TOCCOA — Last year at the Little League state playoffs, Justin Jones’ grandpa asked his grandson for a victory on his birthday and, presto, Jones homered, went 3-for-3, and Warner Robins American won.
Saturday night, in a 22-2, four-inning win over Cartersville in the opening game of this year’s state tourney, it was grandpa’s big day again, and Jones, the Warner Robins shortstop and leadoff batter, didn’t disappoint.
Jones went 4-for-5 and led off the game with a homer to center. After that, the two-time defending state champs from Houston County launched six more homers and lit up the scoreboard like a 65-year-old granddaddy’s birthday cake.
“This was better than a cake,” Jones’ grandmother, Ann Davis of Hawkinsville, said from her lawn chair near the Dairy Queen sign beyond the left-center-field fence.
Beside her, proud grandpa Bucky Davis, said, “Before the game, I asked him to hit two, but I’ll take it.”
In the top of the third, when Warner Robins slugged its seventh homer of the game – a grand slam by Jeremiah Stephens — a man in the scorer’s booth at Doyle Street Park said, “I’m gonna have to get another dozen balls at this rate.”
At that point, it was 21-2, and the game was more than an hour old.
Earlier, in the second, when Warner Robins tagged four longballs, including three in a row in one stretch, Warner Robins head coach Nathan Hunt greeted cleanup kid Conner Smith, who’d just slugged his second homer of the game, at home plate.
“Hard work pays off.” Hunt said. “Hard work pays off.”
Warner Robins out-hit Cartersville 23-2.
Winning starter Blake Jackson pitched three innings, allowing two runs on two hits while striking out five and walking six. He also homered in his team’s nine-run second inning.
Robins meets host team Toccoa at 1:30 p.m. Monday in its second game of pool play in the 10-team tournament.
Of his team’s decisive opening triumph, Hunt said, “We’ve been cooped up practicing the last two weeks, and we were excited about getting out here and playing baseball.”
WESTERN WINS STATE JUNIOR LEAGUE TITLE
After dominating the competition in pool play this past weekend and defeating West Point in the semifinal game Thursday, the Western Junior League All-stars held off Toccoa 3-2 on Friday to win the state championship for the 13-14 age group in Elberton.
Damon Miller’s two-out base hit in the bottom of the seventh drove the winning run home.
Western moves on to the Southeast Regional tournament in Cartersville, where they will kick off pool play Aug. 8 against the North Carolina state champion. The winner of this tournament will advance to Taylor, Mich., for the Junior League World Series.