BRISTOL, Conn. — An unforgettable summer for 11 boys from Memorial Middle School began in June and ended Saturday before a crowd of 4,500 and an ESPN television audience.

South Portland American, the Maine champion for the first time in a half-century, fell 10-0 to a juggernaut from a league of eight teams from the most populous – and prosperous –regions of Connecticut.

Fairfield American is headed to the Little League World Series for the third time since 2010. The league was New England runner-up in 2014 and 2016, and brings an 18-0 record in tournament play into Thursday’s World Series opener in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

“We lost to a phenomenal team,” South Portland Manager Jim Poole said. “There was a lot of pressure on them. It’s David vs. Goliath and (Fairfield) didn’t ever look comfortable. I’m proud of that. We never gave up.”

South Portland American has three teams and 33 players age 9 through 12. From that the league formed two All-Star teams, one for the 10-11 age group and this one, which has 10 of the league’s 15 players who are age 12.

They started play in late June, beating Windham, Falmouth, Yarmouth and Westbrook before falling 11-1 to Scarborough on July 12 to force a winner-take-all final. Andrew Heffernan pitched a 3-2 victory with 10 strikeouts, no walks and five hits, and South Portland rallied from a 2-0 deficit in its last at-bat.

The state tournament in Westbrook, by contrast, seemed a breeze. South Portland beat Lincoln County 12-2, shut out Saco 8-0 and needed only four innings because of the 10-run mercy rule to beat Lewiston 11-1 and advance to Bristol.

In Connecticut, South Portland opened with a 9-7 victory over Vermont last Sunday, lost 8-0 to Connecticut on Monday, then won three straight elimination games, 3-2 over Rhode Island, 8-5 over Vermont and, on Friday, 7-6 over New Hampshire. All told, South Portland won 12 and lost 3, two of them to Fairfield.

Friends and family members flocked down from Maine on Saturday to watch the championship game. Melissa Wright, the mother of center fielder Ian Wright, said Friday’s game was so compelling, patients and staff at Oral Surgery Associates on Western Avenue in South Portland remained past the regular 3 o’clock closing time because they were glued to the waiting room television set, anxious to see whether Ian’s team, which trailed twice against New Hampshire, could hang on to win.

“I mean, who wants to stick around the dentist any longer than they have to?” said Wright.

Heffernan said he developed his thumb-off-the-ball curveball grip in the fourth grade because of his small hands. He said he threw about 60 percent curves and 40 percent fastballs.

“The kid’s a fighter,” Poole said. “You know, we didn’t make all the plays behind him. … (but) he kept his composure. That’s a heck of a hitting team. I couldn’t be more proud of the kid, all of our kids, the way they battled this entire tournament. Heff was outstanding. We had to be perfect in a lot of ways. We weren’t and congratulations to Connecticut.”

Over the past seven days, South Portland played six games – two more than the Boston Red Sox. … Fairfield, which received a first-round bye, went 3-0 in the tournament. … Richie Gilboy, aka Big Daddy Hacks, said he gained more than 2,000 Instagram followers this week. Aiden Lee, aka Squishy – “It’s a long story,” he said in taped ESPN introductions – said the sobriquet came from a lower-division Little League team. “In Double A we went around and each of us said nicknames and I just came up with Squishy,” he said. “Some kids came up with Fluffy, Spoon. Weird nicknames.” … The tourney houses players and coaches in cabin-style dormitories. South Portland was sandwiched between Rhode Island and Connecticut. “We shared a bathroom with them,” Nolan Hobbs said of the Fairfield Americans. “They were really loud but they were some good kids.”

More than an hour after the final out, the South Portland players finally emerged from the black-gated compound that has been their home since last weekend. “That was the greatest experience I’ve ever had in my life,” Lee said. “I’m never going to forget it.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH