Game 8: Japan 5 vs. MEA 2

Japan Champions Survive Rally By Middle East and Africa Squad

Author: Gabe Hiatt

Source: South Williamsport, Pa.

Date/Time: Saturday, August 22, 2009, 5:00pm ET

In the final inning of Chiba City (Japan) Little League’s (CCLL) game against the Arabian American Little League (AALL) team, Chiba City’s starting pitcher Toshinori Wakai’s shoulder deserved a bag of ice, but he had work left to do.

Wakai registered two outs in the sixth inning Saturday at Volunteer Field in Williamsport, Pa. with Chiba leading by a 5-2 count, but the Middle East and Africa (MEA) Region Champion’s would not give up.

Cameron Durley and John Sheppard reached base for the team from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia with Deji Ogunsola stepping to the plate representing the tying run.

Wakai threw two balls before getting the final out on a ground out. Wakai recorded 11 strike outs in tossing a complete game.
“The only thing that we couldn’t quite do is string some hits together in a row to get a really good inning going,” AALL manager Dan Somogye said.

His team refused to quit against the Japan Region Champions. When Chiba City’s Daisuke Yamaga crushed a ball over the left center field fence for a two-run homer with no outs in the first inning, Sheppard, the AALL starting pitcher, responded by retiring the next three batters.

He struck out Wakai and forced the next batter to pop up. For the final out of the inning, Durley seemingly sprinted into the wall of the Chiba City dugout and made an incredible catch on a foul ball.

In the top of the third, MEA’s Nicky Knight stroked a stand-up triple into left field that scored teammates Alex Husain and Braden Barnett. He shot both arms sky high, celebrating his tying hit eliciting chants of “M-E-A! M-E-A!” from the crowd.

“Nicky has been the emotional leader of this team all along,” Somogye said. “To have him be the one that cracks it open like that is just fitting for the team.”
But, the Chiba City’s star players weren’t fazed. Yamaga and Wakai were ready for ESPN SportsCenter. With no outs in the bottom of the third, Yamaga got his second hit of the night, a triple, and Wakai followed with a gargantuan two-run homer, he estimated flew “about 18 meters.”

“I wasn’t in the sweet spot, but the crowd was still cheering for me,” Wakai said.
MEA’s pitching staff replicated their response to the first home run, shutting down the Japan Region Champions from there. Chiba City’s only other run scored on a two-out passed ball in the bottom of the fourth.

“In both innings, when we gave up the two runs with no outs, we clamped it down,” Somogye said. “That’s what this team’s done all year. They’ve maintained their composure and really maintained their discipline. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Sheppard tallied six strikeouts in 3.2 innings of work, while Husain and Durley both had two punch-outs of their own while not allowing a run.

“We faced the same Middle East team here four years ago,” Chiba City manager Hirofuma Oda said. “Both times I thought the pitching was really good.”

Wakai’s complete game turned out to be Oda’s compliment to MEA. Normally the manager would use more than one pitcher, but he couldn’t tonight.

“My lineup wasn’t hitting well today, so I wanted to give the responsibility to the ace of the team,” he said. “I think we were really nervous, so maybe we got that out of our system and we will be better next game.”

After the game, it was an exhausted Oda who had to dispatch his nerves.

“I talked to (Oda) on the ride over (to the press conference),” Somogye said. “He was taking a lot of deep breaths and saying, ‘Wow, it was a great game.’”

Chiba City returns to action Sunday night opposing the Caribbean Champions from Willemstad, Curacao at 8 p.m. at Lamade Stadium on Sunday while the team from Saudi Arabia will resume play in the 63rd Little League World Series on Monday with a 6 p.m. contest at Volunteer Stadium also against the Caribbean squad.