When the sun goes down, the cemetery beside the ballpark here gets a little eerie.
Especially on breezy nights when a cool wind kicks up enough to stir the oaks and the palms and, for a spell, makes vistors forget it is August in Florida.
Monday night at Arnold S. White Sr. Stadium, the Little League ball yard next door, the scene was just as out-of-sorts for the all-star baseball boys from Warner Robins American.
The Georgia state champs met up with the hometown kids from Citrus Park Little League in nearby Tampa and came away 3-2 losers in a Southeast Region tourney nail-biter.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Telegraph
The setback puts Warner Robins (1-1) in a must-win situation as it faces West Virginia in the third and final game of pool play today at 1 p.m.
“I won’t be gloomy,” Robins coach Tom Nauss said after Monday’s loss. “I knew it was gonna be a tough ballgame, we just thought we should have hit that pitching a little better.”
After Florida (2-0) took a 1-0 lead in the first, Warner Robins tied it in the second.
Catcher Griffen Martin drew a one-out walk and outfielder A.J. Priaulx zinged a one-out double off the Snickers banner in left.
A batter later, Martin broke for home on a pitch in the dirt and looked to be caught in a rundown. But as he scampered back to the bag, Florida’s third baseman dropped the catcher’s throw and Martin cruised in to make it 1-1.
Florida’s starting pitcher, Michael McGuire, settled in after that and made it tough for Robins batters. McGuire, though not overpowering, was in control and hitting his spots. The righty struck out seven in just over four innings of work.
Citrus Park reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the second after Robins starter Payton Purvis walked the leadoff batter. A single and a pair of groundouts later it was 2-1, Florida.
It stayed that way until the bottom of the fourth when lefty Florida pinch hitter Lee Huckaby sliced a homer just inside the left-field foul pole to give his team a two-run cushion.
“Hey, we competed well,” said Nauss, the Robins coach.
“We’re not out of the tournament, but I know the boys are down a little bit. We’ll talk them back up. ... But, hey, this is baseball. We knew we were gonna be challenged. We’re down, we’re not out. We’ve just got to lick our wounds a little bit. ... A 3-2 ballgame is a good ballgame. You’ve just got to get over it.”
Down to its last two outs in the top of the sixth, Warner Robins looked to its slugging shortstop, Cody Carter.
Carter thumped the first pitch he saw into the bushes at the edge of Royal Palm Cemetery.
Nothing like a home run to liven up a shadowy graveyard.
Not to mention your fans and your suddenly re-energized dugout.
Robins second baseman Justin Jones followed, swatting a grounder to the left side that Florida’s third baseman couldn’t handle.
After a fly-ball out to center, Priaulx, the Robins left fielder who doubled in the second inning, rapped a hard chopper to the right side for a hit, pushing Jones to second.
Right Fielder Brandon Cauley was next, ripping a single up the middle to load the bases for Spencer Sato.
Sato, who homered on Saturday, nubbed a swinging bunt about three feet in front of the plate. Florida’s catcher pounced on it and stepped on home to end the threat and the game.
The loss is the first in 16 games for the reigning Little League world championship program since its 11- and 12-year-olds lost a game early in last year’s World Series at Williamsport.
Robins is now 11-1 since it began all-star play in late June.
“I knew it was gonna be a good game,” Nauss said Monday night. “We just couldn’t get the key hit when we needed it.”