Little Leaguers blank Maine to reach N.E. final
To Westport ace Harry Azadian, the prospect of playing in the Little League World Series has always been a dream.
Thanks to another masterful effort on the mound from the hard-throwing right-hander, a trip to the game's greatest stage no longer comes across as just a fantasy. In fact, it's just 18 outs from becoming reality.
Azadian twirled another dazzling effort on Thursday, pitching top-seeded and still unbeaten Westport past fourth-seeded Saco, Maine, 3-0 in the New England regional semifinals at Bristol's Breen Field.
Maine (1-4), which failed to log a baserunner in the teams' last meeting on Sunday -- an 8-0 Westport win, in which Chad Knight and Max Popken combined for the perfect game -- struggled to do much offensively on Thursday. Azadian struck out seven and allowed just four hits, littering the strike zone with an assortment of pitches.
Westport -- now 5-0 at the regional and 17-0 overall this summer -- will face No. 3 Lincoln, R.I., in the New England regional championship on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Bristol. The winner will move on to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., where play begins Aug. 15.
"Since I was a little kid, I wanted to do this. It's a chance to go very, very far," said Azadian, following his 68-pitch effort (45 strikes), in which he earned his third win of the regional.
Knight retired the final four batters in order on 17 pitches and will likely get the start Saturday with Azadian unavailable because of the pitch-count limit.
"No doubt he'll be ready to go for Saturday," Westport manager Tim Rogers said of Knight, who struck out two.
Popken supplied the offense for Westport, drilling a two-run home run to left in the first inning off Luke Chessie.
"I was just trying to hit the ball up the middle," Popken said. "But I got my barrel on the ball."
Westport, which had plated 39 runs in its last four games, was held in check at the plate thanks to Chessie, who battled through 4 1/3 innings. The right-hander surrendered just three hits, but walked five.
"I thought we might string a few more (runs) together throughout the game, but give their kids credit," Rogers said. "(Chessie) pitched his heart out. He got tougher as the game went on. He mixed very, very well. He hit spots very well."
Azadian pounded the strike zone, throwing first-pitch strikes to 15 of the 18 batters he faced, and received plenty of help from his fielders.
Westport turned two double plays, one of which was started on a diving catch by leftfielder Charlie Roof in the second inning. Maine's Anthony Bracamonte socked a ball to left with no outs and a runner on, but Roof, fully extended, made a diving grab and threw to first base to double off the runner.
"Just getting the catch on something that could've gotten to the gap for extra bases was great," Rogers said. "To come up and have the presence of mind to gun it to first base was fantastic."
With a win Saturday, Westport will be the fourth team from Connecticut in the last six years to reach the Little League World Series, joining Shelton American in 2008 and Fairfield American in 2010 and 2012. Rogers has sensed the excitement building, on the field, in the stands and back home.
"It's remarkable. We've got a great turnout here," Rogers said. "The emails and the calls just keep coming. Really exciting. I'm sure Rhode Island's having the same type of experience and they're as anxious about it as we are."
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Westport 3, Saco, Maine 0
WESTPORT 210 000--3 5 1
MAINE 000 000--0 4 1
Batteries: W--Harry Azadian (W), Chad Knight (SV, 5) and Matt Stone. M--Luke Chessie (L), Anthony Bracamonte (5) and Brogan Searle-Belanger.
Home runs: W--Max Popken