Johnny Malatesta sees the banner every time he walks into the Vineland High School gymnasium.
The banner lists Vineland's Cape-Atlantic League baseball titles and is a reminder of a time when the Fighting Clan dominated the local high school baseball scene.
"I know Vineland used to be the team to beat," said Malatesta, a junior shortstop and pitcher. "We have banners that say '90, '91, '92, '93 - all the years they won repeatedly. It makes you want to put a '13 on the banner."
Vineland must again be considered a CAL contender. The Fighting Clan is 4-0 after beating Oakcrest 9-7 Tuesday. Vineland opened the season last week with an 8-0 defeat of Millville - the first time the Fighting Clan had beaten their biggest rival since 2008.
"The whole thing with high school kids is confidence," said Johnny's dad and Vineland coach John Malatesta. "When you're hitting the ball and beating reputable teams that have been controlling you the past couple of years, it's a big boost."
Vineland baseball struggled most years in the 2000s. Many of its players chose to attend local parochial schools such as St. Augustine Prep and Sacred Heart. Those programs flourished.
Malatesta took over the program in 2010.
"We had to change the culture," he said. "The kids and the parents and everybody are finally starting to believe in what we're preaching and doing. Vineland is known to be a baseball town with its strong Little League programs. We want the same thing at the high school."
Most of the current Vineland players have played on the same team since Little League.
In many ways, Vineland has pointed toward this season. The Fighting Clan graduated just one player from last season's team which finished 6-15.
"We're friends off the field," senior pitcher Don Money said. "We grew up playing in the same leagues, playing against each other. It's been a fun ride."
Vineland built on its chemistry by traveling to Florida last month for preseason scrimmages and practices. The Fighting Clan worked out at Dodger Town in Vero Beach.
"We just focused on baseball," coach Malatesta said. "We took 22 players and played triple headers every day. They were all scrimmages, but we got to know our team inside and out."
Vineland averages 12 runs per game. The Fighting Clan scored 11 runs in the second inning of last week's 15-5 win over Mainland Regional.
Everyone in the Vineland order is hitting. Ninth-place hitter Matt Forte hit three doubles and knocked in three runs against Mainland. Andrew Gee, Mark Rowan, Jacques Colon and Malatesta also have gotten big hits this season.
Money sparks the Fighting Clan with his glove and bat. He is 2-0 on the mound and threw five shutout innings in the win over Millville and was 3-for-3 with two RBIs in last Saturday's 16-0 victory over Salem.
"We can all hit the ball pretty hard and we're just hot right now," Money said.
Money is the grandson of former Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers standout Don Money.
"Baseball is huge in my family," Money said. "Everybody plays in my family. It's like a tradition."
While Money has kept his family tradition going, he and teammates hope a winning season will revive Vineland's baseball tradition.
"We're trying to start it all over again," Money said. "We want people to come to Vineland rather than go to other schools. We want to show people that we can (win) as much as any team out there."
Hammonton, No. 8 in The Press Elite 11, reached the finals of the Ron Vinick Tournament at Millville High School before losing 8-0 to No. 2 Washington Township.
The Blue Devils reached the final with a 6-2 win against Kingsway Regional in the semifinals as Morgan DiVello doubled and tripled.
Cedar Creek's Cheyenne Meyer is off to a solid start this season.
Meyer hit two home runs in the team's win against ACIT on Thursday and followed that up with another two home runs as the team upset Millville in the Vinich tournament on Saturday.
Meyer, who also pitches, had two triples and four RBIs as the Pirates beat Cape May Tech 17-3 on Tuesday.
(Staff writer John O'Kane contributed to this story.)
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