Defense, pitching propel Japan to title
Still wearing their bright red caps and white uniforms, they leaned down on the mound to scoop up bags of dirt for what promises to be a happy flight home from a 10-day stay in central Pennsylvania.
Fitting, since the team from Tokyo relied on defense and a pair of pint-sized aces to win the Little League World Series.
Japan limited the potent bats of Waipahu, Hawaii, to four singles, and got a homer and three RBIs from Konan Tomori in a 4-1 win on a sunny Sunday afternoon to end the United States’ run of five straight World Series titles.
Ryusuke Ikeda got the win with after striking out five and allowing all four hits over three innings, before Ichiro Ogasawara pitched the final three hitless innings, striking out three to get his third save.
“I was obviously very happy,” the 13-year-old Ikeda said calmly through an interpreter.
After postgame handshakes at the plate with Hawaii, Japan got another memento—a banner that read “2010 Little League World Series Champions.” They finished the tournament a perfect 5-0.
The All-Star team from Tokyo’s Edogawa Minami Little League became the first international squad to take the crown since Curacao in 2004. A team from Tokyo’s Musashi-Fuchu league was the last winner from Japan, the previous year.
Hawaii, which had scored 29 runs over its previous three games, came up short at the plate against Tokyo. The only run Sunday came on an error off a sacrifice bunt in the fourth, but Ogasawara worked out of a second-and-third jam with a strikeout and a weak bouncer.
“Whenever he started in Japan, he got KO’d pretty fast,” manager Shingo Ariyasu said. “Today, he obviously showed some good stuff.”
Cheered on by family and friends waving U.S. flags and tea leaves they’ve been carrying around for good luck, the Waipahu All-Stars put on a valiant effort on the mound and in the field. Thirteen-year-old lefty starter Cody Maltezo, who hadn’t pitched in roughly a month, held Japan to four hits over 5 2/3 innings, and Noah Shackles’ fine stop of a hard bouncer at third likely saved two runs from scoring in the third.
“They battled to the end, and that’s all I could ask of them,” Hawaii manager Brian Yoshii said. “Every kid had their moment.”
The Hawaii club comes from a league that won the series in 2008, and they became the first Little League squad to play seven games in the tournament.
But the mashers from the West region couldn’t get the clutch hits that had propelled their unlikely run of four victories in four elimination games over four days into the Little League final.
That tough stretch limited Yoshii’s options on the mound given Little League’s strict pitch-count rules. Teams with deeper pitching staffs, or who play fewer games, hold an advantage.
Japan had the edge on both counts, while Yoshii had to go deep to his bench.
“We had to throw our No. 6 pitcher and all he did was pitch a great game on the biggest stage in the world,” Yoshii said about Maltezo.
Through the week, Japan’s fans have been cheering the team with rhythmic clapping from the stands, at times to the melody of “Popeye the Sailor Man,” the muscle-bound cartoon character.
Pitching and defense were the forte of a squad with a team ERA of 1.92 entering Sunday.
Natsuki Mizumachi took a few steps to his right and dropped to his knees to rob Kahoea Akau of a hit to center in the fifth. Twelve-year-old second baseman Koutaro Kamikura followed that up with a nice stop to his right of a hard bouncer by Ty DeSa to save another hit.
The 12-year-old Tomori tacked on two insurance runs in the sixth with his opposite-field shot to right.