By Rob Tota and Lucas Friedman
After eight days and 26 games, the 72nd Little League Baseball® World Series is down to its final four teams. On Championship Saturday at Howard J. Lamade Stadium the best LLB® teams from the United States and International Regions will be decided, and Sunday’s World title game tilt will be set.
Here is a look into what to expect between the lines in the 2018 LLBWS United States and International Championship games.
U.S. Championship Game
Home Team: West Region – Honolulu Little League, Hawaii
Away Team: Southeast Region – Peachtree City American Little League, Georgia
- Saturday, August 25th
- 3:30 p.m., Howard J. Lamade Stadium
- Broadcast: ABC Television
Hawaii Team Profile
- LLWBS Record: 3-0
- Manager- Gerald Oda
Path to LLBWS U.S. Championship
In its first-ever appearance in the Little League Baseball® World Series, Honolulu Little League has played its way into the United States Championship game with a 3-0 LLBWS record.
The team’s path to Williamsport began nearly 4,800 miles away at the Kilauea District Park Field, their home field at the base of Diamondhead Mountain in Honolulu. After winning the District 6 Championship, Honolulu advanced straight to the winner’s bracket of the Hawaii State Tournament. The tournament was held at their home field in Honolulu.
Rolling through the state tournament, Honolulu Little League won all three of its games, which included two wins against Waipio Little League. Waipio captured the Little League Baseball World Series in 2008. On the strength of a dominant 11-0 victory over Waipio, the Honolulu Little Leaguers won their third state championship, and earned a trip to San Bernardino, Calif., for the 2018 West Region Tournament.
It was in San Bernardino that Honolulu Little League emerged as a legitimate national threat, going 4-0, while outscoring opponents, 31-8. Their largest margin of victory came in the West Region Championship, defeating Northern California, 11-2, en route to this year’s World Series.
Hawaii opened its World Series schedule in dramatic fashion, topping a strong Peachtree City (Ga.) American Little League team in the bottom of the 11th inning with a walk-off two-run home run. This momentum continued into their next game against Michigan’s Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores Little League, scoring six runs in the second inning to lead the team to an 8-3 victory. The team’s third outing came against Mid-Atlantic Region winner Mid Island Little League from Staten Island, New York, in the midst of the news of a category-five hurricane was threatening their home city. The team rose to the occasion, beating New York in a shocking 10-0 victory where the 10-run rule came into play in the fifth inning.
Players to Watch
Aukai Kea – Starting Pitcher, Third Baseman
Aukai Kea has emerged as of the top Little League® talents in the country, and has been a workhorse for Hawaii throughout the Little League season. He made two stellar starts for Hawaii in the West Region Tournament, giving up three runs and striking out 23 in just over 10 innings pitched, picking up the win in the regional championship game. He would also contribute with his bat, hitting .455 in the tournament’s four games.
This two-sided production has continued into Williamsport, as Kea has yet to give up a run in 10.1 innings of work on the mound. His most impressive game came in the 11-inning marathon game against Georgia, where he threw 6.1 scoreless innings and hit a walk off home run to give his team the 2-0 victory. While his pitching draws most of the attention, Kea is hitting .500 with a .917 slugging percentage in his team’s three LLWS wins.
Sean Yamaguchi- Second Baseman, Relief Pitcher
Sean Yamaguchi’s bat has made him a fan favorite, hitting .615 with two home runs, and eight RBIs in the West Region tournament, including a four-run performance in the championship game. He would also contribute on the mound with three relief appearances, where he gave up just two runs and struck out 11 in 4 1/3 innings of work.
His dominance would continue into the World Series, where he has recorded a hit in every game and is currently sporting a .500/.615/.900 batting line. His most recent performance overwhelmed the Mid-Atlantic champs, hitting a grand slam in the second inning and picking up an RBI double the following inning.
Hawaii has all of their pitchers eligible for the remaining games.
Georgia Team Profile
- LLWBS Record: 4-1
- Manager- Patrick Gloriod
Path to Williamsport
Like their opponents, Peachtree City American Little League is making its Little League World Series debut, entering the U.S. Championship Game with a 4-1 LLWS record.
Their path to Williamsport began in Smyrna, Ga., representing District 4 in the Georgia Little League State Tournament. Despite Georgia’s reputation for fielding top notch Little League teams, Peachtree City American cruised through their competition to win its fourth consecutive state championship.
The Little Leagues from Peachtree City won all four of their games in the tournament, with their 8-0 win over Columbus Northern Little League giving them the state title and a trip to Warner Robbins, Ga. to compete in the 2018 Southeast Regional Championship.
It was easy to tell that this Georgia team had no issues getting clutch hits in close games, winning their first game in walk-off fashion, a 1-0 victory over Tennessee and then scoring a run in the top of the sixth against Virginia to win their second matchup, 4-3. A dominant 8-3 over Alabama sent the team to the Southeast Region championship game, where it would shut down a tough Virginia lineup to advance to the 2018 Little League Baseball World Series.
Their first effort in Williamsport was stellar and heartbreaking start, falling to Hawaii 2-0 in that 11-inning marathon. That loss however, seemed to spark a fire in the team, knowing that the remainder of the games they would play in the Little League Baseball World Series would be elimination games.
