WARNER ROBINS — It was a moment that tested all that Little League stands for. But leave it to the Warner Robins American Little League softball team to turn a potentially ugly chapter into a mere footnote.
Warner Robins responded to an unfortunate call by one of the umpires in a big way, slugging its way past Florida 10-2 in the championship game of the Little League Softball Southeastern Region Tournament on Monday. Warner Robins now travels to Portland, Ore., with the hopes of becoming the first team since 2004 to successfully defend its Little League World Series title.
“We knew this was a very important game,” Warner Robins third baseman Taylor Brown said. “We picked our heads up and tried our best, and that’s why we came out on top.”
Warner Robins batters pounded out 12 hits, one of its top offensive performances of the tournament. Brown led the hit parade with three singles and four RBI. Chelsea Whaley, Avery Lamb and Melissa Cox had two hits apiece.
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“Warner Robins is a hitting team,” Florida manager Lou Pastore said. “They find ways to hit the ball in the gaps, and that’s what they did (Monday).”
After a disputed call put the team in a 2-0 hole, Warner Robins knocked Florida starter Makaleigh Dooley from the game in the top of the third inning.
Warner Robins batted around and tallied six runs. Six Warner Robins batters hit sharp line drives that found a home on the lush outfield grass of Little League Southeast Park.
Melissa Cox and Ashley Killebrew hammered back-to-back doubles into the gap in left-centerf ield as Warner Robins took a 3-2 lead. Brown and M.C. Tucker also delivered run-scoring singles. Running for Tucker, Peyton Stallworth scored the sixth run of the inning on a wild pitch.
The uprising came in response to a bizarre sequence of events that led to Florida’s two-run inning in the bottom of the second inning.
With runners at first and second and one out, Florida’s Reed Jahnke rolled a ground ball that Warner Robins first-baseman Hayley Tierce handled easily. Tierce stepped on the bag for the second out.
Tierce then threw to second to try to double up Florida’s runner Carlee Jacobs as she approached second. The ball beat her, but the force was off and no tag was applied. Regardless, the second-base umpire clearly signalled “out.”
Warner Robins players made their way off the field as the two Florida baserunners crossed the plate.
Warner Robins manager Roger Stella strenuously objected to the umpire crew’s decision to allow the runs to stand. They ruled that Jacobs clearly was not out and that the second-base umpire had made a mistake.
“It was the explanation I didn’t like,” Stella said. “You put your arm up, and we stopped playing.”
The partisan Warner Robins crowd grew increasingly agitated as the debate raged. Police made their way to the front rows of the grandstands to quell the most unruly supporters.
Order was restored when the umpires allowed one of the runs to stand and put Jacobs back at second base. She scored moments later on a single by Brooke Diaz.
Both Pastore and Stella downplayed the impact of the call.
“I don’t know if it was just a coincidence that we started hitting them,” Stella said. “I don’t know if it affected us either way.”
Brown said the situation only made the offense that much more determined.
“After the call, we knew they didn’t deserve the runs so we just fought back to get some runs,” she said.
Warner Robins added a pair of runs in both the fourth and sixth innings to close out the scoring. All but one player in the Warner Robins lineup had a hit or produced a run. The impact of the umpire’s decision lessened with each tally.
Lamb pitched a complete game for Warner Robins to earn the win. She allowed just three hits while striking out six. It was the first complete game for a Warner Robins pitcher in the Southeastern Region Tournament.
“It’s so much easier (to pitch) when you have good bats behind you,” Lamb said.
Lamb caught a line drive off Diaz’s bat, then doubled off Jahnke at first to end the game.
In defeat, Pastore was complimentary of the Warner Robins complex and the community in general. He said his team represented the North Tampa Little League organization well.
“(The team) has nothing to hold their heads down about,” Pastore said. “I’m proud of them. The coaches are proud of them. And we’ve gotten a lot of e-mails and notes, I know the community is proud of them, too.”
Lamb, Whaley, Cox, Killebrew and Sierra Stella all played on the Warner Robins 2009 World Series title team. Roger Stella was an assistant coach on the team.
Warner Robins will try to become the first team since Midway Little League of Waco, Texas to post consecutive titles. Midway won three straight from 2002-04.
WARNER ROBINS 10,
Georgia 006-202 — 10-12-1
Florida 020-000 — 2-3-1
WP: Avery Lamb. LP: Makaleigh Dooley.
2B: WR — Melissa Cox, Ashley Killebrew.
3B: F — Skyler Boynton.