The Warner Robins American Little League baseball team is headed back to the World Series after an undefeated run through the state and regional tournaments. Here’s a look at the state championship game and the games in the regional:
They marched into the ballpark in a railway hollow off the Appalachian Foothills Parkway with bats in their hands and old-fashioned history slung over their shoulders.
Their predecessors had reached the summit of Little League hardball in Georgia for two years running, and as darkness fell, with their own ascent complete, the crowning moment coming on a game-ending strikeout, they too grabbed a championship banner. Then took off running with it.
After topping Columbus Northern 7-3 in front of 650 or so spectators at Doyle Street Park, they took their outfield victory lap in unison, a high-stepping gang of crimson and blue racing toward yet another — a third straight — Southeast Regional tournament.
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, Warner Robins opened the Southeast Regional 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.
At just past noon, with the West Virginia sun beating down on the green, plastic seats at Mitch Stadium, a Little League dad sat in the front row rattling a plastic water bottle with a dozen pennies in it.
“Twelve pennies, 12 players,” Jimmy Phillips said after his son, Hunter, rapped a second-inning double to center field for the Warner Robins team. “But I don’t believe in luck.”
And, hey, who needs it when your son’s squad of Georgia state champs is hotter than the heat index, which topped out at 102 degrees during Warner Robins’ 12-2, no-hit blistering of Florida?
So what if they scored the 12 runs on 12 hits in the team’s 12th game.
Blake Jackson’s hitting coach gave him a quarter for his birthday.
“Here’s your present,” coach Ken Sato said, handing over the coin.
Then the 13-year-old Warner Robins pitcher and shortstop put in his 25-cents’ worth.
In a game completed at mid-day, a day after downpours halted play an inning-and-a-half into the action, 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 his team into the semifinal round.
The never-say-die Warner Robins American gang did it again.
The all-stars from Georgia survived the scare of their season, winning 3-2 in dramatic fashion in the semifinal game of Little League’s Southeast Regional.
Having mustered but one hit through the first five innings against Tennessee’s lefty ace, Warner Robins finally chased the fireballer with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth and final inning.
Warner Robins’ No. 9 hitter Kal Dempsey drew a leadoff walk. Justin Jones and Blake Jackson reached on infield errors. After a strikeout, Spencer Sato stepped in to face Tennessee’s reliever James Dougherty.
Sato launched a towering fly to right-center that came down on the warning track between the Tennessee center fielder and the Frosted Flakes banner.
The Georgia boys from out Lake Joy way marched into the Little League limelight again and paraded into the West Virginia night crowned diamond darlings of the Southeast once more.
For the second time in three years, after a 6-3 win over the Virginia state champs, the Warner Robins is the hardball king of an eight-state swath that stretches from up near Pittsburgh all the way down to Key West.
“The only way that I can describe it,” Jones said, “is that I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven, because of how I feel about this game and how I feel about the kids. I was probably the last person off the field. I just wanted to stay there. This has to be the closest to heaven on earth that I will ever know.”