Northern plays North Carolina in tonight's game
By MARK RICE
WARNER ROBINS, Ga. -- They had won all nine of their games this year, including a few comebacks as well as one-run victories for the district and state titles.
So despite going hitless into the final inning of their opener Friday in the Little League Southeasern Regional Tournament, and trailing South Carolina by two, the Columbus Northern all-stars insist they still were confident.
And then Austin Hicks gave them another reason.
With one out, Hicks doubled off the center-field wall to break up the no-hitter. He scampered to third when the pitch got away from the catcher, and he hustled home on Trent Grantham's sacrifice fly to short left field.
But the rally and game ended on the next at-bat -- a groundout.
The 3-2 loss left the Georgia state champs in an unfamiliar position, but they remained resolute.
"We've just got to make routine plays and score more runs," said Hicks, who played catcher and pitched in relief.
"We've just got to focus," said Colby Brabston, who played shortstop and also pitched in relief.
"They never give up," Northern manager Randy Morris said. "I'm never going to give up on them, and they don't give up on themselves or me. We just didn't get it done today."
Northern plays North Carolina at 7 p.m. today in the second of its three pool-play games. Florida is the following foe at 4 p.m. Monday. The top two teams in the two four-team pools advance to Wednesday's semifinals.
Florida nipped North Carolina in 10 innings Friday.
South Carolina lefty Corey
Jenkins held Northern hitless in 5 1-3 innings, walked two and struck out 10.
"He had a curveball, good change-up, a lot of pitches," Hicks said. "He tries to get you off balance."
Brabston was more defiant.
"He wasn't anything special," he said. "We just didn't hit."
Northern collected more errors (three) than hits (one). All three of South Carolina's runs were unearned.
"That's a losing formula," Morris said. "You're not going to win many games like that. We just -- I don't know -- maybe we were a little nervous today, but their pitching was good. Too many errors, and we just couldn't put the ball in play enough."
Grantham, who started on the mound for Northern, walked South Carolina's leadoff batter to start the second inning, leading to two runs for the boys from Taylors, S.C.
Northern cut the deficit in half in the bottom of the third.
Josh Evans led off by reaching on a two-base error and went to third on Brabston's bunt single. Hicks' sacrifice fly brought in Evans to make it 2-1, but Brabston was thrown out trying to take second on the play.
South Caroilna scored a key insurance run in the fifth, this one credited against Hicks but aided by another Northern error.
Grantham took the loss, allowed two runs (none earned) on three hits and one walk with three strikeouts.
Morris said he isn't sure who will be his starting pitcher today -- Brabston or Hicks -- but he was definite about this:
"That's just one game in," the manager of the 2006 Little League World Series champions and the 2010 region champs. "Hopefully, our kids will respond. If they do what I think they will, they will respond."