By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

OCEAN CITY — Delsea Regional senior and three-sport athlete Landon Burns was pacing around the visitor’s dugout before the start of the sixth inning on Friday, all full of nervous energy. He said — to nobody in particular — “I’m not leaving here (meaning either Ocean City’s baseball field or his high school athletic career in general) without a ring!”

In Delsea’s half of the sixth, Burns delivered by lacing a hot shot down the left field line to plate the Crusaders’ fourth run, and that was plenty for reliever George Starr, who shut the door in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings to help No. 3 Delsea capture the South Jersey Group 3 championship with a 4-0 victory over top-seeded Ocean City. In the process, the Crusaders knocked off the defending state champion and captured just their second sectional crown ever.

It seems a school known for its football and wrestling prowess can now be considered a baseball school.

“When everybody hears Delsea High School they think of the football team or the wrestling team,” said center fielder Jake Watson, one of just two seniors in Delsea’s starting lineup along with Burns. “Nobody really thinks of the baseball team. But coach (Joe Smith) told us at the beginning of the year, ‘we’re putting Delsea baseball on the map.’ I think we did just that.”

Delsea Regional players dog pile after the Crusaders beat top-seeded Ocean City to win the South Jersey Group 3 championship. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

The sectional title was the third for coach Smith, who won the school’s first title in 2005 and also led Williamstown to the 2015 South Jersey Group 4 championship before returning to Delsea.

“I’ve been playing varsity for three sports my entire high school career, and finally I won something. It feels so great,” said Burns, a first baseman who recorded the last out after a comebacker to Starr. “Before my last at-bat, coach said to me, ‘you’ve always been talking about getting a ring. Go get it.’ I got a hit and I was hyped.”

The Crusaders (23-5), now winners of 15 straight, jumped on the Red Raiders early, scoring a run in the first inning as leadoff man Frankie Master was hit by a pitch, bunted to second by Watson and scored ahead of catcher Mike McGinley’s single to left. Delsea rallied for a pair of runs in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Watson and another RBI single by McGinley, pushing the lead to 3-0 against University of Maryland commit Duke McCarron.

That was all the run support Delsea needed, as starter Angelo Del Palazzo and Starr combined on a four-hit shutout.

Delsea catcher Mike McGinley holds up the championship trophy. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“These four games felt like eight games. It was a lot different this year. When you have to defend a title, it’s just hard. It’s more stressful, I think, and it just caught up to us at the end. They were a better team today. They did everything they had to do to win a baseball game, and we didn’t. Hat’s off to them, they are well coached and they executed, and that’s usually us. We just didn’t do it today,” said Ocean City coach Andrew Bristol. “Duke gave us the effort he needed to give us, the other pieces just didn’t come into play. I thought he did enough to win, we just didn’t do enough as a team to win.”

“Angelo, once he comes on the mound, he’s always great. He shuts teams down. He’s been a great pitcher for us,” said Burns.

Del Palazzo allowed three runs or less in 10 of his 12 appearances coming into the game and was fantastic in the championship game. He scattered four hits in four innings while keeping Ocean City (19-8) off the scoreboard.

Watson said this was a special win for a group of seniors who lost an entire season in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and lost a 1-0 playoff heartbreaker to Delran in last season’s South Jersey Group 2 tournament.  

“Last year, we lost to Delran in the semifinals but I think today this whole team knew what this meant for us (seniors),” he said. “We knew coming into this game we had to have heart to win it, and we did just that. We had heart and we played the game with passion. They played great, but at the end of the day one team is dog piling and the other is going home.”

Coach Bristol said he won’t be surprised if his team is back in the championship game again next year. That’s the standard that has been set at Ocean City.

“We’ll lose some big seniors, but the young kids are going to step into roles now,” he said. “We’re just going to keep going. We’re just going to reload. We’ve built a tradition here where we expect to be good. If you’re going to come play for us, expect to work hard and expect good things. We’re going to keep at it every year.”

What’s next: Delsea hosts Central Jersey Group 3 champion Middletown North on Monday in the Group 3 semifinals. Ocean City’s season is complete.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays