TOCCOA, Ga. — A slow-rolling freight train honked its horn in the distance as Columbus Northern’s Matt Jones stepped into the batter’s box Thursday evening.
Three pitches later, Jones sounded a blast of his own. The shortstop whistled a 2-0 pitch over the center-field fence for a grand slam to help power his team past Cartersville 9-4 in the semifinals of the Georgia Little League tournament for 11- 12-year-old all-stars.
Columbus Northern meets Warner Robins, a winner over Martinez-Evans in the other semifinals, in tonight’s state championship game at Doyle Street Park.
Northern and Warner Robins have combined to win the past three state championships.
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Jones’ second-inning blast made it 4-0.
“I was just thinking base hit,” said Jones, who went 2-for-4. “I’ve kind of been in a slump. Before I went up there, I said a little prayer, ‘I hope I get out of this slump and get a base hit.’”
“He’s a hard-working kid,” Columbus coach Randy Morris said, patting him on the shoulder after the game.
Cartersville loaded the bases an inning after Jones’ homer, but managed just one run thanks to an across-the-diamond, rally-killing double play turned by Columbus third baseman Will Kilgore.
Columbus first baseman and reliever Jacob Pate went 2-for-3 and scored a run. Catcher Blake Hicks singled, reached on an error, walked and scored twice.
Morris told his team that it would have its hands full today no matter which team it faces.
“We’ve got to play the game of our lives,” he said. “A lot of teams would like to be where you are right now. We’ll play hard and see what happens.”
Tonight’s winner heads to the Southeast Regional at Ceredo-Kenova, W. Va.