All-Stars cruise to their third straight rout to reach semifinals of Southeast Regional tournament

CEREDO-KENOVA, W.Va. — Blake Jackson’s hitting coach gave him a quarter for his birthday on Monday.

“Here’s your present,” coach Ken Sato said, handing over the coin.

Then the 13-year-old Warner Robins American pitcher and shortstop put in his 25-cents’ worth.

In a game completed at mid-day Tuesday after downpours halted play an inning-and-a-half into the action Monday night, Jackson, the game’s starting pitcher, struck out three of the six he faced.

He also cashed in at the plate.

Jackson had home runs in his first two at-bats to power Warner Robins past Alabama 9-0 and propel the Houston County all-stars into today’s semifinal round of the Little League Southeast Regional.

Unbeaten in 13 all-star-season contests, Warner Robins will play Tennessee at 7:30 tonight in a single-elimination matchup. A victory would put Warner Robins, 3-0 in in pool play and a top seed, in Friday’s 8 p.m. championship game, which will be televised by ESPN.

Friday’s winner advances to the Little League World Series, which begins Aug. 21.

Jackson went 2-for-4 against Albama and drove in four.

“I’ve been holding my hands a little different,” Jackson said Tuesday.

When he connected on his first home run Monday evening, a shot over the 198-foot marker in right in the first inning, his mother, who had rushed home from work at Robins Federal Credit Union to catch the game on the internet, started crying.

“I’m so happy,” Crissie Jackson said later by phone. “I can’t stand it that I’m not there.”

Jackson leads the team with six homers in nine games since state tournament play began.

Warner Robins has outscored its opponents 159-18 in 13 games dating back to district-tourney action, which started in early July.

One Mitch Stadium volunteer, dazzled by the team’s power and poise, said, “I’ve seen the (Cincinnati) Reds and the (Pittsburgh) Pirates play this year, and Georgia’s still the best team I’ve seen in person.”

Spencer Sato, who had a solo homer in the game against Alabama, was one of five Warner Robins pitchers used in the game. He induced a trio of fly-ball outs in parts of two innings.

“I thought a couple of those were going out,” Sato said. “I just had to focus.”

There was a pivotal defensive play in the bottom of the third. Warner Robins led 6-0 with one out and Alabama runners on first and second. Alabama’s cleanup hitter then singled to left. Warner Robins outfielder Jake Farrell, however, gunned a high throw home that bounced off the backstop to catcher Jeremiah Stephens, who scooped the rebound and rifled a throw to third, cutting down the lead runner, who was lunging back to the bag.

“I just faked a throw to second, and that was enough to get the runner going back in,” Stephens said.