Peach State is home to champions for second straight year
By David Briggs / MLB.com
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Dalton Carriker remembers falling down to one knee and praying in the first-base dugout moments before his at-bat in the bottom of the eighth inning on Sunday.
"Please God," he said, "give me the strength to help my teammates."
From there, however, it's all a haze as Carriker laced an opposite-field homer over the right-field wall to ensure history would belong to Georgia and the boys from Warner Robins in a 3-2 victory over Japan in the title game of the Little League World Series.
The 12-year-old pumped his fists into the air, roared and dashed around the bases as chants of "USA! USA! USA!" pulsated from the 31,400 fans both in the stands and on the massive hill beyond the outfield at Lamade Stadium.
"My legs were about to fall off," Carriker said. "I really thought I was flying, like Peter Pan."
The first game-ending homer Carriker had ever hit just happened to be one of the biggest hits in the 61-year history of the Little League World Series.
"I almost fainted right there," Carriker said.
Said Warner Robins manager Mickey Lay, "I'm waiting to fall out of bed."
The upset victory over heavily favored Japan delivered back-to-back titles to Warner Robins' home state and proved the third time can also be a charm. The U.S. has now won three straight series titles for the first time since 1964-66 and the win gave Georgia a third championship in just the state's third World Series appearance. Columbus took last year's crown while East Marietta did so in 1983.
It's the water, it's the water," Lay said. "That's very sweet. I told [the kids] last night that even if we lost today, [you] are one of 36 players that has ever done this in the state of Georgia in 61 years."
Yet they joined their Peach State Little League brethren as victors, able to say they were the only team to run that jubilant victory lap around Lamade Stadium following the title game.
And belying the highlights of Carriker's home run that will forever live on as the tournament's defying moment, more than one player told the tale of Sunday's win.
Keaton Allen, pitching for the first time since last month's state tournament, held high-powered Japan to single runs in each of the first two innings while Kendal Scott pitched 5 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. Pitching what Lay called "the best game I've ever seen him throw," Scott gave up one hit and struck out 10.
Meanwhile, Warner Robins quickly erased an early deficit with Allen's two-out, two-run double over the center fielder's head to tie the game in the second.
"I knew once we tied it up, it was going to come down to who had the last at-bat," Lay said.
And as Lay knew, that at-bat belonged to Georgia and ultimately, Carriker.
Carriker prayed because he had gone hitless on the day and was facing Junsho Kiuchi, who had looked unhittable over his first two innings. Simply looking for a fastball, he instead saw a 2-1 curveball on the outside corner of the plate.
You know what happened next.
"I just hit a walk-off home run to win the Little League World Series," Carriker recalled thinking. "I've never a hit a walk-off homer in in my life. Why did I do it now?"
Lay leapt in joy at third base while a joyous throng of red and gold sprinted out of the dugout to home plate.
"I jumped for joy, almost had tears of joy, I was so happy for him," said Zane Conlon, who pitched the final one-third of an inning for Georgia.
The boys from Warner Robins were champions of Little League baseball.
So much for the prediction of Lubbock, Texas, manager Ed Thorne, who like so many others, never gave Georgia a chance against Japan. After falling to Georgia on Saturday, Thorne said, "Japan will win that ballgame" and said Sunday he "wouldn't be surprised if it was by a large score."
Sorry, Ed. Wrong on both counts. An underdog Georgia team ended the most improbable of summer rides on top of the Little League World.
"This is sweet," Lay said. "There's only several times in your life that people come into your life to touch you emotionally and get into your heart and never leave. And the 12 on this team have done that."