Groton - When the UConn-Avery Point baseball program won its first Division II New England Championship in 1990, coach Roger Bidwell figured it would be the last.
Bidwell sure was off-base on his prediction.
The Pointers celebrated their 11th title on Sunday, beating Community College of Rhode Island, 3-2, to take the deciding game of the best-of-three series at Washington Park.
"It's the truth, that's what I thought at the time," Bidwell said with a smile.
It may have been one of the program's hardest earned championships, as Avery Point eked out two one-run victories in the series.
The Pointers (35-8) couldn't exhale until outfielder Matt Greene of New London caught the final out with runners on first and second. They advance to the East District tournament next weekend at Rochester, N.Y.
"It was one of the better games that you're going to see for a championship game," Bidwell said. "It was a great game. There were a lot of great plays out there. … Both teams are very close. (Zach) Albin is the difference."
Both sides played championship baseball, making stellar defensive plays.
But the Pointers had a crucial edge in the pitching department, Albin, a professional prospect, battled through 81/3 innings, scattering eight hits while striking out 11 and walking three. It was his third win this season over the Knights (28-13).
"Everyone worked hard to win this game," Albin said. "It was really important that we came out on top and persevered. We showed what kind of team we are. … To hang on to this one was really, really special. It meant a lot to our coach and we're happy that we could get it for him."
Albin received help from sophomore Edgard Santiago of New London. Santiago, who earned the win in relief in the opener Friday, came in to record the last out, getting Nick Coro to fly out, and pick up his first save this season.
"It was intense pressure all the way…," Santiago said. "It was special. I feel honored to be in these situations because coach Bidwell had a lot of confidence in me."
Bidwell made some smart managerial moves during the series, including saving Albin to start game three and then pulling him to bring in Santiago, a left-hander, to face the left-hand hitting Coro. He was tempted to let Albin, whose fastball reached 91 miles per hour, try to finish after the right-hander issued a two-out walk and Mike Sherburne reached on a single.
"I had to make the move," Bidwell said. "You can't go with your heart."
The Pointers scratched out three runs and had a few other rallies cut short when CCRI outfielders cut down baserunners - one at third and one at home - with strong throws.
They took the lead for good with a two-run fourth inning. Matt Harrison's RBI single and a wild pitch plated two runs for a 3-1 edge. Harrison's sacrifice fly gave his team a 1-0 cushion in the second.
Albin, who allowed only six hits and struck out 22 in 15 innings of work against CCRI during the regular season, was sharp when he needed to be.
In the second, Albin escaped a bases loaded jam by winning a tough duel with Sherburne, who fanned after a long at-bat.
"He's a good hitter," Albin said. "He was very tough. At a time like that, you just have to stay calm and try to block out everything and just focus on one pitch at a time. I was fortunate to be able to get away with that one."
Albin gave up a run in the third on a wild pitch but limited the damage with two strikeouts.
His defense provided a helping hand on several occasions, especially in the final four innings. Sophomore right fielder Matt Martinez made consecutive sparkling plays in the sixth. He raced back to rob Tyler Santaniello and then took away a hit from Jonathon Vasquez with a diving catch.
"I did what I had to do to win the game," said Martinez, who also contributed a single and triple. "It's either go big, or go home."
In the eighth, center fielder Kevin Hall threw out Santaniello trying to stretch a single to a double.
The Pointers squandered their share of scoring chances but managed to hold the lead despite being outhit 8-7.
They accomplished what Bidwell once thought wouldn't happen.
'Winning never gets (old)…," Bidwell said. "It makes it more satisfying when you beat a quality opponent."