SOUTH PORTLAND – Andrew Richards is known for his pitching, not his hitting. But Thursday night he did both and because he did, Morrill Post is headed to the American Legion baseball state tournament as the Zone 4 champion by beating Andrews Post 10-9 in the title game at Wainwright Field.

Morrill Post Coach Mike Owens had his ace, Richards, the recently graduated South Portland High pitcher, available for three innings because of eligibility rules.

The plan was to get a lead, then put in Richards to shut the door, which he did.

But nobody thought Richards also would get the winning hit. But there he was, dumping the first pitch he faced into right field to score Brendan Horton and break a 9-9 tie in the bottom of the eighth.

“That’s the first hit he’s ever had in high school and American Legion ball,” said Owens.

Richards didn’t bat in the high school season and was 0 for 5 this summer. Owens couldn’t pinch hit for him because unlike high school baseball, there’s no re-entry rule.

“I was banking on us getting a lead,” said Owens. “I was a little nervous when Andrews went up 9-6 in the sixth. I thought we had given up too much. Andrew did his job on the mound, but he’s done that throughout his high school career and in American Legion.”

And now Richards has done it at the plate.

Morrill Post (13-6), representing South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, will play the Zone 3 runner-up at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the double-elimination state tournament in Augusta.

Andrews Post (12-8), representing Portland High, had its season end.

“We got here a year earlier than I expected,” said Andrews Coach Tony DiBiase. “We’ve got the youngest team in Zone 4. I have only one player older than 16.

“I thought Nate Smart, our third pitcher, pitched a real gutsy game. He hasn’t pitched all season and he went five innings.”

Andrews took a 3-1 lead after one inning. Morrill scored three in the second and two in the third to lead 6-3. Andrews cut it to 6-5 with a two-run fifth, then scored four in the sixth to grab a 9-6 lead, including Caleb Fraser’s bases-loaded triple. Morrill scored two in the sixth, then brought in Richards in the seventh.

Richards faced 10 batters, struck out five and allowed one hit, but was more interested in talking about his hitting.

“I knew their pitcher was going to throw me a first-pitch fastball,” said Richards. “I really wanted to do something.”

Richards plopped it just over the second baseman’s head. It scored Horton, who had doubled into the right-field corner.

Ryan Curit opened the inning by tripling over the right fielder’s head. The ball got caught up in the wind, as it often does at Wainwright, and sailed over the fielder’s head. Zach Horton’s sacrifice fly to center scored Curit.

American Legion regular-season games are seven innings, but switch to nine innings for the zone playoffs and state tournament.

Richards pitched nine innings Tuesday in a victory against First Title (Cheverus High) in the zone semifinals.

Richards set Andrews down in order in the ninth with a groundout, a strikeout and a fly out.

“It’s great to be in the state tournament,” said Richards. “I can’t wait.”

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at:

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