PORTLAND, Ore. — The freshly reanointed royals of the Little League softball realm gathered for a celebratory feast at a wing joint in the Portland suburbs Wednesday night.
The attire: ballplayer-casual and crowns.
Paper crowns, compliments of the wing joint with catch phrases on them. Sayings like, “Back Off, I’m Blazin’ ’’ — which, for the girls of Houston County’s youth-softball hotbed, had been the case since their all-star season ignited 16 games back. They’d just won game No. 16 of 16.
Time had come to kick up their heels.
An hour or so earlier, the newest world-champion 11 of the Warner Robins American softball sisterhood had staked their home league’s second claim to their sport’s throne.
“I think we’re gonna party,” player Avery Lamb said after her Southeast squad’s 8-6 win over Burbank, Calif., in the Little League Softball World Series.
But the fun is only beginning for the giddy Georgia girls. There will be hometown receptions, autograph-signing galas, appearances at sporting events, probably even a White House visit.
As for their other plans upon returning from the not-so-Southerner-friendly Pacific Northwest, in the words of player Ashley Killebrew: “Sleep and drink our sweet tea.”
She said Wednesday’s triumph once again sounded the girl-power gong back home.
“The (baseball) boys get more publicity than the girls,” said the scrappy, rifle-armed outfielder whose nickname, “Killa,” is only partly a play on her last name. “But now I think Warner Robins is starting to notice that girls are just as good as boys.”
Moments after the game, Gov. Sonny Perdue sent the victors a text message: “Congratulations! Georgia is proud of you!”
At the restaurant later, the players and their kin reveled in the moment, breathed it in. And exhaled.
“It’s kind of surreal,” one father said.
“Ball season is over,” another dad announced.
Kevin Tierce, whose daughter Hayley was the championship game’s winning pitcher, said, “I’m physically worn out beyond any other thing I’ve ever done. I feel like I could go into a corner and fold up like an accordion.”
“But,” Hayley’s mother Kay added, “it was worth every dime and tear spent.”
Kevin Tierce — who, on the field after his 12-year-old fired Series-clinching strike three, hugged her and told her, “Good job, baby, all that hard work” — said the time to reflect would probably kick in at Friday night’s welcome-back celebration.
“There will be more emotions then,” he said of the 7 p.m. get-together at the WRALL fields. “When the town stands behind us, it’s going to be emotional.”
Between bites of spicy chicken, Warner Robins manager Roger Stella gazed over at the table where the girls were giggling, unwinding, clowning and still sporting those freebie paper crowns.
“Even if we’d lost tonight, they’d still be acting like that,” he said. “Usually the parents take things a lot harder than the kids.”
Not that the Little Leaguers hadn’t sensed the pangs of expectation. Stella said last year’s team, which included five players who returned to play for this season’s all-stars, set the bar almost unrealistically high.
“It was like these girls more or less had to win the whole thing or it was a wasted year,” Stella said. “That’s a lot of pressure for 12-year-olds.”
While their manager finished his dinner, the players bolted for the parking lot. Some of them broke into a cheer. The cheer mocked one that the West team and its fans from Southern California, along with other teams’ players, had joined in shouting — an act Warner Robins manager Stella deemed “tacky” — while the Georgia girls were being honored at the closing ceremonies.
The Warner Robins girls changed the words of the rhythmic volley, substituting “Southeast” for “West Coast.”
“South-EAST in the house, in the house, in the house! ... South-EAST in the haaah-OOOSE!” they wailed repeatedly.
“West Coast might be in the house,” one of their mothers declared, “but look who’s in the mansion.”
Yes, the Little League Softball World Series championship castle remains the domain of a Peach State monarchy.
And Wednesday night they ruled; their coronation complete, their coffers full.
As one of their coaches steered a rented minivan out of the restaurant parking lot, four of the girls riding with him rolled down the windows and sang along with the hit tune blaring on the stereo: “I wanna be a billionaire ... smiling next to Oprah and the queen!”
Crowns and youth-sporting riches in tow, they disappeared into the Oregon night.
Back at their hotel, the upbeat joyride rolled on the way it no doubt will for weeks to come.
One of their mothers, on her way between rooms as the 11 o’clock hour approached, just shook her head.
“They’re bouncing off the walls,” she said.
To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.