Albany

Athletics close out perfect Albany Twilight League season by winning fifth straight championship

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In the first 89 years of the Albany Twilight League, no team ever went the entire campaign undefeated in the regular season and the playoffs.

On Monday night at Bleecker Stadium, in the Twilight League’s 90th season, the Albany Athletics achieved perfection.

Scoring all of their runs with two outs, the Athletics defeated the Waterford Nationals 9-5 to sweep the best-of-five Albany Twilight League Championship Series. The Athletics went 3-0 in the ATL LCS, and were 5-0 overall in the postseason. They swept the Capital City Kings 2-0 in the best-of-three semifinals. Add their 23-0 regular season record, the Athletics were 28 for 28 in the league.

It was also the Athletics’ fifth straight Twilight League title. It’s their 11th championship overall.

“It’s indescribable. No one has done it before,” Athletics manager Joe Altieri said. “It makes me really proud of this group. There could be debates about who the greatest team was on paper and what roster was the best. But nobody can take away that this was the only team that has gone undefeated from start to finish [in] the regular season and playoffs. It means a lot to us.”

As the wins piled up, it was just past the midway point of the regular season when Altieri started to think about a perfect year.

“Our early-season goals are always to win every game, win the regular season and win every game. It’s the same mentality every game,” Altieri said. “When we got to about the 16th or 17th game, I sensed a different urgency, as if it was almost the playoffs every game. Guys were excited to come to the park. They had a lot of enthusiasm. They knew what was on the line. All of a sudden, they were playing like it was the playoffs.”

For Athletics catcher Craig Mastroianni, who was 8 for 14 in the playoffs with two homers, two doubles, eight RBIs and seven runs scored, it means a lot to go undefeated in Twilight League play.

“I’m a guy who’s been here a long time, 15 years on this team,” said Mastroianni, who was named co-MVP of the playoffs along with second baseman Cam Overbaugh. “We’ve had a lot of really good teams. In 2012 and 2016, we won [the Stan Musial] World Series. Never did we go undefeated. It’s very hard to do. It takes a special group of players like this to accomplish something like this, so I’m very proud of it.”

It also takes timely hitting to make a perfect season.

Mastroianni opened the scoring with a two-out, three-run homer in the bottom of the first inning.

After Nationals starting pitcher Ryan Ensel retired the first two hitters in the second inning, Overbaugh poked a single into right field. Tim Carroll lined a double over the outstretched glove of center fielder Nolan Duda, scoring Overbaugh. An infield single by Nate Novak put runners at the corners. Novak and Overbaugh then executed a double steal to make it 5-0. Novak went to third on an error and scored when Andrew Pedone’s grounder handcuffed first baseman Vince Granuzzo.

The Athletics scored another two-out run in the fifth when Mastroianni, who was on first, broke for second. Pedone, who was on third, scored as Mastroianni got into a rundown before getting tagged out after Pedone crossed the plate.

After the Nationals scored three times in the top of the sixth, the Athletics staged another two-out rally in their half of the inning as Overbaugh delivered a two-run single.

“It just shows that when it really gets tough, we really dig deep and we grind,” said Overbaugh, who went 9 for 20 with a home run, three doubles, 10 RBIs and six runs scored in the playoffs. “Two outs, it really doesn’t matter because we’re ready.”

Winning five straight championships, especially coming off 2020 when the season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, makes it even more special.

“It kind of shows our dominance, not to sound cocky or anything,” Overbaugh said. “We kind of expected this. We’ve been rolling all year. At this point, honestly, we don’t think anyone can beat us, so we’re just very confident. We’re playing with lots of confidence.”

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