Japan finds heroes atop the mound
In the 2001 International Championship, the Asian champions from the Kitasuna Little League needed last-inning heroics to defeat Curacao and advance to the World Series Championship. In 2002, the timing was different, but Japan had its share of heroes.
Hurler Yuuji Nakane was awarded his second win in as many starts as Japan defeated Curacao 4-1 in front of 25,500 at Howard J. Lamade Stadium. Nakane struck out 10 in six innings of work.
Curacao starter Reinus Roosberg ran into trouble early. The hurler walked Nakane, Japan leadoff man, who scored on an errant throw to first. Japan brought home three more runs before Curacao manager Mark Van Zanten was forced to tap his bullpen and relieve Roosberg. Right-hander Richently Kenepa got out of the inning by inducing Tomoya Kanda to ground out to second.
Kenepa allowed only two hits in 4.2 innings of scoreless relief.
“Richentley did an outstanding job today,” Van Zanten said through an interpreter. “He shut down a very good Japan team.”
The formidable Japanese pitching staff, which before Saturday had not allowed a run in the tournament, was finally scathed in the top of the second inning. Kenepa sent a screaming ground ball past Japanese shortstop Kentoh Saitoh and into the left-centerfield gap. Kenepa’s double allowed Rudney Balentien to score from first and pull Curacao within three runs.
But Nakane only got tougher as the game progressed. The pitcher did not allow a Curacao runner past first base after the second inning.
“I felt as if I was stronger in the fifth and sixth inning,” Nakane said.
Japan advances to the World Championship game, to be played in the limelight Sunday at 7:30 at Lamade Stadium.
“We were happy when we won the Japan national championship,” left fielder Yuuki Chiba said. “Now that we have won the International Championship, it is an amazing feeling.”
“Our hats are off to the Japan team,” Van Zanten said. “They are a great team, and they will do well.”