West Deptford High started the baseball season 2-3 - allowing an average of 9.4 runs per game - and there were whispers that the Eagles' dynasty might be over.
It turns out those reports were unfounded.
The Eagles have won five straight and, with the return of Alex Dalsey, the pitching rotation has been stabilized and has helped push West Deptford (7-3) to the top of the Colonial Conference standings.
Except for a one-inning relief stint, Dalsey was unable to pitch until West Deptford's ninth game of the season. A pulled muscle in the back of his right arm was the reason Dalsey was sidelined.
"It wasn't a big deal; it was just sore from throwing in the cold and not stretching enough," said Dalsey, who was still able to play first base and right field early in the season.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound righthander made his first pitching start last Monday and looked in midseason form, throwing five pristine innings as West Deptford blanked Gateway, 6-0, and knocked the Gators out of first place.
Dalsey struck out eight, walked none and allowed just two hits while throwing in the 85 m.p.h. range; he did hit two batters.
"I just concentrated on throwing strikes," he said. "I was a little surprised I threw as hard as I did."
With Dalsey healthy, the Eagles are now favored to win their fourth straight conference title and should be a factor in the South Jersey Group 3 playoffs. Dalsey, who was 6-2 last year, and Jake Rifkin give the Eagles a solid one-two pitching punch.
During its five-game winning streak, West Deptford has outscored its opponents, 34-7, and has solidified its defense. "We're starting to hit the ball and we're making the plays," Dalsey said. "We're doing the basics, and that's what you need to win."
They're also getting great pitching, and it starts with Dalsey.
Power surge. Bishop Eustace shortstop Dan Sieracki, a 6-foot, 195-pound junior, recently homered in four straight games; Sieracki has hit five homers this year and shares the South Jersey lead.
With Sieracki showing the way, Eustace has won seven of its last eight games - the loss was to talented Malvern Prep - and has moved to No. 1 in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings. Cherokee, which lost to Lenape and powerful Steinert during the week, slipped from No. 1 to No. 2.
Tough task. Finishing unbeaten in baseball is virtually impossible. Just ask Cherokee coach Bill Haessler.
"When you're No. 1, every team gets up for you," said Haessler, whose team usually faces opponents' ace pitchers. "Every game is a big game."
Cherokee, which had been 11-0, fell from the unbeaten ranks when it was jolted by district rival Lenape on Thursday, 5-2. (Cherokee has a chance to avenge that defeat tomorrow, at Lenape.)
That left Delsea, now 8-0, as the area's only remaining undefeated team. The Crusaders had suffered an 8-7 defeat to Sacred Heart on April 14, but the loss turned into a forfeit win when it was discovered that the Lions used an ineligible pitcher.
South Jersey hasn't had a team finish undefeated since 1981, when Pennsville went 25-0.
Promising freshman. Freshman second baseman Nick Favatella has cracked the starting lineup for talented Washington Township. His biggest supporter is his brother, Joe, a senior who is the Minutemen's starting leftfielder.
"He's relaxed and he expects to be here," Joe Favatella said. "It's not like he came out of nowhere."
Township also has another freshman, designated hitter Chris Fanty, in its starting lineup.
Near milestone. Audubon coach Rich Horan enters the week with 298 career wins since 1992. Audubon has three games scheduled this week: today against visiting Haddon Township, Wednesday at Collingswood, and Thursday at Haddonfield.
The Green Wave have not yet set a makeup date for last Friday's rainout at Sterling.
Games of the week. Looking to attend a great matchup this week? Here are some of the best games:
Today: Absegami at Egg Harbor Township, 4; Haddon Township at Audubon, 3:45; Camden Catholic at Bishop Eustace, 3:30; Cherokee at Shawnee, 3:45; Cherry Hill West at Eastern, 3:45; Lenape at Cherry Hill East, 3:45; Williamstown at Delsea, 4.
Tomorrow: Burlington at Florence, 3:45; Moorestown at Northern Burlington, 3:45; Cherokee at Lenape, 3:45; Delsea at Pennsville, 4; Egg Harbor Township at Williamstown, 4.
Wednesday: Absegami at Mainland, 4; Egg Harbor Township at Millville, 4; Audubon at Collingswood, 3:45; Haddon Township at West Deptford, 3:45; Seneca at Bishop Eustace, 3:45; Washington Township at Eastern, 3:45; Cherry Hill East at Cherokee, 4.
Thursday: Buena at Sacred Heart, 4; Audubon at Haddonfield, 3:45; Pennsauken at Cherokee, 3:45; Seneca at Eastern, 3:45; Mainland at Shawnee, 3:45.
Friday: Delran at Cinnaminson, 3:30; Mainland at Egg Harbor Township, 4; Haddon Township vs. Gateway at Westville, 3:45; Collingswood at West Deptford, 7; Winslow Township at Seneca, 3:45; Clearview at Delsea, 4.
Saturday: Egg Harbor Township at Absegami; 2; Eastern at Shawnee, 3; Haddonfield at Sacred Heart, 7; Holy Cross at Florence, 2.
Comeback of the week.
Vineland overcame an 11-0 deficit Monday and defeated Oakcrest, 18-15.
Extra bases. Teams with at least a .500 record at the May 11 cutoff date will qualify for the NJSIAA tournament. . . . After starting the season 0-4, Gloucester (5-5) has won five of its last six and is in the hunt for a Group 1 playoff spot. . . . Haddon Township has won six straight since an 11-5 loss to Pitman. . . . Cherokee senior Ben Flanary, a 6-foot-6 righthanded-hitting first baseman who has slammed four homers this spring, is attracting Division I recruiters. St. Joseph's, Temple and Delaware are among those interested. . . . In its last three wins, Burlington has averaged 15 runs. . . . Dan DiBartolomeo has homered in three of Holy Spirit's last four games. . . . The Dengler Classic between host Florence and Holy Cross, originally scheduled for last Saturday, has been moved to this Saturday at 2 p.m.