SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — The mini-mashers from Hawaii had a hard time with Japan’s strong pitching.
Japan’s rewards are bags of dirt they scooped from around the pitching rubber and a Little League World Series championship after beating the boys from Waipahu, Hawaii, 4-1, on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Japan limited Hawaii’s potent bats to four singles, and got a homer and three RBIs from Konan Tomori in a 4-1 win to end the United States’ run of five straight World Series titles.
Pitching and defense were the forte of a squad with a team ERA of 1.92 entering Sunday, and the 12-year-old Tomori added a little muscle, too, with two runs on the sixth with his opposite-field shot to right.
“I was always given chances, but never capitalized on them, so since today was my last chance at everything, I tried my best,” he said through interpreter Brian Thompson.
Ryusuke Ikeda got the win 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.
They met on the mound after right fielder Teruma Nagata caught the last out to begin celebrating.
They were a reserved bunch afterward as they faced TV cameras and reporters’ questions as if they were big league ballplayers.
“I was obviously very happy,” the 13-year-old Ikeda said. “The first thing I did was to run to the mound to give Ogasawara a hug.”
After postgame handshakes at the plate with Hawaii, Japan returned to the mound to pose with their championship banner after finishing 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.
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 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 West region champs 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 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.
Defensively, Japan’s regimented routine of fielding practice paid off in the final with several solid plays.
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.