MILLVILLE - Pitcher Johnny Malatesta of the Vineland High School baseball team needed to be at his best for an extraordinary reason Wednesday afternoon.
The opposing pitcher - Kyle Cox of Millville - was throwing a no-hitter.
Malatesta and the Fighting Clan overcame Cox's remarkable effort and beat Millville 3-1 in extra innings in the season opener for the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference rivals.
Vineland won despite being outhit by Millville eight to one.
"Baseball is a weird game," Malatesta, a senior, said. "It was a great team effort. I loved it."
Malatesta threw a 92-pitch complete game, allowing eight hits and one run in eight innings. He struck out seven and walked none.
"All my life I pitched in high-pressure situations like this," Malatesta said. "It prepares you for moments like this. You have to live for it."
Meanwhile, Cox did not allow a hit in 7 � innings. He struck out 11 and walked three. Cox also provided Millville with its only run, hitting a home run off Malatesta in the bottom of the eighth inning.
"It's baseball," Cox said. "You can come out and play the best game of your life and lose, or you can play (poorly) and win. It can go either way."
Vineland took the lead in the top of the eighth inning when Cox walked Vineland hitter Austin Padilla with the bases loaded. Vineland No. 9 hitter Lukkus Perez got the Fighting Clan's only hit - an RBI single off a Millville reliever in the top the eighth inning.
The game might have been a season opener, but it was played with the intensity of a state tournament contest. A large crowd gathered at Millville's Mike Trout Field. Vineland and Millville are two towns passionate about baseball. Vineland is the defending CAL American Conference Division II champion. Both teams are expected to contend for CAL titles this season.
Cox dominated Vineland hitters for seven innings. The right hander retired the first 15 hitters he faced. Vineland got its first base runner when its leadoff hitter reached first on an infield throwing error to start the sixth inning. Cox struck out seven Vineland hitters looking.
Malatesta wasn't as dominant as Cox, except for when runners were on base. Millville left seven runners on in the first six innings. The Thunderbolts left runners on third base in the third and fourth innings.
"When (Malatesta) got threatened, he shut us down," Millville coach Roy Hallenbeck said. "We were able to get some traffic on the bases, but he got tougher. The more guys that got on, the tougher he got."
High school games last seven innings, and this contest headed to the eighth inning with no score.
Vineland then mounted an improbable rally. The Fighting Clan loaded the bases against Cox on a walk, a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk.
That brought Padilla to the plate.
Cox threw him three straight balls.
"I was taking all the way," Padilla said.
Cox threw a strike but then missed the plate low with a fastball. Padilla jogged to first base, and Vineland took a 1-0 lead.
"In that situation, a walk was as good as a hit," Padilla said.
Roberto Rivera then relieved Cox. Perez greeted Rivera by lining a fastball into right field for a single to knock in another run.
"I was actually thinking curveball, but I saw the fastball and just reacted and hit it the other way," Perez said.
Vineland made it 3-0 when Malatesta drew a bases-loaded walk. The extra runs allowed Vineland to breathe easier.
"One run against Millville wasn't going to cut it," Perez said.
Cox's home run gave Millville some comeback hopes in the bottom of the eighth. But Malatesta finished strong, striking out the final hitter he faced. Malatesta jumped in celebration after the final out.
Vineland and Millville will each play more than 20 games this season. Both teams will be hard-pressed to be involved in a more emotional or tense game than Wednesday's season opener.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Vineland 000 000 3-3 1 3
Millville 000 000 1-1 7 2
2B-Clark M. HR-Cox M.
WP-Malatesta (1-0) 7k V. LP-Cox (0-1) 11k M.
Records-Millville 0-1; Vineland 1-0.