How could you not love coaching a team like this, with guys like Frankie Master, George Starr, Mike McGinley, Zach Maxwell, Konnor Reilly, Tyler Schoppe. Maxwell, the quarterback for Delsea’s football team, shredded his labrum during the football playoffs last fall and less than six months later was back grinding on the baseball field. All he’s done — while coming off a shoulder injury that would have most guys out for nine months, at least — is hit .412 with 21 hits, 21 RBIs, 13 runs scored and a team-leading 14 stolen bases.
That’s the kind of guy you’re dealing with when you try to beat Delsea on the baseball diamond.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays