DEPTFORD — The Vineland High School baseball team faced an unusual problem Sunday afternoon.
The Fighting Clan simply have too many important games left to play.
Vineland rested its top pitchers and lost to Washington Township 14-2 in the semifinals of the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic at Deptford. Vineland pitchers issued 12 walks. The game ended after the top of the fifth inning because of the 10-run rule.
“In any baseball game, it starts on the mound,” Vineland coach John Malatesta said. “But nobody’s pointing any fingers. It’s just another game. It would have been nice to win, but it just wasn’t our day.”
Vineland rested its top pitchers because the Fighting Clan host Atlantic City in a South Jersey Group IV first-round game today. Vineland then plays at St. Augustine Prep on Thursday in a game that likely will decide the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference race. Vineland also could play a S.J. Group IV quarterfinal game Friday.
“It wasn’t our day,” Malatesta said. “We have to have positive thinking for (today’s) playoff game.”
The Diamond Classic began last weekend with 16 of South Jersey’s top teams. After its Vineland win, Washington Township beat Camden Catholic 14-1 in the championship game. Washington Township (21-5) is ranked No. 1 in The Press Elite 11, while Vineland (20-5) is No. 7.
Washington Township also threw an inexperienced pitcher Sunday afternoon. Minutemen sophomore Chris Haruch made his first varsity start and allowed five hits.
“I was really nervous,” Haruch said, “but I knew if I mixed up my stuff and my teammates got a big lead, I would be fine.”
The Minutemen took control from the start, taking advantage of four straight walks to score three runs in the bottom of the first inning. Washington Township scored seven runs in the third inning on just one hit — Justin Sommerman’s grand slam.
In addition to walks, Vineland hurt itself with shaky defense. The Fighting Clan committed five errors.
“If you’re not throwing strikes, then the defense starts sitting back,” Malatesta said. “It’s like, ‘Boom! The guy hits me the ball.’ You’re off balanced and you’re not making the play. It snowballs.”
Vineland had few positives. Mike Forte had two hits. Johnny Malatesta, the coach’s son, knocked in a run with a single.
Despite the defeat, Vineland relished its Diamond Classic experience. The tournament is named after a former Eastern coach and long-time fixture on the South Jersey baseball scene.
Before this spring, Vineland hadn’t qualified for the Classic since 2008, and it hadn’t won a tournament game since 2006.
“It was a lot of fun,” Johnny Malatesta said. “We put Vineland on the radar. If you’re going to have one those games, have it now. We can come out in the playoffs and bring it back together.”
Contact Michael McGarry:
Washington Township 347 00—14 6 1
Vineland 002 00—2 5 5
HR: Sommerman WT.
WP: Haruch LP: Rowan
Records—Washington Twp. 20-5; Vineland 20-5