BRISTOL, Conn. — Despite a mandatory rule requiring every player to have at least one turn at bat, New Hampshire Manager Jim O’Connell opted to send six starters to the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning Friday in a last-ditch effort to stave off elimination at the Little League Baseball New England Regional. New Hampshire lost to South Portland American, 7-6.

“I tip my cap to those guys,” O’Connell said of the Maine champs, who rallied from deficits of 3-0 and 5-4 to win a third straight elimination game and reach Saturday’s championship game against Connecticut. “They’re resilient. They keep coming back, never quit.”

Little League officials reminded O’Connell that all 13 players on his roster must bat at least once. Instead, trailing 7-5, he kept one player on the bench. After two hard-hit outs to center, Logan Simmons doubled and scored after consecutive singles to make it 7-6 before a foul pop ended the game.

O’Connell said the remaining bench player declined an opportunity to bat first in the bottom of the fourth, causing the manager to wonder if “he wasn’t feeling good.”

“We gave him an opportunity in the fourth inning,” said O’Connell, who faced a two-game suspension had New Hampshire advanced. “He chose not to hit. So then waiting for the right time to get him in in the sixth, and to put him in a situation where (it was) do-or-die with the game, I didn’t feel it would be very fair.”

South Portland Manager Jim Poole, under more stringent requirements, with 11 players, for each boy to bat and to play in the field for at least six outs, said he wasn’t aware of New Hampshire’s failure to use its entire roster, and initially chalked it up to “a lot of moving parts. I’m sure they wouldn’t intend to do that.”

Upon learning the decision had been a calculated gamble, Poole shook his head.

“Well then, you know what? They should be going home,” he said. “It’s unfortunate for that group of kids, but the coaches, I hope, learn from that. That’s not setting a standard. It’s too bad. It really is.”

ANDREW HEFFERNAN played second base and shortstop for South Portland on Friday. He’ll be the starting pitcher Saturday against Connecticut, which beat Maine 8-0 on Monday.

South Portland (4-1) will be playing its sixth game, twice as many as Fairfield American (2-0). The teams share a dormitory bathroom at the Bart Giamatti Center and have become friendly.

“We just know, at this point, that’s going to be a great, fantastic ride,” Poole said. “Whoever wins deserves it. That’s a great team. We’re going to be challenged and have to play our best. But what a place to be.”

SOUTH PORTLAND parents and fans have been told to arrive well before the 1 p.m. start because the last time a Connecticut team played in the New England final, thousands of fans packed Breen Field.

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or:

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