DEPTFORD - Freshman Ja'Ques Colon of the Vineland High School baseball team acts like an upperclassmen on the field and in post-game interviews.
Colon made key plays with his bat and glove to propel the Fighting Clan to a 1-0 victory over Cherry Hill West in the quarterfinals of the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic at Deptford on Saturday afternoon.
Colon led off the bottom of the sixth inning with a single and then scored the winning run on Don Money's RBI groundout. Money threw a complete game, five-hit shutout for the win.
Sometimes freshmen struggle for words when speaking after games with reporters. Not Colon. He spoke with confidence - the same way he plays.
"This game could have been different," Colon said. "All the plays we made were game changers."
Vineland (20-4) will meet Washington Township (19-5) in the semifinals 1 p.m. today at Deptford. The winner advances to today's 5 p.m. final at Eastern High School against the winner of today's other 1 p.m. semifinal between Bishop Eustace and Camden Catholic. The tournament began last weekend with 16 of South Jersey's top teams.
The Classic is famed for its speedup rules, but Saturday's game seemed to almost move too fast. The game was over in 63 minutes.
With score 0-0 for most of the contest, every pitch seemed critical.
Colon, a left fielder, made one of the contest's best defensive plays when he caught a pop up off the bat of Cherry Hill's No. 3 hitter Matt Giampetro with one out and a runner on first in the top of the sixth inning. Colon ran down a slight hill into foul territory. He almost overran the ball but reached back to the make the catch.
"He plays bigger than his years," Vineland coach John Malatesta said of Colon.
Colon then led off the bottom of the sixth inning.
"It was getting late in the game, and we needed to do something," Colon said. "I felt it was my time to get a big hit."
Colon singled and then moved to second on a wild pitch. Johnny Malatesta, the coach's son, sacrificed Colon to third.
That brought Money to the plate with one out.
"I was thinking sacrifice fly," Money said, "just put the ball in play."
Money hit a groundball to shortstop. The groundout scored Colon easily.
Both teams had chances to score early in the game.
Cherry Hill West (15-6) loaded the bases in the top of the second inning. But Money picked a West runner off second base to end the inning.
"That helped me out," Money said. "It was scary there for a second."
Money said the Vineland coaches called the pickoff play. Shortstop Malatesta snuck behind the runner to catch the pickoff and apply the tag.
"The West runner was just walking off second base," Money said. "He thought that nobody was going to be behind him."
Vineland had a chance to take a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth. Mike Forte singled with two outs and Raekwon Ortiz on second base.
Ortiz rounded third and appeared on his way to score. But West center fielder Wilson Brickner threw Ortiz out at the plate.
Once Vineland did get the lead, Money made sure the Fighting Clan preserved the advantage.
He retired the side in order in the top of the seventh - the final inning. Money allowed just one hit over the final five innings. He ended the game with his only strikeout.
"That's the best," Money said. "It makes the crowd go crazy."
The Classic is named after Hartmann, the former Eastern coach and a fixture for years on the South Jersey baseball scene. Only three local teams - Millville (1978), Sacred Heart (2008) and Buena Regional (2011) - have won the event in its 39-year history.
Today will begin a big week for the Fighting Clan. Vineland hosts Atlantic City in a South Jersey Group IV first-round playoff game Monday. The Fighting Clan plays at St. Augustine Prep on Thursday in a game that will decide the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference.
Colon summed up his teammates' feelings about playing in so many big games. Vineland won just six games last season. This is the Fighting Clan's first Classic appearance since 2008.
"We're just cherishing the moment," Colon said, "and doing the best we can."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Cherry Hill West 000 000 0 – 0 5 1
Vineland 000 001 x – 1 6 1
WP-Money 1k. LP-Perna 3k.
Records - Vineland 20-4; Cherry Hill West 15-6
Diamond Classic semifinals
1 p.m. today at Deptford
Vineland vs. Washington Township
Bishop Eustace vs. Camden Catholic
5 p.m. today at Eastern