State Little League tourney comes to Warner Robins

July 14, 2014 

WRALL

Players on the Warner Robins American Little League team hold up their Little League World Series Championship flag after their 3-2 win over Japan in the 2007 Little League World Series.

JASON VORHEES — jvorhees@macon.com

Little League Baseball is a big deal in Warner Robins, and it’s even bigger this year.

Since 2010, when the Southeastern Little League headquarters were moved to the International City from Gulfport, Florida, Warner Robins has hosted the Southeastern Regional, with the winner getting an automatic bid to South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and the Little League World Series. State Little League champions from Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, West Virginia and Virginia will again invade Warner Robins for this year’s regionals, starting August 2 at the complex located on Snellgrove Drive.

But prior to the regionals, there will be other Little League business that will be taken care of in Warner Robins. For the first time since 1979, the Georgia state tournament will be played at the Warner Robins American Little League park, just up the street from the Southeastern headquarters, starting Saturday. The last time the state tournament was held in Warner Robins, it was played on fields at Robins Air Force Base, with the Columbus Americans emerging as champions.

Warner Robins American and Columbus Northern have dominated Little League’s major division (11- and 12-year-old players) in the state of Georgia for the past decade. Since 2004, the Warner Robins Americans have claimed five state championships, three Southeastern Regional crowns and a Little League World Series championship in 2007. Columbus Northern has four state titles, two regional championships and a Little League World Series title in 2006.

The only other team to win a Georgia state title in the past 10 years is Buckhead of Atlanta in 2004. Both Columbus Northern and Warner Robins American will have representatives in this year’s state tournament.

Macon has claimed five state Little League titles since Georgia began participating in the competition back in 1951, but Macon hasn’t won one since 1975. Unlike Warner Robins, the Macon representative has never earned a spot in the Little League World Series. But the first Macon state champion in 1955 came close.

The Macon team, which played its games at what is now Claude Smith Field on the Mercer campus, advanced to the state tournament that year by beating Tifton 5-0 in the district playoffs. Charles “Buck” Haygood pitched a complete game two-hitter in the win and got help at the plate from Bobby Matthews and Henry Benson, who both homered.

The state tournament was played in Athens that year, and Matthews was the Macon hero as the team won three straight to advance to the regionals. He pitched a two-hitter in a 4-2 win over Augusta in Macon’s first game, scored the winning run in a 1-0, extra-inning win over Columbus and homered in Macon’s 4-3 win over Sweetwater of Austell in the championship game.

In the regionals, Matthews and Haygood were the Macon standouts. In Macon’s opener against Jackson, Tennessee, Matthews got Macon’s only hit, a home run, in a 1-0 win. In Game 2, Haygood pitched another two-hitter and Matthews had a grand slam in a 10-1 victory over Paducah, Kentucky.

Macon met Auburn, Alabama, in the regional championship with a Little League World Series trip on the line, but Macon came up short, 2-1. Haygood pitched for the second straight day, allowing just two hits while striking out nine and walking just two. He would not have been able to pitch in today’s Little League, as pitchers are limited to 85 pitches and must have up to four days of rest before going to the mound again.

Macon will go at least another year without the chance to win another state title, since all teams from the city were eliminated during district play. But it will be interesting to see which Georgia team makes it to the Southeastern Regionals this year. I wouldn’t bet against the entries from Warner Robins or Columbus.

Contact Bobby Pope at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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