Sports

Chuck Williams commentary: Party begins on the pitcher's mound, where it belongs, in Little League Southeast Regional championship victory for Columbus Northern

Jacob Pate throws near-complete victory, finished off by pal Kobie Buglioli

By CHUCK WILLIAMS

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — It came down to pitching.

And it came down to Jacob Pate, the Columbus Northern Little League ace.

“I told myself not to take a pitch off,” Pate said.

He didn’t. He dominated.

At times, he intimidated.

But he was always in control.

Pate pitched Northern to a 9-2 win over Florida and into the Little League World Series.

Northern manager Randy Morris knew what he was doing when he spent four games setting up Pate to be on the mound when the lights were the brightest, the crowd the loudest, the stakes the highest and the ESPN cameras were on.

“He’s a gamer,” Morris said. “He’s exactly who we wanted to have out there.”

Morris banked on Pate. And it paid off.

“We knew they wouldn’t score many on him,” Morris said.

Florida had two solo home runs that slipped just over the right-field fence 225 feet away.

At the end of the third inning, the pitch counts told a story that was favorable for Columbus: Pate had thrown 33 pitches — four fewer than Florida starter and ace Michael Pineda threw in the first inning.

In that third, with Columbus leading 1-0, it took Pate only seven pitches to coax three ground outs.

He was breezing and Florida was wheezing.

And Pate was aware of the pitch counts, which were posted on the scoreboard.

“Yes, I was looking up there,” he said.

So was the Florida manager. Pineda ran out of pitches after four innings.

The Columbus bats came alive and took suspense out of the outcome.

In a perfect world, Jacob Pate would have been standing on the mound Friday night when Florida’s Bryson Wallace watched a third strike to give the Columbus Little Leaguers the Southeast Regional title. But minutes earlier, assistant coach Donnie Coulter had taken the baseball out of Pate’s glove and shook his pitcher’s hand.

Pate had taken his team to the brink of victory when he struck out Sebastian Samuels for the second out of the final inning.

Then the 85-pitch limit did to Pate what Florida couldn’t. Pate had recorded 17 outs, allowed three hits and three walks. But more than that, he put Columbus on the bus to Williamsport, Pa.

The more than 5,000 fans roared in approval of Pate’s effort.

So, instead of finishing off Florida, Pate stood at third base as pal Kobie Buglioli did the honors.

“I knew he really wanted to do it,” Buglioli said.

It just didn’t work out that way. But it didn’t take Pate long to get back to the mound when Buglioli recorded the strikeout.

Buglioli threw his glove down and turned toward third. The first hug came from Pate.

Not a bad place for the party to start.

Chuck Williams, 706-320-4485

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