WINDHAM – The players who comprise the Windham Merchants, the newly crowned American Legion state baseball champions, have been close to winning titles before.

But Monday’s 9-1 victory against Biddeford-Saco Savings of Westbrook was their first.

Babe Ruth baseball, Junior Legion and high school, the players who have played together since Little League were on competitive teams that fell short.

That changed in the state Legion tournament when the team rebounded from an opening-game loss in the double-elimination event in Augusta to win five straight games and the championship.

“It was kind of like a relief,” said Cody Dube, a pitcher-infielder. “We’ve been playing together for so long. We’ve had some close years. We finally put it all together. It was a perfect way to end it.”

When the players were in Babe Ruth baseball, they lost in the 13-year-old state title game to Portland North.

In their last year in Junior Legion, they lost to Westbrook for the state title. In Little League, the players had the talent but could never put it together, said outfielder Calvin Field. In high school, Windham lost in the Western Class A semifinals.

“We’ve been waiting for the past 10 years to win a state title,” said Field. “After losing to Marshwood in the high school playoffs this season, I said to assistant coach Aaron Talon we have one more chance in Legion this summer.”

Field, who bats leadoff and plays right field, caught the final out Monday in the victory against Westbrook.

“It was probably the best feeling I’ve had,” said Field. “I couldn’t wait to run in and jump on the pile. I can’t think of a better way to end our last season than with a state title.”

Windham opens play at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Northeast Regional at Middletown, Conn., against the host team. The players hope they have a few more wins in them.

After winning the state title, Joey Francoeur said: “It’s hard to put into words what this means.” Francoeur and his twin brother, Shawn, knocked in five runs against Westbrook and both took turns on the mound for a team that used five pitchers in the game.

Pitching depth enabled Windham to rally in the state tournament and could serve it well in the Northeast Regional.

“We have five, six guys who can pitch,” said Dube, the team’s No. 1 pitcher. “We feel confident with each one.”

Dube returned to his Legion teammates this summer after playing his freshman year for Keene State in New Hampshire.

Dube divided his time this summer, pitching a little for the Sanford Mainers in the New England Collegiate Baseball League and with Lenders Network in the Portland Twilight League.

“After I got back from college in May, I went to the Windham High practices and Coach (Brody) Artes encouraged me to play,” said Dube. “He said it would be good for the younger kids on the team if I played and that we had a good chance to win it all.

“I guess he was right. “

Looking ahead to the Northeast Regional, Coach Brody Artes said the opener against the host team is a great draw for Windham.

“All the other teams won their specific tournaments,” he said.

Having staved off elimination five times in the state tournament, Windham is certainly battle-tested.

“We have high expectations,” said Field.

Said Dube: “If we keep playing like we have, I like our chances.”

Artes said right-hander Nate Boyle will start the first game.

“Nate is the most rested of our pitchers,” said Artes. “We knew going into the state tournament we had a number of guys who could throw. Even though we had our backs against the wall, we battled back like we have all season.

“We put it together and capped off a great summer. The same thing could happen in this tournament.”

Boyle has a 6-0 record this summer. Counting the high school season, Boyle is a combined 13-1.

Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:

tchard@pressherald.com

Twitter: TomChardPPH