Groton - When reliever Edgard Santiago enters a game, he always has the same mentality.
"I like coming out of the bullpen," Santiago said, "because I always want to help my teammates out."
He bailed out the UConn-Avery Point baseball team on Friday.
Santiago, who pitched four innings of relief, played the starring role in a 4-3 win over Community College of Rhode Island in the opening game of the best-of-three NJCAA Division II New England Tournament series at Washington Park.
"Edgard is the hero because he came in and shut them down," Avery Point coach Roger Bidwell said. "He's the big story for our team."
A former New London High School standout, Santiago earned the win, coming on with two on and nobody out in the sixth inning and allowing two hits while striking out four and walking one. He allowed the two inherited runners to score before settling into a nice groove, retiring seven of the last eight batters.
Santiago, The Day's 2011 baseball player of the year, is just starting to feel healthy after battling an injury to his pitching shoulder this season. He threw only 22 innings prior to Friday and had a sparkling 2.01 earned run average.
"I've been working out in the training room a lot and trying to get healthy," Santiago said.
To prepare for the tournament and shake off the rust, Santiago threw 50 pitches against the Eastern Connecticut State University junior varsity on Wednesday.
"He threw real well (Wednesday)," Bidwell said. "And, again (today), it came out of his hand well, so I was very happy with that. I wasn't quite sure what we were going to get from him today.
"Our pitching depth isn't really good right now because of injuries, so he had to do the job."
The Pointers (34-7) certainly needed him. They played tight, according to Bidwell, against an opponent that they beat in all four regular-season meetings.
They struggled to deliver in the clutch, stranding 13 runners, and committed a few blunders. In the fourth inning, Matt Harrison, who reached on an RBI single that handed his team a 2-0 lead, was ejected for trying to dislodge the ball while being tagged out in a rundown. He'll likely have to sit out today's game.
Starter Andrew Reel worked in and out of jams until finally leaving in the sixth holding a 2-1 lead.
Santiago's wild pitch led to the game-tying run and Dylan Gracia doubled to give CCRI (25-12) a 3-2 lead.
Avery Point regained the lead with two runs in the bottom of the sixth. The rally was far from a masterpiece.
With two outs and Nick DeLotto aboard via a single, Alex LeFevre, who replaced Harrison at catcher, blooped an infield single just behind first base and Kevin Hall walked to load the bases.
A wild pitch scored DeLotto with the tying run. Reliever Jake Tillman hit Alex Miller and walked Matt Martinez to force in the go-ahead run.
Santiago did the rest, allowing only two baserunners in the final three innings. Martinez finished with three hits and walked while Matt Greene of New London also reached base four times (two walks, HBP, single) and Christian Mayhew had a single and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.
Avery Point can clinch a spot in the East District Tournament with a win today. Shawn Nadeau of Groton will start against CCRI's Conor Gleason, a Wheeler graduate.
Bidwell hopes for a better all-around performance today.
"I didn't think we played well at all," Bidwell said. "But neither team stepped up and got a big hit. ... We had many opportunities. We made a number of bad plays.
"Normally, you don't win doing those things in games like this. We're very fortunate to win this game the way we played."
And if Bidwell needs to call on Santiago again, the sophomore left-hander says he'll be ready to help out his teammates.
"This win gives us a great opportunity," Santiago said.