Game 25
Asia
11 vs. Canada 0

Wednesday, August 24
3:00PM ET
Lamade Stadium

 
Mercy, what a win!
Japan advances to the International finals with a one-hit 11-0 victory over Canada.


By Allie Weinberger

Dominance.

That’s really the only word for Asia’s Little League Baseball World Series representative each year.

“When we first walked into the mess hall, there are picture of all the winners,” said Canada coach John Atkinson. “And you can easily pick [the Asia winners] out.”

Since 1994, seven Asia representatives have made it to the World Series Championship game. Japan accounts for five of those appearances, winning the title in 1999, 2001 and 2003. Five of the last 10 Little League World Championships have been won by teams from the Asia region.

And those five are just a fraction of the Asia teams chronicled on the International Grove mess hall walls.

“They’re not on the wall for no reason,” Atkinson added.

After today’s 11-0 win over Canada, the Chiba City Little Leaguers are on their way to adding their own portrait to the storybook wall. The team’s numbers speak for themselves.

In four games, the Asia All-Stars have given up just 15 hits. Their five pitchers have 41 strikeouts in 23.0 innings, an average of 10.7 strikeouts per six innings. And in case the Japan pitchers ever have a bad day, their offense has scored 30 runs. It’s easy for the pitchers from Chiba City, Japan to be happy.

While Asia’s 11-0 mercy rule win over the Canadian champs in Wednesday’s international semifinal was just a hit and a walk away from a perfect game, it was Japan’s bats that led the Asia Little Leaguers around the bases.

“This is the hitting I was hoping for throughout the whole Series,” said manager Hirofumi Oda through interpreter Bill Lundy. “This is a very powerful hitting team.”

It was in the top of the fifth with no outs and runners on the corners that Japan found those bats they had been – according to Oda – missing in their previous three Little League Baseball World Series games.

Up 3-0, Japan’s bats came alive in an eight-run, 12-batter rally against a Canadian pitching duo of Chris Fischer and Kristopher Robazza.

A leadoff double from Kisho Watanabe jump started the drive and was followed by a Yuki Mizuma single up the middle. Tomokazu Kaise ripped one into center to score Watanabe, who stopped to pick up his teammate’s bat as he sauntered toward home.

Then Fischer walked Matsuo to load the bases for Fumiki Sakuyama.

Sakuyama, who had stuck out in his previous two at-bats, fouled off Fischer’s tosses to stay alive before lining a full-count, two-RBI double over the head of left fielder Alex Dunbar. With only one out, Shuhei Iwata stepped to the plate and drove a nearly identical extra-base hit that brought both Matsuo and Sakuyama across the plate.

Down by eight, Canada manager Glenn Morache gave Robazza the ball to relieve his starter.

“It’s every kid’s dream to pitch in the Little League World Series,” said Atkinson. “But he looked like he was getting tired.”

Robazza faced the top of the Chiba City order and immediately gave up a Taira triple to score Iwata and give Japan the 9-0 lead with just one out. A passed ball scored Taira from third before Sakamoto pummeled a warning track fly out to center field.

Watanabe continued the inning he led off by sending Robazza’s offering to earth behind the center field wall for his first home run of the Series.

“By the time it got to my third at-bat, I had the timing down for the pitcher,” said Watanabe through Lundy. “I was conscious of what was coming.”

Watanabe was just 1-for-7 (.143) at the plate prior to Wednesday’s game.

“I’m positive now his mood is right,” said Oda.

Robazza pegged Mizuma in the helmet with a pitch before getting Kaise to fly out to first baseman Jeff Degano and end the eight-run, seven-hit inning.

“Against this strong Asia team, you can’t aim [pitches],” said Canadian coach John Atkinson. “You gotta hit your spots.”

With one on and nobody out in the top of the third, Taira came through for his seventh hit of the tournament, hammering a Fischer pitch over the hedges in center.

Tiara struck again in the fourth with an RBI double that thudded off the wall in the left field corner. The hit scored pinch hitter Ryo Misawa, who walked to lead off the inning.

“Anybody can beat anybody any day, you know?” said Atkinson. “Unfortunately, today wasn’t our day. It happens, right? It’s only a game.”

Starting pitcher Takuya Sakamoto pitched another great game from the hill, striking out six and allowing only one hit on just 39 pitches (30 for strikes).

“Because I did pitch before, I was a little bit more tired today and I started to lose my control,” said Sakamoto.

Japan’s set of pitchers threw just 56 pitches, less than half of what Canada tossed (122).

“As far as Sakamoto goes,” said Oda, “He’s very much of a control pitcher, and that’s where his efficiency lies.”

Fourteen of Japan’s 15 Canadian outs can be chalked up to the superior pitching of Sakamoto and Kaise. One, though, was nothing but Kata.

In the fourth, Fischer laced one past Sakamoto on the hill. It was only a spectacular behind the back diving stop near the bag by Kata that held the Canadian hits at one. Kata dove and fired a near-perfect throw from his knees to get the Canadian pitcher at first.

“Fortunately, I saw the catcher’s sign,” said Kata through interpreter Bill Lundy. “I thought there was a chance the hit might be coming my way and when it did, I was able to react quickly.”

And you can look for that one as a “Top Play” on ESPN’s SportsCenter, ladies and gentlemen.

When Lundy told Kata that he may just see himself in the company of American major leaguers on ESPN’s top 10 plays of the day, the Japanese Little Leaguer lit up with pride and excitement.

“Thank you very much,” he said through an uncontrollable smile. “I’m gonna keep my eye out for it.”

Canada tallied its only hit of the game in the third, when Nathan de la Feraude ripped a ball past shortstop Yuki Mizuma and into left field.

“We’ve got nothing to be ashamed about,” said a proud and satisfied Atkinson.

With an 11-0 deficit heading into the bottom of the fifth, Canada was getting low on outs and on time. Oda sent Kaise to the hill.

Canada needed just two runs for the game to continue, and after Kaise walked shortstop Justin Atkinson, “two-out rally” rang out from the Canadian crowd.

A wild pitch advanced Atkinson, but it wouldn’t be enough to continue Canada’s stay in the tournament. The fastballer proved to be too much for the Canadian mites, and Kaise retired the side to complete the five-inning, one-hit mercy rule shutout with relative ease.

“It’s done and it was a great ride,” Atkinson said.

But there was more to it than that, as the jovial coach put Canada’s journey into perspective.

“Being from Canada, this is their Stanley Cup,” he said. “They made it, you know? They’re happy.

“They’ll probably be in the pool by the time we get back,” Atkinson added.

Look for Taira (1-0, 0.00 ERA) to be on the mound against the winner of the second international semifinal (Curacao v. Guam) at Howard J. Lamade Stadium Saturday at 3 p.m.

Game Photos


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