BRISTOL -- Now that the Fairfield American Little League team has survived its toughest test at the New England Regional tournament, it can focus its attention on the ultimate prize.
After beating South Burlington, Vt., 4-3 in eight innings Thursday, Fairfield will play for the New England championship on Saturday night at 6 against Bedford, N.H.
Although Fairfield is just 18 outs away from its second Little League World Series berth in three years, American is not feeling the heat.
"Generally they're a calm, cool and collected group of guys," American manager Bill Meury said after his club's win Thursday.
In order to reach Williamsport, Pa., Fairfield will have to beat an unfamiliar foe. Bedford, N.H., is the only squad Fairfield did not face in pool play but reached the final with a 2-0 win over Wellesley, Mass. in Thursday's first New England semifinal.
"If you had told me seven days ago that we'd be one game from Williamsport, I'd have told you that's where I expect to be, that's where I want to be," Bedford manager Kevin Lavigne said. "I don't think it was expected, but it's where we wanted to be."
Despite New Hampshire's 3-2 record, Bedford poses one of the most formidable offenses in the nation, having scored 37 runs in five regional games. Only Fairfield American (46), Mercer Island, Wash. (42), McAllister Park, Texas (41) and Kearney, Neb. (40) have scored more runs in their respective regional tourneys than Bedford.
"They're a terrific team, and they're going to give us a tough game," Meury said. "We just have to do what we do, which is pitch, play defense and hopefully get a couple of timely hits."
But New Hampshire has only scored two runs in its last two games and Lavigne understands how good Fairfield is.
"They're a very, very good baseball team," Lavigne said. "They seem like they're pretty strong from top to bottom. With that being said, we only have to beat them once and that's the goal."
Matt Kubel will get the start for Fairfield American and try to stymie Bedford's offense. The big lefty is 3-0 at regionals, and fresh off 1 2/3 scoreless innings in relief, earning him a win in Thursday's semifinal.
"I was just trying to throw strikes and get our team back in the dugout so we could hit," Kubel said.
Will Lucas and Michael Ghiorzi will be available to come on in relief should Kubel falter or hit the 85-pitch limit. Lucas pitched in relief Thursday, throwing two innings, striking out three and throwing 32 pitches.
Meury realizes how fortunate he is to have three pitchers, and two of his best, Lucas and Kubel, for the final.
"New Hampshire is a terrific team," Meury said. "If you're going in there with only one or two pitchers, your chances are not good."
Lavigne did not confirm a starting pitcher, but his son Grant, Joseph Quintal and Joey Barrett are all unavailable for New Hampshire on Saturday. Grant Lavigne earned his second win, tossing a complete-game, two-hit shutout in Bedford's semifinal win on Thursday.
"2-0, for us, is not a big number," Lavigne said. "But I think it was a convincing win."
Connor Collins, who earned New Hampshire's other win, is available to start on Saturday.
Whoever Bedford starts will have to contest with Biagio Paoletta. American's catcher walked five times on Thursday, but has the second-highest batting average, .643, in the regional and has driven in more runs than any player in the country.
With a trip to the Little League World Series on the line, American's players are simply enjoying the spotlight.
"It's a great experience to play against good teams and great pitchers," Lucas said.