Georgia and North Carolina have relied on homers in the Southeast Region tournament.
GULFPORT - Today's Southeast Region championship game might not match the spectacle of Michael Broad's one man show last year, but North Carolina and Georgia plan on displaying a few fireworks of their own during tonight's championship game.
Broad hit a game-winning grand slam and struck out 15 to help East Boynton Beach reach the Little League World Series and eventually the United States championship. Instead of one person dominating the spotlight, this year's championship focuses on two offensive minded teams.
Columbus Northern, Ga., and Morganton, N.C., have combined for 12 home runs in a tournament that has been otherwise dominated by pitching. With a national television audience watching on ESPN, neither team is planning to back down from their aggressive approach at the plate.
"We're going to kill the ball on Saturday," Georgia's Johnny Carter said after Thursday's semifinal win over Virginia. "We don't have any doubts. All we have to do is hit strikes."
There will be plenty of strikes for batters to look at, but North Carolina assistant coach Kelly Grady says the game will be all about patience.
"Really it's just focusing on fastballs to hit and trying to make pitchers go deep in their counts," he said.
Morganton had one day to prepare for the Southeast Region after winning the state title, but the limited preparation time did not frazzle the team. Morganton continued where it left off by batting .318 and has scored at least six runs in each of its games.
North Carolina leads the eight team tournament with 12 extra base hits, including eight home runs. Trevor Tallent led the team with four homers, and Andrew Martin, Aaron Attaway, Dykota Spiess and Eli Lawson have gone deep as well.
Martin carried the brunt of the pitching load for North Carolina, but is ineligible to pitch today. Martin allowed four runs over 13 innings, struck out 15, and tossed a shutout against Florida on Thursday; rules state a pitcher must rest one game plus one day between starts. Lawson likely will start tonight, with Tallent and Spiess also eligible to pitch. In his lone start this week, Lawson held Virginia to four runs over five innings and struck out seven for the win.
Georgia likely will counter with right-hander Brandon Phillips, who tossed a no-hitter with seven strikeouts against Florida on Monday. Matthew Rossi also is eligible for Georgia.
"I've got my best going on Saturday as far as big games are concerned," Georgia coach Dusty Perdue said. "If Brandon gets into trouble, or if we go into extra innings, there is no doubt I know Matthew Rossi can get the job done.
"There are going to be some nerves, but there will be nerves on both sides. You could see 10 runs apiece for both teams in the first inning."
Georgia's pitching was instrumental in reaching the championship. While the offense sputtered, hitting .222, Phillips, Rossi, Mclendon Hill and Jake Howard kept opposing teams from scoring until the offense to come through. The quartet combined for a 2.35 ERA over 23 innings and allowed only two runs during pool play.
Today's winner advances to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. Morganton could become the third North Carolina team to reach the World Series. Southwest Forsyth won in 2002 and Tarheel won in 1998.
Columbus Northern is the second Georgia team to reach the Southeast Region title game in two years. Buckhead lost to Florida in last year's championship.