Columbus Northern's only girl earns her ride to Little League Southeastern Regional

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 1, 2013 

Update (noon): Opening ceremonies have been completed and the first game of the tournament is underway.

Follow this file for updates. Ledger-Enquirer.com will have a live chat later in the day for exclusive play-by-play of the game.

Original story: Opposing pitchers might fool her with a curveball, but they can't sneak a smirk by Anna Runyon.

The rising seventh-grader at Aaron Cohn Middle School contends she always can tell whether boys take her seriously as the lone girl in a baseball game.

"When I come up to bat, they kind of smile at me," said Anna, 12, who attended Midland for sixth grade and went to Mathews for elementary school. "Maybe they've never seen a girl make it this far."

Columbus Northern Little League manager Randy Morris guided the major all-stars (age 11-12) to the 2006 Little League World Series championship and another appearance in the LLWS in 2010, but he never has coached a girl at this level.

"I'm glad she's here," he said. "She's very deserving to be on this team. She's just a joy to coach."

And starting Friday, she will be on display along with the 12 other Northern all-stars at the Southeastern Region tournament in Warner Robins, Ga. As the Georgia champion, Northern will face South Carolina at 4 p.m. in the first of its three pool-play games at the eight-team event.

Morris nodded toward Anna in the batting cage at Northside High School during practice Wednesday and said, "She's got one of the prettiest swings on the team. She works hard. She really does."

Morris insists he treats her the same as the rest of the players. "She gets praised when she does good and told when she doesn't," he said.

'Show them'

"There are a lot of boys who think that I'm not good," said Anna, who plays third base and outfield. "They underestimate me, so I have to be sure to show them."

She sure has shown her teammates.

Cole Pettis, a rising eighth-grader at Aaron Cohn, plays first base and right field for Northern. He describes Anna's impact on the team this way: "She's just one of us. She's really good at baseball. She hits. She knows what to do. She knows a lot about the game."

Anna tried softball when she was around 7, "but it was kind of slow," she said. "My dad suggested that I should play baseball for one year, because maybe that would make me better, and I liked it and just kept going and going."

Her father, John, has coached Anna and her 11-year-old brother, also named John, in the regular season on the Rockies. John coached his son on the age 9-10 all-star team that won the state title last year and on the age 10-11 all-star team that finished third this year.

John, a salesman for Triangle Beverage, played baseball with Morris at Chattahoochee Valley Community College from 1982-83. He praised Morris and Northern coach Donnie Coulter for helping Anna improve.

"I can't say enough about them," he said. "She's gotten so much better playing for them. They are super coaches. They don't give her special treatment. They're not hard on her, but they tell it like it is."

John noted Anna hit three home runs during the regular season. Northern all-stars teammate Tyler Hanson, a second baseman and outfielder, remembers one of those blasts -- because it came against his team.

"You don't really expect a girl to play baseball like that," said Tyler, a rising seventh-grader at St. Luke School.

'Never gives up'

Tyler is equally impressed with Anna's attitude.

"She's a person that never gives up," he said. "Striking out, she doesn't get mad. She just tries her best."

Her mother, Kim, recalled the time last year when Anna was hit by a pitch from one of the league's hardest throwers.

"They offered her a pinch runner," Kim said, "but she shook it off."

Kim called her daughter's all-star experience "tiring and rewarding at the same time. She's worked very, very hard to get where she's gotten. She does have a lot of pressure on her, being the only girl, but she earned her spot."

Northern's eight A-ball managers selected the all-stars.

Kim was a cheerleader at Columbus High School and now works from home in the finance department of Blue Cross Blue Shield. She said Anna is milking the moments during what is expected to be her last season of baseball. Three traveling youth softball teams have been asking about her, John said, itching for her to make the switch.

But for now, Anna is focused on turning her foes' smiles upside down.

"I just have to not let it get to me," she said. "I have to keep working hard and have confidence in myself. … They know that, if I made this team, I'm good enough to be on this team."

SCHEDULE

Site: Little League Southeastern Region Headquarters, 439 Snellgrove Drive, Warner Robins, Ga.

Pool A: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina

Pool B: Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia

Friday

9 a.m. -- Opening ceremony

10 a.m. -- Game 1: Florida vs. North Carolina

1 p.m. -- Game 2: Alabama vs. West Virginia

4 p.m. -- Game 3: Georgia vs. South Carolina

7 p.m. -- Game 4: Tennessee vs. Virginia

Saturday

10 a.m. -- Game 5: Virginia vs. West Virginia

1 p.m. -- Game 6: Florida vs. South Carolina

4 p.m. -- Game 7: Alabama vs. Tennessee

7 p.m. -- Game 8: Georgia vs. North Carolina

Sunday

Noon -- Tournament ceremonies

2 p.m. -- Challenger exhibition game

5 p.m. -- Tournament banquet at Museum of Aviation

Monday

10 a.m. -- Game 9: North Carolina vs. South Carolina

1 p.m. -- Game 10: Tennessee vs. West Virginia

4 p.m. -- Game 11: Florida vs. Georgia

7 p.m. -- Game 12: Alabama vs. Virginia

Tuesday

10 a.m. -- Game 13: Consolation game, Pool A Seed 3 vs. Pool B Seed 4

1 p.m. -- Game 14: Consolation game, Pool A Seed 4 vs. Pool B Seed 3

Wednesday

2 p.m. -- Game 15: Semifinal, Pool A Seed 1 vs. Pool B Seed 2

6 p.m. -- Game 16: Semifinal, Pool B Seed 1 vs. Pool A Seed 2

Thursday

Rain date

Aug. 9

7 p.m. -- Game 17: Championship game, semifinal winners

BROADCAST INFO

TV: Semifinal games on ESPN2; championship game on ESPN.

Radio: No local radio station will broadcast Northern's games, but WRWR 1350-AM, based in Warner Robins, will broadcast all of the tournament's games. It is available on the Internet at http://tunein.com/radio/WRWR-1350-s21494/.

Internet: www.littleleague.org/south will have live play-by-play scoring for each game.

FOLLOW US TO FOLLOW NORTHERN The Ledger-Enquirer will have complete coverage of Northern's tournament experience in its print editions and online at ledger-enquirer.com, facebook.com/columbusledgerenquirer and twitter.com/LedgerEnquirer.

HOW TO HELP NORTHERN

To help Northern pay its expenses for the tournament, donations can be made at northernll.org.

NORTHERN'S ROSTER

No. Name Pos.

7 Ben Sloan 3B

10 Josh Evans 2B/OF

12 Colby Brabston SS/P

18 Noah Lee LF/P

19 Parker Brabston C

21 Anna Runyon 3B/OF

22 Trent Grantham 1B/P

24 Anthony Torres 2B/P

26 Joseph Crowell 3B/OF

28 Zack Foster SS/OF

33 Austin Hicks C/P

36 Cole Pettis 1B/RF

45 Tyler Hanson 2B/OF

Manager: Randy Morris

Coaches: Donnie Coulter and Jason Pettis. Cam Willis also has helped the team, but he won't be on the official tournament roster because teams are limited to one manager and two coaches.

Team mom: Kim Brabston

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