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Payton Purvis didn't have anything personal against Howard J. Lamade--the man whom Little League baseball's main stadium is named for and is honored with a bronze bust in right field. He was just trying to hit the ball. Hard.
"I was thinking it'd be funny if somebody hit a bomb out there and hit that guy in the face," said Purvis, whose three-run homer in the fourth inning glanced off the head of Mr. Lamade. "And I did it tonight. It was funny."
The dinger was part of a back-to-back-to-back home run explosion in the fourth inning that helped Warner Robins (Ga.) Little League defeat West Chandler (Ariz.) Little League 16-6--putting them in a U.S. final matchup against Lubbock Western.
Purvis didn't actually start the game. But that didn't stop him from lobbying manager Mickey Lay to send him up to the plate.
"Payton was sitting there on the bench for a while," said Lay. "And he was saying, 'I can hit this guy. I can hit this guy.' He certainly did tonight."
West Chandler was the one who came into the game with the slugger's reputation. No American team had scored more runs or had a higher batting average than Arizona. But Warner Robins, whose offense had been frustrated earlier in the week, found themselves beating Arizona at its own game to move on in tournament play.
"Anybody in this lineup can hit the ball," said Lay. "We lost our bats for little while but they're coming back. They worked very hard at batting practice and I'm very proud of the way they're working."
Lay admits that working hard at practice isn't always a given with his team, and it's the job of the manager to know when to push and when to pull back.
"Sometimes they go through the emotions because we've been together while," said Lay. "Payton is one and my son (Second baseman Taylor Lay) is another one. We really have to push them because they're so laid-back. But we have to be tolerant of their personalities and understand where they're coming from."
Where they're coming from now is a team that's just two wins away from winning the Little League World Series. Perhaps that's why they've been picking the brain of Columbus Little League
fellow Georgians and last year's championswho were in attendance for Thursday's game against West Chandler. The biggest tip they got? Don't let all the ESPN stuff psych you out.
"It was good to see Kyle, Josh and J.T. from Columbus," said Purvis. "They gave us good advice how to stay focused with all those cameras."
That ability to stay focused will be challenged even more as the rest of the games will be televised to a large worldwide audience on ABC. But having spent the past two months with these kids, Lay is fairly confident his team won't let the media attention go to their heads.
"They don't go around talking about how good they are," said Lay. "They laugh and watch SportsCenter and wrestle. They're just kids."