No perfect season, but a perfect ending for the Albany Athletics

Albany Athletics third baseman Nate Novak was named the Albany Twilight playoffs MVP. (Photo courtesy Liss Phillips)

Albany Athletics third baseman Nate Novak was named the Albany Twilight playoffs MVP. (Photo courtesy Liss Phillips)

The Albany Athletics didn’t complete a perfect Albany Twilight League season like last year. But their league season ended perfectly, just like the previous five did.

The Athletics won their sixth straight Albany Twilight League championship, and 12th overall, on Tuesday when they defeated the Albany Thunder 6-1 in Game 4 of the league championship series at Bleecker Stadium in Albany.

The Athletics won the best-of-five series 3-1. Athletics manager Joe Altieri believes that this championship was the toughest of all to win.

“No doubt it was, not only because of the competitive balance of the league this year, but also because we were dealing with injuries,” Altieri said on Wednesday. “The last several weeks of the season, we had three pitchers who were out with arm injuries, and our No. 2 hitter [Greg Sulz] fractured an ankle in the last regular-season game of the season. He was a big spark in our lineup. And really, those two factors really created a challenge for us.”

The Athletics won all 28 Albany Twilight League games last year (23 in the regular season and five in the playoffs) to become the first team in the league’s 89-year history to go through a season undefeated.

The Athletics’ league winning streak reached 41 games before it was snapped by the Thunder in a 5-0 decision on July 11.

“That streak was pretty cool. It was fun,” Altieri said. “The guys were just having fun with it, and there was no pressure to really keep it going because we knew the end goal was to win the league championship. And if we got there losing a few games along the way, that was OK.”

Even though the Athletics had a better league record than the Thunder, the Athletics didn’t believe it was going to be a romp in the league championship series. And Game 1 proved that as the Thunder won 2-0 in eight innings on Saturday.

It was just one game. For a team that has dominated the Albany Twilight League the past few seasons, there was no sense of panic.

“The guys after the game talked about remembering this feeling when you come to the field tomorrow … and remember that we don’t want to feel like this,” Altieri said. “We need to put more into our at-bats, put more thought into our pitches, put more effort on defense and just do things a little bit extra to avoid getting into a 2-0 hole.”

The Athletics bounced back with a 3-1 eight-inning victory in Game 2 on Sunday. They followed that up with a 7-1 win in Game 3 Monday before clinching the title on Tuesday.

Third baseman Nate Novak was named the playoffs’ Most Valuable Player. Novak batted. 438 with a homer, six RBIs and five runs scored.

“He’s been a pillar of this franchise for six or seven years now,” Altieri said. He’s always producing on offense. That’s what he’s been known for. He’s known to hit the doubles homers driving the runs. But he had a really good playoff on defense, and he must have had three or four diving plays, including [Tuesday] in the sixth inning when the top of the order was up, diving down the line, throwing it across the diamond and making a great play.”

The Athletics, who are 34-4-2 overall, wrap up the season this weekend in the Northeast World Series in Waterbury, Connecticut. They open up against Braintree, Massachusetts, the five-time defending champions.

“They know a thing or two about winning championships,” Altieri said. “Every year we play them, it’s a one- or two-run game. It’s a great game, and we’re the last team to beat them in this event a couple of years ago before COVID. And we also beat them, I think in 2017, when they went into the tournament undefeated.”

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