Atsushi Mochizuki, Japan hungry for title
Japan is feeling right at home in the United States, at least from a Little League standpoint.
With its 15-5 win over Mexico Wednesday at Lamade Stadium, Japan has reached the International Championship for the fifth consecutive year. They will also look to become the third Japan team in the last four years to reach the World Series championship game.
“There’s no pressure per say (to keep up the winning Japanese tradition),” said coach Yohichi Kubo. “But we as a team came here to win the World Series. That’s why we’re here.”
Japan used a five-run fifth inning and a nine-run sixth to the blow the game wide open. The fifth frame was highlighted by Atsushi Mochizuki’s grand slam, a towering shot that traveled an estimated 270 feet.
“The ball was inside and high,” Mochizuki said. “(Barry) Bonds is my hero so I try to imitate him every time I hit. That’s also why I wear number 25.”
The grand slam increased Japan’s lead from 1-0 to 6-0.
“In a 1-0 game anything can happen,” said Japan starting pitcher Natsuki Sugisawa. “When he hit the grand slam, it allowed us to play better baseball.”
In the bottom half of the fifth, Mexico relief pitcher Ciro Castillo belted a three-run homer to right-center field. The round-tripper cut the Mexico deficit in half, but Japan would add on nine more runs in the top half of the sixth to seal the victory.
“The kids have finally relaxed and they’re just playing baseball,” Kubo said.
Mochizuki finished the game 2-for-5 with two runs scored and six RBI.
Yousuki Nomura finished the contest 4-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBI.
Mexico tried to get things going in the bottom half of the second. With one out in the inning, Luis Medrano singled to left side. Roberto Macias followed with a hit of his own, advancing Medrano to second. But Hector Garcia came to the plate and grounded into an inning-ending double play.
A half inning later, Japan scored the game’s first run. With Kazuki Ohkawara on third and Yousuki Nomura on first, Atsushi Mochizuki hit a grounder to first baseman Eduardo Flores. Flores threw to second to
try and start the double play, but Nomura slid in safely. Ohkawara scored and Mochizuki was credited with the RBI. Mexico pitcher Pedro Rodriguez then got the final two outs to end the inning.
And the next half inning, Mexico would put pressure on the Japan squad again by having runners on first and third with two outs. But pitcher Natsuki Sugisawa struck out Victor Valenzuela to end the inning.
Mexico would add on two runs in their last at-bat to pull within ten.
Japan will face the winner of Thursday’s night semifinal between Curacao and Guam.
“We are rooting for Guam to win because we became good friends at the regional tournament,” Kubo said. “But we are looking forward to beating them.”
- Mark Rogoff