GORHAM — With the Little East Conference championship and a berth in the NCAA Division III baseball tournament on the line, the University of Southern Maine turned to its stars. And Andrew Richards and Sam Dexter delivered.

Richards, pitching for the fourth time in USM’s five tournament games, allowed four hits in a complete game and Dexter provided the go-ahead two-run homer in the fifth inning to lead the Huskies to a 4-2 victory over Eastern Connecticut State in the league final Saturday.

The victory guaranteed the Huskies (31-13) a berth in the NCAA Regional starting Wednesday at Harwich, Massachusetts.

“That’s the biggest thing,” said Ed Flaherty, in his 30th season as coach at USM. “We probably would have got in anyway (with an at-large bid) if we didn’t win, but you don’t want to take any chances. I think this is the strongest league in the nation so to be a champion in that and show you know how to win tournaments will help us in the next one.”

Richards, who won two games and saved two games in the tournament, and Dexter, who hit .500 (10 for 20) with five RBI and nine runs in the five games, were named co-MVPs of the tournament.

“You’ve got probably the best pitcher in the nation, you’ve got the best player in the nation, all on one team,” said Flaherty. “Those two kids have carried us all year. Sam got the big hit and Richards, he’s just a once-in-30-years-guy you’ll never see again. He can just pitch and pitch and pitch.”

Eastern Connecticut (23-17) forced the decisive game with an 11-4 win in the first game Saturday. The Warriors backed the stout pitching of left-hander Matt D’Orsi with 16 hits, eight for extra bases. D’Orsi came into the game with a 6.35 ERA but held the Huskies to eight hits. Tim Budd drove in three runs with three hits, including two doubles.

But the Warriors, who defeated USM in the league championship game last year, couldn’t beat the Huskies for a second time in the same day.

“We knew that we were going to have our hands full with (Richards),” said Eastern Connecticut Coach Matt LaBranche. “We did a good job in the first game of getting up on them and taking (Richards) out of the equation. But we knew once we did that, that he would probably start the second game.

“We had our chances and didn’t quite capitalize.”

USM led 1-0 into the fifth when Dexter committed an error on the first batter, Corey Keane, who reached second on the play and eventually scored to tie it.

In the bottom of the inning, Dexter came up with a runner on first and two outs.

Warriors starter Jacob Smith tried to throw a first-pitch fastball past him, but Dexter turned on it and drove the ball far over the left-field wall where it was lost among the trees, giving USM a 3-1 lead.

“I obviously felt bad that I let up a run,” said Dexter, who ended the top of the fifth by making a diving catch of a line drive and turning it into a double play. “I was just trying to help the team and get that run back.”

“I knew he was going deep,” said Richards. “He has that competitive edge you want in every player.”

Then it was up to Richards, who pitched six innings Friday in a win.

He allowed a run in the sixth, then set down 10 of the last 11 batters. Richards struck out six and walked one, throwing 113 pitches – coming off 52 pitches Friday.

He pitched 18 2/3 innings in the tournament with a 0.96 ERA, 14 strikeouts and four walks.

“I wanted the ball,” said Richards. “I heard (the coaches) talking and it was between me and Shyler Scates to start the game. And I wanted the ball. I wanted to pick up the rest of the team and do what I could to win the game. I just battled.”

USM got a big run in the eighth when freshman Devin Warren – “He’s going to be a great player for us,” said Flaherty – hit a towering home run over the left-field fence.

“Both Messalonskee (High) grads coming up big,” said Richards.

Dexter was just glad to be moving on.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” he said.

“We thought this tournament was tough to win. That one’s going to be even tougher.”