BRISTOL, Conn. – The Saco Little League team made sure that Coach Todd Duchaine enjoyed his 46th birthday Saturday.
Luke Chessie and Brogan Searle-Belanger combined on a one-hitter, and Searle-Belanger blasted a three-run homer as Saco routed Newton, Mass., 12-1 in the New England Regionals at Breen Field.
Duchaine was asked if he planned to do anything exciting to celebrate his birthday.
“I think I already did something exciting for it,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a better birthday present.”
Saturday was a dramatic turnaround for Saco, which was coming off Friday’s 11-2 loss to Lincoln, R.I. It will take a 1-1 record into Sunday’s 8 p.m. game against Westport, Conn.
The top four of the six teams in the New England Division will advance to the division semifinals. Saco will play its final group game Tuesday against South Burlington, Vt.
The New England champion will meet the Mid-Atlantic champion for the East title and a berth in the World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Two years ago on the 10-year-old level, Saco lost in the regionals on Duchaine’s birthday.
“We’ve shown that Mainers can play ball,” said Chessie, who struck out five and only allowed a leadoff double to Ben Zagorianakos in the third.
Searle-Belanger went 3 for 3 with four RBI. His homer cleared the fence in left-center in the third inning, giving Saco a 6-1 lead.
“I didn’t think I’d ever hit it over that fence, but I felt it off the bat and knew it was gone as soon as I hit it,” Searle-Belanger said.
Hunter Penley also drove in four runs, three on a bases-clearing double that capped a five-run sixth — three batters after an RBI double by Chessie.
Coming off a nine-run loss and feeling it had something to prove, Saco banged out 11 hits after collecting just three against Lincoln.
“People won’t think less of us now because they saw us (on Friday) and we didn’t do very well,” Searle-Belanger said.
After Newton scored an unearned run in the bottom of the first, Saco answered with three in the second. Penley and Michael Bourgault delivered consecutive RBI doubles, and Ean Patry produced a run with a groundout.
Duchaine went back to Chessie, who started Friday’s game but was lifted after getting only two outs.
“(Friday) was hard to pitch an inning because I had only 20 pitches and this time I had 50, so I could keep going and not worry about my pitch count and just pitch,” Chessie said.
“He’s been tremendous all season, for three, four years now, actually,” Duchaine said. “He usually starts games for us. He mixes his pitches extremely well, (he’s) very versatile.”
Searle-Belanger followed with three hitless innings, also striking out five, and added an RBI single that made it 7-1 in the fifth.
“These three gentlemen have been the core of our pitching staff for the last three years,” said Duchaine, referring to Chessie, Searle-Belanger and Anthony Bracamonte.
Duchaine hasn’t decided who will start against Westport, though Chessie and Searle-Belanger are unavailable. Bracamonte would appear to be a likely candidate to get the assignment.
“This is a pool play event, so you’re really looking to make sure you end up in the final four, so a 2-2 record is basically the same as 4-0,” Duchaine said.