In a clash between two of the top Little League programs in the country, Columbus Northern downed Warner Robins American 7-1 on Friday in Richmond Hill for the 2012 state championship for 10/11 year olds.
"It’s unbelievable," Columbus Northern Manager Randy Morris said. "Any time you can beat a team as good as Warner Robins and win a state championship, it’s hard to describe, but it’s a great feeling for our fans, parents and the kids and everything."
The win capped an unbeaten run through the state tournament for Columbus Northern, which outscored opponents 41-1 in pool play. The team’s closest contest in the tournament before Friday’s championship battle was a hardfought 1-0 win over Warner Robins.
Early on, it looked like the championship game might be a repeat of the first time the two teams met.
Warner Robins starter Corbet Luna recorded two first-inning strikeouts to help his team get out of a bases loaded jam in the top of the first, then Columbus Northern starter Colby Brabston set down the first two batters on an infield groundout and strikeout, then, as he would all game, benefited from some great defensive play when second baseman Josh Evans turned in a spectacular diving catch to rob Luna of a base hit and end the inning.
Evans made a similar play in the final inning, robbing
catcher Jacob Pierce of a base hit with one out. Columbus Northern also turned a double play in the bottom of the fifth to end a potential Warner Robins rally.
"We have played well (this week)," Morris said. "I don’t want to say we played above our heads, but the kids just really played exceptionally well in this tournament. The pitching and defense have been great and we’ve had some timely hitting."
After a scoreless first inning, Columbus Northern’s bats came alive in the second inning. Colby Brabston’s infield single drove in the game’s first run, then Columbus Northern loaded the bases on a combination of hits and defensive miscues by Warner Robins.
Trent Grantham’s hit to center scored two runs and put his team up 3-0, but Warner Robins got the third runner at the plate on a great play by Pierce, who caught the ball and tagged the runner in the same instant.
Cole Hooks got things started for Warner Robins in the bottom of the second with a leadoff single. Jordan Franks’ one-out double drove in the team’s only run.
Taking advantage of a handful of Warner Robins errors, Columbus Northern added two runs in the third, two more in the fourth and one in the sixth to seal the win.
Brabston went the distance for Columbus Northern to earn the win while Luna was saddled with the loss.
Warner Robins’ run through the state tournament almost mirrored Columbus Northern’s. The team outscored opponents 35-5 in pool play and downed Athens’ 13-6 in the semifinals to get another shot at Columbus Northern, which hung on to beat Martinez Evans 9-6 in the other semifinal matchup.
"Our kids played real well and hit real well, in the tournament" Warner Robins manager Robie Luna said. "Columbus is the only team we had a problem with. They pitched well today and unfortunately we made a lot of errors, but that’s not to take away anything from Columbus Northern. They had a great tournament."
Both programs are among the best anywhere. Columbus Northern won the 2006 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn. Warner Robins won it in 2007. The two aren’t strangers to competing against each other, either.
"Sometimes things go their way, sometimes they go ours," Luna said while his team and Columbus Northern took a lap together afterward. "We’ll come back next year and give it another try. But they played super. They came out ready to play. I think they’ll represent the state well."
Now, Columbus Northern goes on to compete in the Little League Southeast Regional.
But they took some time to savor Friday’s win and pose for photos beside the state championship banner before heading back home.
For Morris, who was manager of the 2006 Little League World Series winners, this one was worth savoring as well.
They’re all good," he said. "Any time you can win a tournament against good opponents it’s a special feeling and all the credit goes to the kids. They came out here and preservered and got the job done. We challenged them and they accepted the challenge."