Sports

Little League World Series: Tougher pitching, new bats prepare Columbus Northern batters

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — In the district and state tournaments, Columbus Northern Little League earned a reputation for pounding teams into submission.

Then Northern got to the Southeastern Regional and the hit totals shrunk, even though the winning ways continued.

It is nothing to be alarmed about, Northern manager Randy Morris and his players said Thursday as they took batting practice at Little League World Series complex.

Northern, the Georgia and Southeastern Regional champion, is preparing for its nationally televised series opener Saturday at 3 p.m. against Western Regional champion Hawaii.

“We faced some really great pitching,” Morris said of the limited production that still produced 35 runs in five games. “We were seeing 70-mph-plus with a great curveball. Most hitters don’t hit good pitches. They hit mistakes.”

The mistake pitches shrink the closer a Little Leaguer gets to the end of summer.

Northern third baseman Kobie Buglioli agrees with his manager.

“I say it is better pitching,” Buglioli said. “We faced some really good pitchers in the regional.”

The alarm bells went off in the regional opener when Northern held on for a 2-1 win over South Carolina. Two lefties limited Northern to three hits and struck out 12 batters.

Fortunately for the Columbus team, the best pitcher in the tournament was Northern’s Jacob Pate, but that didn’t stop him from appreciating the talent on the opposing teams.

“The Southeast is one of the toughest regions,” Pate said. “You had three kids throwing over 75 mph. You don’t see that much. … They knew how to keep hitters off balance with a mix of fastballs and curveballs.”

The Southeastern Regional was in a new stadium in Warner Robins that is similar to the facilities in Williamsport. Playing on a big stage in front of the television cameras can be difficult for hitters, Pate said.

“Part of it is nerves,” Pate said. “We had never played in that kind of environment. We were in the stadium and it was on ESPN.” Brandon Pugh, the Northern shortstop, had a different theory.

“We didn’t have enough practice,” Pugh said. “We would have a game one day, then go back into another game the next day.”

Pate agreed but said that was part of the deal that comes with tournament baseball.

“You have to go out there and try to make corrections during the game,” Pate said.

Northern’s Knox Carter said the subpar hitting in the regional might has been because of nerves, but he was not willing to lay all of the blame on jitters.

“All of those teams were good,” he said. “They won their states, too.”

The pitching in the Southeastern Regional will work to Northern’s advantage, Morris said.

“It has got to help,” he said.

One of the things that should help the hitting is the new bats the players were given when they reached Williamsport. Each one got a DeMarini CF4 and an Easton Omen, about $500 worth of bats. The Omen was the talk of the team. The bat has not been placed on the market yet and will make its debut in the World Series.

Second baseman Jack Tanner and outfielder Matthew Lang were taking cuts with it Thursday in the batting cage and trying to determine whether they were going to swing it Saturday in the first game.

“I am just trying to break it in,” Lang said.

Catcher Blake Hicks said he probably would swing the $200 bat that will be released in the early fall.

“It has a nice feel to it,” he said. “It’s level and not too top-heavy.”

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