Northern, Toccoa advance to Georgia Little League state championship game

Columbus Northern players were flying high after a 15-5, 3 1/2-inning Georgia Little League state semifinal victory over Murphey Candler on Friday, and it was coach Randy Morris’ job to make sure they were still grounded.

“We haven’t done anything yet,” Morris said after the game. “We still have work to do if we don’t want to finish second.”

Northern stayed hot at the plate and on the mound to reach today’s final, which will be played against Toccoa at 10 a.m. at Double Churches Park.

As powerful as Northern looked Friday, it was Murphey Candler that took the opportunity to set the tone of the game. Ransom Klinger opened the top of the first inning with a double to left field, and Drew Barrows followed it up with a two-run home run to center field to give Murphey Candler a 2-0 lead.

But Northern starting pitcher Troy Gilliland settled in to strike out five consecutive batters between the first and third innings, and the Northern batters overwhelmed Murphey Candler with 12 his, including a pair of three-run homers.

“I challenged our kids to score some runs after we got down in the first inning,” Morris said. “And they responded with some great batting.”

Gilliland and teammate Jack Tanner accounted for nearly half of Northern’s runs with their three-run shots, and Blake Hicks went 3-for-3 with two runs as eight Northern players combined for 11 hits.

Northern led 6-2 at the end of the first inning, and after Gilliland struck out three straight batters in the second, Northern’s offense let loose, shooting out to a 9-2 lead by the end of the frame.

“Our pitching was really good, and that made us more confident at the plate,” Tanner said.

Gilliland struck out six batters while allowing five runs and seven hits and walking none through 3 1-3 innings. He said he came into the game knowing he would need to be sharp to reach the finals.

“I knew I had to put my pitches where I wanted them,” Gilliland said. “I didn’t know a lot about this team before we played them, but I had heard they were good, so I knew I had to do what I had to do.”

Northern pitcher Jacob Pate, who is slated to start in today’s final, came in to face the final two batters. He walked the first to load the bases, but Northern’s infield turned a double play on the next at-bat to end the game.

Murphey Candler’s Charlie Haas had a two-run home run in the third inning, cutting Northern’s lead to 9-4. But Northern followed it up with six runs in four at-bats in the bottom of the inning to again pull away.

Murphey Candler committed four fielding errors with two leading directly to runs, and two more Northern runs came in on wild pitches.

“We had some errors that cost us, but I thought we played with a lot of heart all the way to the end,” Murphey Candler coach Mike Zowine said.

“Unfortunately, we just faced some excellent pitching from Columbus and couldn’t get the runs we needed today.”

@BR Scoreline:TOCCOA 9, Walton County 5

Toccoa hit four homers — Kooper Briley hit two — in the semifinal win over Walton.

Ben Cleveland and Blake Walker also homered for Toccoa.

Briley and Cleveland knocked in three runs apiece.

Andrew Floyd was the winning pitcher.

Davis Wheeler and Matthew Martin hit homers for Walton.

“We’re going to enjoy this for about an hour then get plenty of rest tonight, and get up early and turn the music on and do what we do,” Toccoa coach Scott Rumsey said.

— Brian Evans contributed to this report.

Chris White, 706-571-8571