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Not even three inches of torrential rain
and an 18-hour game delaycould stop Dalton Carriker from leading his Warner Robins (Ga.) Little League team to the United States semifinal at the Little League World Series.
With a devastating fastball that reached the upper 60's and a curveball that kept Walpole (Mass.) Little League hitters off balance, Carriker pitched four- plus strong innings in an 8-1 win over the New England champion--leaving Warner Robins just two victories away from the Little League World Series championship game.
But Carriker didn't just dominate on the mound. He chipped in an opposite field home run in the second inning and made some astounding defensive plays that caught the notice of Walpole manager Brian Oberacker.
"He did everything," said Oberacker. "He made two or three plays up the middle that would've been singles any other day. He hit the ball out. We didn't have an answer for him."
Even Carriker admitted feeling jubilant as he ran the bases after his dinger.
"It's a great feeling knowing no one was going to catch that one," said Carriker. "Seeing those little kids in the outfield trying to catch it. That's really cool."
Most of the offensive damage, including a two- RBI single from Payton Purvis, was done by hitters using the whole field. A philosophy Warner Robins manager Mickey Lay has stressed to his players throughout the tournament.
"Part of our discipline is to hit the ball hard and close off the strong side so we can stay back on the ball," said Lay. "That's what we try to focus on. For the most part, everybody hit really well today."
"Those fences are a long way away"
How big of a part did the numerous delays play in Walpole's tournament performance? Oberacker wouldn't say. He did admit, "It's hard to keep 12 and 13 year- olds concentrated on the game with a break in the action like that."
Still the distance of the fences at the Little League World Series
moved to 220 feet two years agomight have had more to do with silencing an offense that came into the tournament slugging at an enormous rate.
"We were a power hitting team when the fences were at 200 in district," Oberacker said. "We' re a little undersized and it really shows here at the Little League World Series."
For Oberacker the only regret was how some supporters of Warner Robins conducted themselves in the stands. An ESPN microphone caught Oberacker referring to a certain "clown" making comments from the Georgia rooting section.
"Anytime you get a bunch of people together, there's always one in the crowd," said Oberacker, reluctant to broach the topic. "Today there was that one. I won't comment on on it any further."
The Mighty Underdog
Warner Robins was not a favorite to win the Georgia state championship--let alone make it to the Little League World Series. But now the loose and carefree team from Georgia, whose main focus seemed to be the dormitory pillow fights they exchange with the team from Mexico on a daily basis, is now on the verge of allowing their home state to boast back-to-back Little League World Series champions.
"At the start of the regular season, nobody thought this all-star team was going to be anything," said Carriker. "We showed them we could pull it out."