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Williamsport-bound again: Warner Robins pulls out region championship

CEREDO-KENOVA, W. Va. - Cortez Broughton and Conner Smith finished what Justin Jones started, shutting the door as Warner Robins beat Virginia 6-3 Friday night in the Little League Southeastern Regional at Mitch Stadium.

Williamsport, Pa., here they come.

Again.

Warner Robins didn't have the same offensive production as in the first three games, but was more aggressive and successful at the plate than in Wednesday's 3-2 semifinal win over Tennessee.

But it had enough, and it had help eventually as Warner Robins pulled ahead in a pitcher's duel.

The locals turned two singles, three walks and two errors into three runs in the top of the fifth, got the clutch relief from Broughton and Smith, and now can start the hectic travel plans for another road trip to northeastern Pennsylvania.

Georgia took an early lead on Jones' walk, two grounders and a wild pitch in the top of the first.

Harley Hunt added to the margin with a solo homer to lead off the second inning, sending a towering shot to right.

Virginia got one back when Grant Bain drilled a first-pitch solo blast to left. Blake Jackson put Warner Robins up 3-1 with a bullet homer to left to start the third, but Virginia's Mike Sciorra answered with the same kind of rope to right five pitches into the bottom of the third.

Starting pitcher Jones started to struggle in the inning as his pitch count rose.

Aaron Osborne reached on an infield single, and came in when center fielder Phillips had trouble fielding Eason Recto's double.

Bain singled and moved to second on a wild pitch before Jones got two strikeouts to end the threat.

The importance of pitch counts grew.

Jones and Recto had their struggles early, other than surrendering solo homers. Batters forced pitches, moreso on the Virginia side.

Each passed the halfway point of the limit of 85 pitches in one day in the third inning.

Through three, Jones had thrown 67 pitches to 49 for Recto. Jackson had used up his pitch count in Wednesday's thrilling 3-2 comeback win over Tennessee and was ineligible to pitch on Friday.

Jones had eight pitches left after a fairly quick fourth. It was a positive omen for Warner Robins, which manufactured its way to three runs in the fifth without doing much on its own.

Two came courtesy of a baserunning blunder that turned into a Virginia error.

Trey Maddox and Jones reached, and both were around third on Jackson's grounder to short that was booted. Amazingly, the throw in the rundown hit Phillips - running for Maddox - in the back, and he and Jones scooted home with no play at the plate.

Two strikeouts later, Recto's day was done.

Jackson later scored on what was ruled an infield single, but was a bobbled grounder that could have ended the inning with a force at second.

Jones gave way to Broughton with two outs and a runner on first in the fifth. Four pitches and one tantatlizingly fly ball later, the inning was over with Warner Robins holding a 6-3 lead.

Warner Robins stranded a runner in the top of the sixth. Broughton got the first out in the bottomm half, and then walked Alex Tsai.

Smith fanned Lukas Foley and Keegan Kelly to slam the door shut and start the celebration on the field and in the stands.

The atmosphere was electric long before the first pitch.

Mitch Stadium was completely full about 90 minutes before game time, and standing-room spots on a bench attached to the outside of the outfield fence became precious a full hour before the 8:07 first pitch.

An Army brass band entertained the large crowd, and fans tailgated with the spacious-but-filling large parking lot beyond the left-field fence was the origin of intermittent "War-ner Ro-bins, War-ner Ro-bins" chants a full two hours before game time.

Car owners were warned not to park at businesses not connected to the Mitch Stadium complex, so large was the crowd.

Some fans watched from the beds of their pickup trucks parked behind the right field foul area.

Gov. Sonny Perdue made the trip and was one of the hundreds on hand early. Perdue, in Idaho earlier this week, spoke to the team in the dugout about 40 minutes before the game.

Donning a red Warner Robins American Little League baseball cap, Perdue took a seat in the middle of fans from Houston County.

Players took warmups under a strong sun, with temperatures in the mid-80s and humidity around 65 percent, but it cooled down as the sun set behind the mountains and trees.

Souvenirs were few and far between with only a small selection of t-shirts left, and dwindling as fans killed time before the game and kept buying.

Just outside the right field foul pole was a huge big screen where each player's portrait was shown during his at-bat.

A makeshift three-seat skybox was built and stood on a hydraulic lift behind the right field wall with a sign and an arrowing pointing west: "Williamsport, Pa., 454 miles."

That's where the Little League World Series begins next Friday at Volunteer Stadium with the Mid-Atlantic champ taking on the Northwest winner.

Warner Robins plays in the third game of the day, taking on the Midwest winner. Iowa and Missouri will decide that today at noon on ESPN.

Warner Robins rolled through the three games of pool play, knocking off North Carolina, Florida and Alabama by a combined 38-2.

It was the most dominant pool-play effort for any team since the Southeastern Region was formed in 2001, and it was noticeably more imposing than when Warner Robins outscored three opponents 17-6 in 2007 when it advanced to the World Series.

Against Virginia, which went 3-0 in pool play and outscored opponents 14-9 in three pool games and topped Alabama 8-4 in the semifinals.

Warner Robins' offense saw better pitching, and survived a sterling effort by Tennessee's Justus Sheffield in the 3-2 semifinal win, and had more success against Recto.

All that is in the rearview mirror for a team headed to Williamsport. Again.

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