PORTLAND, Ore. — Two hours before the curtain went up on their return engagement at the Little League Softball World Series on Thursday, the defending champions from Warner Robins American — their hair freshly braided and their new uniforms glowing orange — found themselves on a dry, weedy, dusty ballfield behind a Portland elementary school.
Before they took the field a few miles away and beat hometown host-team Oregon 5-0, there was a message in the less-than-glamorous pregame workout site.
“Statement game, girls. Statement game,” manager Roger Stella told them. “You came a long way to show them how good you are.”
And when the game started, Georgia’s orange 11 were better than good, and their ace lefty pitcher was almost perfect.
Pitcher Avery Lamb faced one more than the minimum 18 in a no-hit, six-inning outing. She struck out eight and walked one.
“It’s exciting to go into the World Series and open up with a no-hitter,” she said. “I think that’s a statement to other teams. But any of our other pitchers could have done it.”
Stella said the reigning champions didn’t play their best but that “maybe that’s a good thing.”
“It was just nerves. ... We didn’t play sloppy, but it was a little bit of butterflies. I don’t know how they couldn’t have them,” he said. “It wasn’t the statement game I was hoping for, but I’m pretty proud of them. Scoring almost one run an inning, that’s tough to do.”
And a run was all Warner Robins needed with Lamb firing strikes.
“Last year I only pitched against Italy here, and I didn’t pitch very good,” she said.
In the stands during the final inning, her mother Kristy Lamb said, “She really wanted to come here and start out strong.”
Avery Lamb won the pitching-skills competition Wednesday. Contestants whizzed balls from the mound through a tire set up on home plate and she bested hurlers from eight other squads, firing three of eight pitches through the tire 40 feet away.
On Thursday, more than four dozen Warner Robins supporters — moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents and friends — filled three rows of bleachers along the first-base line.
“Southeast Girls Rock!” one of their neon-orange signs read.
The posterboard sign matched the Halloween-orange T-shirts most of the Georgia crowd was sporting.
Warner Robins grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the second. Shortstop Melissa Cox rapped a one-out single to center and raced home on right fielder Ashley Killebrew’s double down the line in right.
An inning later, after a barking a “score some more” cheer in front of their visiting dugout, Warner Robins went up 2-0. Killebrew punched a single to right, plating Lamb, who’d reached when the Oregon catcher dropped a pop-up in front of home.
Warner Robins made it 3-0 in the fourth. Substitute right fielder Kayla Quakenbush led off and reached on an error and later reached third. Second baseman Sierra Stella walked and tried to swipe second a few pitches later. While the throw down to second nailed Stella for the second out, Quakenbush darted home for the third Robins run.
In the fifth, after Lamb walked, Amber Coy pinch ran for her and was standing at third when Killebrew drove her in after socking a high chopper to first. Coy slid in under the tag at home and Warner Robins led 4-0.
When asked about her three RBI, Killebrew said, “I don’t pay attention to that. I just get up there and hit.”
She roams the outfield, as well. When an errant throw rolled into center in the bottom of the fourth, she scooped it and rifled a throw to third to gun down a runner and end the inning.
Third baseman Taylor Brown, who made the catch and, as one parent said, “a snow-cone tag,” was actually nibbling on a root beer snow cone after the game.
“I just had to stop it,” she said. “I didn’t want them to score.”
In the sixth, Lamb singled home Sierra Stella, who reached on an error, for the fifth and final Warner Robins run.
Warner Robins plays the East team from New Jersey at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.