TOCCOA — The stage is set for an evening of midsummer fireworks in the north Georgia hills.
Little League superpowers Warner Robins American and Columbus Northern — whose baseball all-stars in two of the past three years have each worn youth baseball’s most prestigious crown — will clash tonight with a trip to the regional tourney at stake.
The eight-team Little League Southeast Regional, held this year in West Virginia, features champions from eight states and will makes its new home in Houston County beginning next summer.
Warner Robins beat Martinez-Evans from the Augusta area 9-1 on Thursday night, leaving the two Georgia fall-line powerhouses as the 10-team event’s final clubs.
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The top of the Warner Robins lineup led the way as leadoff man Justin Jones twice cracked RBI doubles and scored three times. No. 2 hitter Blake Jackson doubled, singled, scored three runs and drove in three. Hunter Phillips lashed a leadoff triple and scored in the second.
Warner Robins, swinging for its third state title in a row, beat Columbus 2-0 in the early rounds of last year’s Georgia tournament. The Warner Robins crew hasn’t lost a district or state tourney game since 2006 when it lost to eventual Williamsport champ Columbus.
Tom Nauss, who coached the Warners Robins boys to last year’s regional in Florida, was at Doyle Street Park in Toccoa on Thursday and said tonight’s showdown is a dead-even matchup.
“They’re the two best programs in Georgia,” Nauss said. “But it’s not an ugly rivalry. It’s a respectful rivalry.”
Columbus Northern head coach Randy Morris, after his team topped Cartersville 9-4 on Thursday, said, “It doesn’t get any funner than this.”
Earlier he told his team that no matter who it played Friday, “We’ve got to play the game of our lives. This is the state championship. You can’t just play in it. You’ve got to win it.”
Of the talented teams that have come from Warner Robins and Columbus in recent years, Morris said, “It’s amazing. These two programs have set the tone. ... We keep producing ballplayers.”