Houston & Peach

Warner Robins wins regional opener

The kids from Warner Robins American Little League could see that it would not be easy Saturday.

From the looks of the pitches blurring past them, they knew they would have to swing every bat in their arsenal at the fire-balling pitcher from Tennessee. And quickly.

The Robins boys had already gone quietly in the first inning with a pair of strikeouts.

Then in the bottom of the second, their coach Tom Nauss let it be known that his guys needed to put some giddyup in their bats.

“You ain’t got time to do all that fancy stuff up there! Bam! Let’s get him now!” Nauss said from the third-base coaching box.

Seven batters, two errors and an infield hit later, Warner Robins was on top 2-0 and on its way to a scrappy 7-3 win over the all-stars from Tullahoma, Tenn.

The victory puts Warner Robins (1-0) in prime position in its four-team pool at the eight-team Little League Southeast Regional. After two more games of round-robin play on Monday and Tuesday, the top two teams from each pool will advance to the semifinals.

“It sets the table,” Nauss said after his squad battled steamy temperatures and perhaps the hardest-throwing pitcher at the tournament, Tennessee’s Jordan Sheffield.

Sheffield went 3-for-3 at the plate and bombed a two-run homer to tie the game 2-2 in the third.

“He is probably the best athlete here,” Nauss said. “We knew he was their big boy and that he threw pretty hard. He was a flamethrower.”

In the bottom of the third, Robins loaded the bases. Then a few seagulls swooped into Arnold S. White Sr. Stadium and, for a moment, flapped right over Sheffield’s head and seemed to rattle him.

Robins catcher Griffen Martin promptly then lifted a sacrifice fly to right to drive in first baseman Payton Purvis, who had led off the inning by whistling a shot past Tennessee’s shortstop.

Martin’s RBI made it 3-2 and buoyed Warner Robins at the game’s halfway mark.

“If you don’t win your first one you have the pressure on you,” Martin said. “Now we’ve got the first game under us and everybody doesn’t have to be nervous anymore. We can just play loose.”

Robins starter Cody Carter changed speeds like a pro and kept Tennessee’s sluggers – aside from Sheffield – off balance.

Carter gave up two runs on three hits in four innings of work.

“I just go out there and pitch my game,” he said after striking out four and walking one.

Robins took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the fifth.

Troy Gay, facing a slower-throwing Tennessee reliever, led off and stroked a single to left and later scored from third when Tennessee’s catcher tried to gun down a Robins runner stealing second.

With two out after A.J. Priaulx reached on a fielder’s choice, it was Robins third baseman Spencer Sato’s turn.

An inning earlier, the 4-foot-10 infielder, whose nickname is Cheeseburger, made a low throw to first that skipped into foul territory.

“I was pretty disappointed when I made that bad throw,” said Sato, one of the team’s three 11-year-olds who bats ninth in the order.

So it was only fitting that the Central Fellowship sixth-grader stepped in and ripped his team’s first longball of the tournament, a soaring jolt to right that put Robins up 6-2.

In the stands behind the Robins’ third-base dugout, Sato’s mother, Lori, was on her cellphone to the folks back home.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I was screaming and crying.”

Sato, who says he wants to be either a fighter pilot or a major-leaguer some day, is “quite a character,” his mom said.

“He loves to talk in British accents,” she said. “He says whatever comes to his mind.”

Robins leadoff man Hunt Smith, a smooth-swinging lefty, followed Sato’s jolt with a missile of a solo shot to left-center for his team’s seventh run.

Smith, who was 2-for-4, had whiffed in his first two at-bats before he smoked a double to the wall in right-center off the starter Sheffield to open the fourth.

“I was mad that I’d gone 0-for-2 so far. I went up there and switched to a little bit of a heavier bat and just made contact,” Smith said.

Warner Robins, now 11-0 in all-star play since the postseason began in late June, meets Florida at 7 p.m. Monday.

Dating back to last season, the Warner Robins American team has won 15 games in a row. Its last loss came last Aug. 18 against the Great Lakes squad at the Little League World Series.