A combination of young and old lifted the Vineland High School baseball team into Sunday’s semifinal round of the 40th Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic.
Senior starting pitcher Don Money tossed a complete-game shutout and freshman outfielder Ja’Ques Colon was the sparkplug on offense in the Fighting Clan’s 1-0 victory over Cherry Hill West on Saturday at Deptford.
Vineland, which reached the 20-win plateau with the triumph, will face Washington Township — the No. 1 team in the Daily Journal’s South Jersey Mean 15 — at Deptford on Sunday at 1 p.m. Bishop Eustace and Camden Catholic will meet in the other semifinal at Washington Twp., with the championship to be played at Eastern on Sunday at 5 p.m.
In a strong defensive game that lasted just 1 hour, 3 minutes, it was Vineland that executed in the clutch down the stretch to outlast the Lions (14-7).
After making a spectacular diving catch in foul territory to end the top half of the sixth inning, Colon stepped to the plate in the bottom of the frame and connected for a leadoff single off Cherry Hill West starter Brandon Perna. Vineland shortstop Johnny Malatesta sacrificed Colon to third after the left fielder took second on a passed ball and Money knocked in the game’s only run on an RBI groundout to the shortstop.
“I knew it was getting late in the game and we had to do something to at least get a run,” Colon said. “We thought we could hold them down with our defense and that’s what happened.”
Vineland nearly cracked the scoreboard in the fifth inning, but Raekwon Ortiz was nailed at home on a perfect throw by Lions center fielder Wilson Brickner trying to score from second base on a Mike Forte single. That defensive play was just one of many that shifted the momentum throughout the contest.
Cherry Hill West had a prime opportunity to break the game open in the second inning when it loaded the bases against Money. The veteran pitcher made a perfect pickoff move though, catching Lions left fielder Josh Machtinger leaning at second to end the inning.
“That really helped me out,” said Money, who scattered five hits and did not walk a batter. “I was a little nervous, but once I got that guy out at second it calmed me down. I started throw down a little bit, hitting my spots a little more and changing up the speeds a little bit.”
Money would allow just one hit the rest of the way, a one-out single in the sixth, in taming the Lions. His lone strikeout of the game came against the last batter he faced, a perfect ending for Money.
“That’s the best, that makes the crowd go crazy right there,” Money said of ringing up Jake Campbell. “That’s what you live for as a pitcher.”
Vineland now has its sights set on winning the Classic with Monday’s start to the Group IV South playoffs on the horizon. The way the Clan sees it, the more games, the better.
“It’s fun, we’re having a good time and the guys are believing,” Vineland coach John Malatesta said. “Like I said before, it’s about confidence. They have confidence now, they’re believing their teammates can pick them up when things go bad. They’re not getting down, they know there is another at-bat, there is another groundball and it’s just great to see.”