It wasn’t the wrong place at the wrong time, even if it felt that way.
In order for the Goodlettsville All-Stars to reach their ultimate destination — the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. — they needed to make it out of the Southeast Region tournament at Warner Robins, Ga. They did exactly that when they defeated the host team 1-0 in the championship game last Friday night.
“Warner Robins had about 98 percent of the crowd behind them,” coach Joey Hale said. “They were so loud. It felt like the ‘Rocky’ movie where he had to go to Russia to fight the Russian boxer Christmas Day. But in the end, Rocky prevailed. It was a lot like that last Friday.”
Warner Robins is the gold standard of Little League baseball in the U.S. The town had sent teams to the LLWS four of the past five years and its 2007 team won the title.
Goodlettsville, in just its second year of Little League play, became the first Davidson County team in 42 years to reach Williamsport when it came through the losers bracket and captured its third tournament title in the last month.
“[Warner Robins has] a terrific team and great tradition,” Hale said. “I kept up with them on the internet as the tournaments went along. In their district tournament, they averaged 20 runs a game and beat one team 31-3. They hit 15 home runs in the state and their pitchers didn’t allow more than one hit each game.”
Friday’s victory was Goodlettsville’s 12th in 13 tournament games this summer. Stocky right-hander Brock Myers and nimble Jake Rucker combined for a one-hit shutout. The lone run came when Blake Osbourne scooted home on a passed ball in the second.
Even with little to cheer, the Warner Robbins faithful still made plenty of noise.
“One time, I went out to the mound to talked with Brock,” Hale said. “I told him the only reason I came out there was to let the crowd quiet down and settle down a little.”
Myers did not allow a hit but reached his 85-pitch limit at the end of the fifth inning. In his last two appearances, he pitched a total of 8.1 innings, allowed one hit and struck out 14.
Rucker came on to start the sixth and gave up a leadoff single. It was Warner Robbins’ only hit of the contest.
The next batter popped up a bunt, which turned into a double play when Rucker made a sliding catch and threw to first base. He struck out the next batter and Goodlettsville’s players poured out of the dugout, diving on top of one another in celebration.
“It was awesome winning that game,” Myers said. “The crowd was going crazy. When Jake came in and got that double play, I was really pumped.”
The feeling has remained in the subsequent days.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “This is definitely the biggest sports thrill of my life.”
Goodlettsville opens the 66th LLWS 7 p.m. (CDT) Thursday against the Midwest Region champion, Kearney, Nebraska. It will be the last of four games that day.
Its presence in the event for 10-12-year-olds (players cannot turn 13 before May 1) has attracted a lot of attention locally.
“We’ve gotten congratulatory calls from Mayor Karl Dean twice and from [Titans quarterback] Jake Locker,” Hale said. “I’ve heard [Vanderbilt baseball coach] Tim Corbin might be coming up to see us. I’ve never met him, but I’m looking forward to that.”
The last time Davidson County was represented was 1970 when National Optimist, coached by Maurice Moffitt, got there. The Optimists lost two straight to eventual runner-up Campbell, Calif. then to Taiwan. They beat Quebec 9-1 in a consolation game.
Morristown in 1987 was the last team from Tennessee that made it.
The 43-year-old Hale, however, does have some relevant experience of his own.
Playing for his father Jerry Hale, he competed for Parkwood on two Dixie Youth World Series championship teams from Goodlettsville — 1978, which won in Louisiana, and 1979, which won in North Carolina. In his 12-year-old season in 1980, Goodlettsville hosted the Series but a team from South Carolina left with the title. Parkwood also won in 1982 and 1996.
“Our guys are so full of energy, it’s been a chore keeping them somewhat under control in the hotel hallways,” Hale said, laughing. “We haven’t been home in almost three weeks.”
Saturday was a whirlwind travel day for the team. They were bused to Atlanta where they boarded a flight to New York, drove to Newark, then were bused to Williamsport.
“We got in at 9 p.m. [Saturday] night,” Hale said. “It was getting dark, but we saw all the signs saying ‘Williamsport, Home of the Little League World Series’ and signs welcoming us.
“Our hotel is walking distance to the field. It’s an amazing experience, you’re watching Japan players walking around, just feeling the excitement of the other teams there. And all of the games are on ESPN, where they introduce the players.”
At this point, there’s no place they’d rather be.