Sports

Warner Robins blasts through regional opener

CEREDO-KENOVA, W.Va. — It was that kind of day at the ballpark for the team from Warner Robins. The best kind. The bright-and-sunny kind with light breezes.

It was the kind of day when home runs set sail — eight of them.

Sure, the Warner Robins American Little League all-stars opened the Southeast Regional Tournament on Saturday with a lopsided 17-0 win over Coulwood-Oakdale from the Charlotte, N.C., area.

But this day was more about being treated to the fine aspects of youth baseball in a most All-American setting. The players’ moms even got roses.

Mitch Stadium, a doll house of an arena that was built in the mid 1950s between a drive-in theater and a railroad spur, seemed to suit the Georgia players just right. Two years ago, many of them won the 10-team Tournament of State Champions here as 9- and 10-year-olds.

The field must still have some magic in it for Warner Robins. On Saturday, the 11- and 12-year-olds in red, white and blue banged eight homers and cruised through their first game of the eight-team tournament.

Warner Robins, the Georgia champion, is in a pool of four teams that includes Alabama, Florida and North Carolina and will face Florida at noon today. After Warner Robins plays Alabama on Monday afternoon, the top two teams from the pool will advance to Wednesday’s semifinal round. A win there puts a team one victory shy of a trip to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

Warner Robins slugger Conner Smith, who had two homers and drove in five runs Saturday, said he was “just hitting good” and glad to be back in West Virginia, where he hit a longball off the scoreboard in center in 2007.

“The ball was just going out (Saturday),” Smith said before ribbing teammate and first baseman Cortez Broughton about Broughton’s love for tearing into Little Debbie Zebra Cakes.

Broughton tore into the pitches he saw Saturday. He hit a solo homer in the third to give his team a 14-0 lead. But it was in Warner Robins’ seven-run first inning, after Smith and cleanup man Spencer Sato homered back to back, that Broughton struck perhaps his mightiest blow. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder bashed a low liner that smacked the wooden fence in right like a nail gun and knocked two of the ball’s stitches loose.

“They brought me the ball afterward, and I said, ‘But it wasn’t a home run,’ ” said Broughton’s father, Luther, who was given the ball as a courtesy by stadium volunteers. “They said, ‘Yeah, but we thought you might want to see it.’ ”

Four batters after Broughton, No. 9 hitter Hunter Phillips punched a three-run homer over the “Hit It Here” Coca-Cola sign in right.

“Maybe I’ll get a free Coke,” Phillips said later. “It gets you all pumped up. Once you hit a home run, you start hitting the ball more.”

Trey Maddox, Jake Farrell and Kal Dempsey also launched homers Saturday for Warner Robins.

North Carolina didn’t get its first hit or baserunner until there were two out in the third inning. Warner Robins starter Blake Jackson recorded five outs, three on strikeouts. Phillips relieved him and struck out two of the four batters he faced, and Smith struck out two more to preserve the shutout in a game shortened to four innings by the 10-run mercy rule.

“We just come to work and do our best, and if the runs tally up to that, that’s good,” Warner Robins assistant coach Nathan Hunt said. “We know that our next game could be a lot closer.”

Perhaps, but things couldn’t have gone much better Saturday.

In the parking lot afterward, Hunt, walking alone, was clutching the pinkish rose his wife had been given earlier at the morning’s opening ceremony.

“I’m pretty, ain’t I?” the coach said.

Indeed. So was his team — and its day.

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