It has been a long, long time since the Vineland High School baseball program had a chance to celebrate the way it did on Tuesday.
Just under five years, to be exact.
The Fighting Clan turned in a near-flawless performance in their season opener, topping archrival Millville, 8-0, in a Cape-Atlantic League American Conference game at the Anthony DiTomo Athletic Complex. It was Vineland’s first win over the Thunderbolts since April 18, 2008, when the Clan managed a 2-1 win over a Mike Trout-led Millville squad.
The Vineland victory snapped a nine-game skid against its Cumberland County rival.
“It was big, first game of the season, we have to set the tone for everybody else,” Clan senior starting pitcher Don Money said. “Now they know that we’re the team to beat this year, not anybody else. We’re going to go all the way if we can.”
That confidence is something that has been lacking in years past for Vineland, and while it remains to be seen just what’s in store for the Fighting Clan this season, Tuesday’s performance followed up on what was a strong preseason for the group.
Money pitched five-plus shutout innings, limiting Millville to five hits with one strikeout and just a single walk on a less-than-desirable day weather wise with temperatures in the 40s and a stiff wind blowing.
“My curveball wasn’t really working, but my changeup and fastball were my main pitches (Tuesday),” Money said.
Millville starting pitcher Roberto Rivera wasn’t as fortunate.
The hard-throwing right-hander battled through three innings of work, allowing six hits with two walks while hitting two Vineland batters. The Bolts defense didn’t help matters either, as the unit committed four errors in the loss. It was a frustrating first game for a retooled Millville team.
“Regardless of what we have, if we’re young, we still have to play ball,” said Rivera, who was 1-for-4 at the plate on the day. “The difference in the game was errors and we also didn’t put anything up on the board. They had one more hit than us and it was 8-0.”
And losing to Vineland is not something the Bolts take lightly.
“I play three different sports and I never want to lose to Vineland, I hate Vineland,” said Rivera, also a football and basketball player. “I give them respect. They beat us.”
Vineland, which saw every member of its lineup reach base safely at least once, opened the scoring in the bottom of the second inning when freshman left fielder Jacques Colon connected on a two-run single, scoring Mark Rowan and Michael Forte. Clan right fielder Jesse Edelstein also crossed the plate during the sequence after a pair of Millville errors to give Vineland a 3-0 lead.
“We took the lead and it started the team up,” said Colon, who was getting his first taste of the Vineland/Millville rivalry. “It’s something we worked hard on the whole offseason and we want to continue getting early leads and getting victories.”
The scoring continued in the third inning when Vineland sent eight batters to the plate. Rowan and Edelstein both connected on sacrifice flies to center field while Forte produced an RBI single and designated hitter Andrew Gee scored on an error to give the Clan a commanding 7-0 lead. The Clan added their final run in the fourth inning when Money scored courtesy of an error.
The outburst of run support proved to be more than enough for Money.
“Now I have a cushion, so now I’m not afraid to throw pitches where I want to throw them,” he said.
Vineland was relatively clean defensively, with the bat and on the mound — a great sight for fourth-year coach John Malatesta.
After losing just one senior starter to graduation, the Clan are expecting to take a big step in 2013.
“We put the time in with the young guys and this is their year, it’s a senior- and junior-dominated team,” Malatesta said. “We’re teaching our kids to finish games, that’s been our biggest issue the last three years.”
Millville could have some issues of its own this season as it works new varsity players into the lineup. Tuesday’s miscues were a testament of the work ahead that faces the Bolts.
“Our margin for error is a little bit smaller this year,” Millville coach Roy Hallenbeck said. “You make a couple mistakes early and things snowball. So we’re just going to have to execute and play clean baseball, and we’ll be OK.”