VINELAND - Mike Forte seemed an unlikely candidate to get a key hit for the Vineland High School baseball team Saturday night.
The ninth-spot hitter swung and missed badly at two pitches in the sixth inning.
But the senior then saw a pitch he could hit, and he didn't miss it.
Forte's two-run double propelled Vineland to an 8-1 win over neighborhood rival Buena Regional in a matchup of two of the Cape-Atlantic League's top teams.
The victory boosts Vineland's chances of getting an at-large bid to the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic. Buena Regional (15-3) already has clinched a Classic bid because it leads the CAL National Conference.
"We've been playing against these guys since we were 5 years old," Forte said of Buena. "This is a pride rivalry. Everything is on the line in these games. You have all the bragging throughout the towns."
Buena and Vineland (13-3) are located a few miles from each other. Buena beat Vineland 4-1 last Sunday.
Both towns and schools are passionate about baseball. Vineland leads the CAL American Conference Division II. Buena is No. 11 in The Press Elite 11.
Vineland was clinging to a 3-1 lead as it came to bat in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Forte (2-for-2 with two RBIs) batted with runners on first and third and one out. He looked overmatched on the first few pitches.
"I wasn't seeing the ball," Forte said. "It was a night game. The lights were shining in your eyes. It was different scenery than a day game."
Forte's earlier at-bats had come while the sun was still setting. He adjusted quickly to the dark.
He hit a fastball into left center field for a two-run double that gave Vineland a 5-1 lead.
"I moved up in the box and crowded the plate a little bit more," he said. "I saw a pitch I could take for a ride and put my bat on it. That took the life out of them."
In addition to Forte, Tommy Rodriguez and Raekwon Ortiz each had two hits for Vineland.
Vineland pitcher Don Money allowed four hits in seven innings for the win. Money does not have overpowering pitches.
But he kept the Buena hitters off balance.
"Sometimes I would start them off with the curveball," Money said. "I changed it up, so they weren't looking first-pitch fastball all the time and jump that pitch."
Money also pitched well with runners on base. He retired the side in order in just one inning. Buena left eight runners on base.
"I try to stay calm when people are on base," Money said. "If you get too jittery, bad things start to happen."
Vineland will now wait and see if it gets an invite to the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic. The prestigious tournament, named after the former Eastern coach who is a fixture on the South Jersey baseball scene, will feature 16 of the region's top teams.
The field will be announced 6 p.m. today.
In addition to splitting two games with Buena, Vineland also has quality wins over Holy Spirit and Camden Catholic. The Fighting Clan last made the Diamond in 2008.
"Our players did their part," Vineland coach John Malatesta said. "That was one of our goals - (making) the state tournament and the Diamond. It would be great."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Buena Regional 010 000 0-1 4 3
Vineland 300 005 x-8 9 2
2B-Forte, Gee V. HR-Cheli B.
WP-Money 5k. LP-Capriotti 3k.
Records-Buena 15-3; Vineland 13-3.