HARWICH, Mass. — Sam Dexter’s second home run of the day supported two remarkable pitching performances by Andrew Richards and pulled the University of Southern Maine back from the brink of elimination Saturday in the NCAA Division III New England baseball tournament.

USM plays Endicott for the regional championship at noon Sunday at Whitehouse Field. The winner advances to the Division III World Series starting Friday in Appleton, Wis.

USM returned to Whitehouse Field needing to win its two games to stay alive in the double-elimination tournament after losing Friday to Endicott. The Huskies beat Western New England 7-0 in an early afternoon game. About four hours later, USM defeated Endicott, 5-2.

Richards, a lanky, 6-foot-2 sophomore right-hander from South Portland, pitched a shutout in the first game, limiting Western New England to five hits. He entered the day’s second game in the fourth inning with the bases loaded and one out in relief of freshman Tyler Leavitt.

Richards allowed a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning for Endicott’s first run. The Gulls went up 2-0 on another sacrifice fly in the sixth, but Richards (9-2) held Endicott scoreless the rest of the way.

The start in Saturday’s first game was Richards’ first of the season. He had pitched more than 60 innings of relief. Saturday morning at batting practice, he and his teammates got the news he would start after appearing in relief in two earlier games in the tournament.

Designated hitter Forrest Chadwick’s opposite-field, two-run double helped stake Richards to a five-run lead before he took the mound. Dexter’s long two-run homer in the sixth gave USM in its final runs.

Western New England, the No. 4 seed in the eight-team tournament, didn’t get a runner to third until the ninth inning.

Endicott was 1-8 in NCAA regional tournament games before this week, never reaching the weekend’s championship games. But the Gulls beat USM on Friday in a matchup of the tournament’s last two unbeaten teams.

The Gulls, winners of the Commonwealth Coast Conference tournament, were in the driver’s seat, needing only one more victory, while USM had to win three straight.

Down 2-0 in Saturday’s second game, USM got a run back in the seventh inning. Matt Verrier led off with a walk, went to second on a fielder’s choice and scored on Jake Glauser’s two-out single up the middle.

Dexter scored the tying run in the eighth on Sean Grady’s high chopper to third with the bases loaded. The throw to the plate for the force was in the dirt and got away from catcher E.J. Martinez.

Two outfield assists took Endicott runners off the base paths in the late innings. Glauser, playing center in place of Chadwick (pulled muscle), and Dexter at shortstop teamed up to cut down Tad Gold trying to stretch a double into a triple to lead off the eighth.

In the ninth, Troy Thibodeau caught a tailing line drive while facing the sun and doubled off Martinez at second.

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway