WARNER ROBINS — A day earlier, it was a game like almost every other game.
Warner Robins came, saw, pitched, hit, fielded and rolled to another postseason win.
That was a 12-0 romp over South Carolina in the Little League Softball Southeastern Region Tournament at the Little League Southeast Park a few home runs away from the Flint Energies Complex.
The second day of the tournament put the unfamiliar squarely in front of Warner Robins: adversity, deficits, little offense, inconsistent pitching and defense and an opponent that came in with some swagger.
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Warner Robins was actually behind, and it happened more than once. Players and coaches can’t remember the last comeback win.
“Not very often, no,” second baseman and leadoff hitter Sierra Stella said of being behind. “It was crazy.”
But the new territory became conquered territory as Warner Robins stayed calm and swapped contact at the plate for patience, turning walks into runs for a 5-4 win Friday morning.
“We were hitting,” Ashley Killebrew said, “but we were hitting right to them.”
Warner Robins is a team that will single an opponent to death, not sending outfielders to the wall much but putting the ball in play.
“We didn’t hit the ball good at all,” manager Roger Stella said. “I don’t think we hit maybe two balls on the nose the whole game long, and that’s being generous.”
Warner Robins’ good start was trumped by Alabama’s better start, which led to a 2-1 advantage after one inning. Warner Robins retook the lead with two in the second, only for Alabama to match that in the third.
For every Warner Robins action, there was an equal Alabama reaction.
“Take nothing away from Alabama,” Roger Stella said. “Alabama was fantastic.”
Starting pitcher Katie Webb kept Warner Robins fairly flatfooted at the plate.
“We’re used to faster pitching,” Killebrew said. “That’s an excuse. We have to adjust. The pitcher isn’t going to adjust to us.”
Sierra Stella said Alabama’s pitchers had some movement on their offerings, more than in Alabama’s 9-2 loss to North Carolina on Thursday. Roger Stella wasn’t sure what he was watching.
“The girl must’ve been doing something wicked up there,” he said of Webb. “She had us completely fooled.”
Warner Robins had only one hit through three innings, yet still led 3-2.
Alabama showed no sluggishness from Thursday’s loss and mirrored Warner Robins, with patience at the plate and forcing pitchers to throw strikes and then hitting good pitches. That’s how Warner Robins has become a championship program, brains at the plate mixed with contact.
“Just don’t strike out,” Roger Stella said of the offensive philosophy. “If they get you out, they get you out. At least put pressure on them to make a play.”
The hits failed to fall, but Warner Robins didn’t stray from the plan. Nevertheless, this was a battle and Alabama wasn’t going anywhere.
“Everyone has bad games,” Chelsea Whaley said. “I don’t think we’ve had one this season.”
Friday’s outing wasn’t one for the scrapbook, with a defense less sharp than usual, an offense that wasn’t finding holes and pitching that struggled with the strike zone.
Warner Robins’ reaction?
“Excited,” said Whaley, echoing a few of her teammates. “I guess it made us mad.”
Sierra Stella admitted the stress was getting to her a little bit.
“I was worried, because none of us have seen this kind of softball before,” she said. “I think we came out kind of too confident.
“We got our lesson.”
Finally, it came, consecutive singles by Whaley and Avery Lamb, which constituted an offensive barrage on this day for Warner Robins. The contact was followed by the patience, with walks to Melissa Cox and Killebrew putting Warner Robins back on top a 5-4 in the top of the fourth.
“You can’t really think about the score when it’s that close,” Killebrew said. “You just got to think that you want to play hard.”
And suddenly, the pitching found a groove and the defense tightened up, and Warner Robins looked like Warner Robins: victorious.
Thursday’s win was a statement that the trip to the World Series would have to go through Warner Robins the city and Warner Robins the team. Friday’s survival may have been the humbling that tightens Warner Robins up for the rest of the tournament.
“Alabama gave us everything we could handle,” Roger Stella said. “And almost gave us too much.”
Once again, however, Warner Robins was too much.
Contact Michael A. Lough at 744-4626 or firstname.lastname@example.org