TOCCOA — The skipper’s lucky peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was his pregame ritual disappeared.
Gone, scarfed down.
The suspects? Hungry 12-year-old ballplayers. And it went downhill from there.
The other team sprang to an early lead, on a two-run homer, no less. And storm clouds rolled in for good measure.
But by the time it was over Monday — and the gray skies held off — the two-time defending Georgia champion Warner Robins American Little League all-stars had scratched out a 5-3 win.
And manager Randy Jones’ stomach was growling.
“I didn’t get any lunch,” he said. “It’s one peanut butter and jelly per player and one per coach, and I show up and there’s two or three sandwiches missing. Somebody’s eaten two, nobody’s fessing up.”
That was the tone of the message Jones had for his players and their parents after a hard-fought game.
Not that he was hungry, but that those are the kinds of things they should embrace about the Little League tournament season.
Enjoy the ride, he said. Eat the peanut butter and jelly. Just, don’t eat his.
“It’s the camping out. It’s the fishing. It’s the swimming in the lake. It’s playing wall ball inside the cabin with big, blow-up plastic balls. And the video game tournaments. That’s what it’s all about,” Jones said. “Let it happen. If we’re gonna win, we’re gonna win. ... Don’t let this experience fly by and then wish we had enjoyed it. Take it all in.”
Despite the Warner Robins squad’s accomplishments in recent seasons, the players from Houston County still seem to possess the quiet confidence and easy-to-laugh manner that was a hallmark of their world champion predecessors in 2007.
When Warner Robins second baseman Spencer Sato tripped over an umpire late in the game, he hit the deck in shallow right and came up beaming. So was just about everyone else at Doyle Street Park.
Of course, Sato had reason to smile. By then, his team had rallied to take the lead against host team Toccoa, running its record to 2-0 at the 10-team state tourney. A win today in an 11 a.m. game against Brooks would all but assure Warner Robins a top seed going into the single-elimination semifinals Thursday.
Even so, Monday’s matchup with Toccoa was tight after Warner Robins’ 22-2, seven-homer shelling of Cartersville on Saturday.
Toccoa went on top 2-0 in the bottom of the first after a leadoff walk and a homer to left. Warner Robins made it 2-1 in the second on catcher Jeremiah Stephens’ infield, RBI single.
Toccoa went up 3-1 on a bases-loaded walk half an inning later. Then in the third, the peanut butter and jelly kicked in. Warner Robins shortstop Blake Jackson, one of three returning players from last season’s club, crushed a long homer to left to pull his team within a run.
Warner Robins reliever Justin Jones held Toccoa to one run — a bases-loaded walk — after entering the game with one out in the second. He gave up three hits, struck out eight and walked three. Jones also started a game-ending double play on a comebacker in the sixth.
Warner Robins pulled ahead with a three-run fifth. Jackson led off and reached on a scorcher to short. Conner Smith, Jake Farrell and Harley Hunt then reached on consecutive walks.
With the bases jammed, Kal Dempsey cracked a grounder to third. The Toccoa third baseman fired home for the force out, but the Toccoa catcher uncorked a throw back to third that sailed wide of the bag and down the line in left. Two runs scored and, Warner Robins had its winning margin.