Little League: Northern wins state championship

Columbus Northern pitcher Jacob Pate said everything simply felt right on Saturday morning as he struck out a dozen batters to lead Columbus to an 11-4 victory in the Georgia Little League state championship.

“I was just on today,” Pate said. “Then my team really helped me stay on with good hitting.”

Pate allowed four hits in 5 2-3 innings, and his teammates gave him plenty of backup at the plate as Northern captured the title at Double Churches Park.

Troy Gilliland hit his second three-run homer in as many days, and six Northern players combined for 10 hits, led by Knox Carter (3-for-4, two runs, three RBIs), Blake Hicks (2-for-4, three runs) and Pate (2-for-4, one run).

The victory puts Northern in the Southeast Regional, which will be played in Warner Robins, Ga., from Aug. 7-13. Northern last won the state championship in 2006, the same year it went on to win the regional tournament and the Little League World Series.

Carter said his team will head to Warner Robins with the same approach that brought it a state title.

“We’re just going to keep playing hard and doing what we’ve been doing,” Carter said. “It’s just one game at a time that we’ve got to play.”

Kobie Buglioli put Northern on the board with a two-out RBI-single, and Gilliland cleared the bases with his three-run homer on the next at-bat to put Northern ahead 4-0 by the middle of the first inning. A walked-in run and another score on a bases-loaded fielder’s choice put Northern ahead 6-3 after two innings.

Toccoa had outscored state tournament opponents 73-20 entering Saturday’s game, and Northern coach Randy Morris said he knew his offense would have to continue producing if it hoped to stay ahead of Toccoa.

“We had to just keep scoring runs,” Morris said. “(Toccoa) is a good team, and they can hit anything we throw them, so I challenged our guys to score every inning.”

Northern came back with three more runs in the fourth inning, with two of them coming on doubles by Brandon Pugh and Carter and another reaching on a fielding error. Northern went ahead 10-3 in the fifth inning on another bases-loaded walk, and Carter knocked in the game’s final run with a two-out infield single.

While Toccoa’s hitting was limited, the team made sure they counted. Three of the four hits were home runs. Ben Cleveland’s solo shot made it 4-1 in the first inning, Caleb Lowery’s two-run homer made it 6-3 in the second inning and Kooper Briley’s solo homer made it 10-4 in the fifth.

Pate reached his pitch count with two outs in the sixth inning, and Northern’s Zac Cravens struck out the only batter he faced to end the game.

Toccoa coach Scott Rumsey said it was a tough way to end the summer for his team, which went 4-0 in Pool A and defeated Walton 9-5 in Friday’s semifinal.

“I don’t think a lot of people gave us much hope,” Rumsey said. “But that didn’t matter to our kids. They played when they needed to play and stayed competitors. For them to have beaten all the teams they beat to get here, that’s a big victory to me.”

Chris White, 706-571-8571