WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — When Columbus Northern started to hit Friday night in the championship game of the Little League Southeast Regional, it didn’t stop.
The Georgia state champs collected seven of their nine hits in the final three innings to score seven runs and roll past Florida 9-2 at Southeast Park. The win sends Columbus Northern to the Little League World Series next week in Williamsport, Pa., for the second time in five years.
Columbus Northern won the world championship in 2006. Warner Robins American followed with its championship the next season.
Kobie Buglioli and Knox Carter each had two doubles and knocked in runs to lead Northern’s uprising against Florida’s relief pichers. Buglioli knocked in two runs with his first double in a three-run fifth inning, then plated another with his second in the four-run sixth.
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Until the late rally, Northern did little against Florida starter Michael Pineda, who left after four innings because of exceeding the 85-pitch count rule. Strikeouts accounted for 10 of the 12 outs Pineda recorded.
“We were glad to get him out,” Northern manager Randy Morris said of Pineda, who allowed two runs on four hits with four walks in his stint. “We didn’t have too many good at-bats early, but he had a lot to do with that.”
Jacob Pate earned the victory for Northern, leaving with two outs in the sixth because of the pitch limit. The right-hander allowed three hits with three walks and eight strikeouts. Buglioli got the game’s final out on a strikeout.
“He’s the guy we wanted to have the ball,” said Morris, who managed the 2006 team. “I didn’t know if we’d score enough runs or not, but I knew they wouldn’t get many.”
Pate’s only mistakes were solo homers to Matthew Prater in the fourth and Pineda in the sixth.
Northern capitalized on Pineda’s control trouble in the first to score its first run. The right-hander issued four walks among three strikeouts. Troy Gilliland drew the last of the free passes to score Blake Hicks.
Hicks singled in pinch-hitter Jack Lang with two outs in the fourth off Pineda for a 2-0 lead before Northern broke it open with the big finish against four relievers.
Buglioli, who had struck out twice against Pineda, was at the center of both rallies with his doubles.
“I was trying to redeem myself,” the third baseman said. “I really had two bad at-bats the other two times.”
Pate helped himself with a run-scoring single in the sixth before Carter and Buglioli finished the uprising with their back-to-back doubles.
“They all got some confidence once we started hitting,” Morris said. “We kept fighting and got it done. I couldn’t be more proud of these kids.”