Bouncing back from the loss the following night against Idaho, the Southwest Region Champions pulled out a 3-0 win, while pounding out 10 hits. After a much-needed day off, the Little Leaguers overcame a four-run deficit to defeat the Southwest Region winners from Post Oak Little League, 7-6 after a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth. That momentum propelled the team into its next game against Michigan, taking and early lead, then holding on for a 4-3 victory.
Coming off three straight wins, Peachtree City American Little League went on to play a highly-touted Mid-Atlantic team for a chance to play in the U.S. Championship Game. It was easy to tell that the team had no intentions of ending their win-streak, overcoming a 3-0 deficit to beat New York, 7-3, and earning another chance to face Hawaii’s Honolulu Little League.
Players to Watch
Tai Peete – Shortstop, Starting Pitcher
Tai Peete is a high-energy, two-way talent for this Georgia team. He hit .333 with a home run in the Southeast Region Tournament, while also going the distance in their 4-3 win against Virginia.
His bat would explode in Williamsport, recording three multi-hit games and reaching base safely in all five of their games. He goes into the U.S. Championship game with a .412/.524/.555 batting line. Peete has also made three appearances on the mound, adding up to nine innings and 12 strikeouts, while giving up just three runs. These three runs came in the first inning of Georgia’s most recent game with New York, yet Peete shook off the poor start to throw four more innings of shutout ball to earn the win.
Jansen Kenty – Starting Pitcher, First Baseman
Jansen Kenty has been a mainstay for this Georgia team on the mound, starting two games in the Southeast Region Tournament where he combined for 11 shutout innings and 26 strikeouts. His complete game shutout against Virginia would give his team the Southeast Regional crown and put Peachtree City American Little League into the World Series. He also hit a three-run home run in the team’s 4-3 win against Virginia.
Kenty’s dominance on the mound has continued into Williamsport, throwing 5 1/3 innings of shutout ball against an outstanding Hawaii lineup in their first game of the LLBWS. After hitting a walk-off home run to defeat the Southwest Region winners in the bottom of the ninth, Kenty returned to the mound to throw a 90-pitch complete game and lead his team to a 4-3 victory. While his pitch-count against Michigan makes him ineligible to start against Hawaii, he is a vital part to the heart of the order as a left-handed power bat.
Neither player is eligible to pitch for the remainder of the World Series Tournament.
How They Match Up
In what will be a rematch of the 11-inning marathon that took place just a week ago, the Little League United States Championship projects to be another close game. Both teams are coming off dominant wins against a talented Mid-Atlantic Region team. Both teams have a consistent heart of the lineup and strong starting pitching. Both teams are in the midst of a winning streak.
Hawaii will need their starting pitcher to shut down the Georgia lineup, and must not underestimate Georgia’s ability to erase a deficit. This Georgia team has a ton of momentum coming off four straight victories over the span of six days; no other team in this tournament can say that.
Georgia will need to capitalize on any mistake Hawaii makes in the field, as they are unlikely to get such an opportunity. Hawaii has made just two errors in their three games, and made no errors in the first match-up between these two teams. Getting runs on the board early will also improve their chances, as this Georgia team has done a stellar job of holding leads throughout their 2018 season.
Hawaii will have all their pitchers available for the game, giving them the option to start their ace in Aukai Kea. Ka’olu Holt could also be an option to start, who has given up just one run in 6.2 innings over the course of his three LLWS appearances on the mound.
With Jansen Kenty and Tai Peete both ineligible to pitch, Georgia will likely give the ball to Connor Riggs-Soper, who has appeared on the mound in three of their games while giving up just three runs in 10 1/3 innings of work. Ben Traxler will also be available, having thrown just 12 pitches in the final inning against New York.
The International Championship Game
- Home Team: Asia-Pacific Region, South Seoul Little League, South Korea
- Away Team: Japan Region, Kawaguchi Little League, Japan
- Saturday, August 25th
- 12:30 pm, Lamade Stadium
- Broadcast: ABC television
South Korea Team Profile
- LLWBS Record: 3-0
- Manager: Ji Hee Su
Path to LLBWS International Championship
South Seoul Little League from Seoul, South Korea has powered through the competition this tournament season, and is now in the International Championship game of the 2018 Little League Baseball® World Series on the strength of a 3-0 record.
Their quest for a World Series title began long before arriving in Williamsport. South Korea first had to win its national championship, which was no easy feat given the strength of Little League in South Korea over the last decade. Both West Seoul Little League and Seoul Little League have made it to Williamsport in the last five years. Seoul took home the title in 2014, while West Seoul has made the World Series field the past two years. Explosive offense and dominant pitching have keyed South Seoul Little League during this year’s International Tournament.
At the Asia-Pacific Region Tournament, the South Seoul Little Leaguers tallied an impressive 68 runs, while surrendering only four runs on their way to the finals. Their opponent was another historically strong Little League rival Chinese Taipei. This season’s team, had outscored opponents, 85-5, before the championship game. However, South Korea proved their legitimacy, shutting down the bats, 7-1, to earn a spot in the Little League Baseball World Series.
South Seoul Little League came into this year’s tournament as one of the hottest teams in the International bracket, and looked to continue to dominate on both sides of the ball. However, the Asia-Pacific Region Champions immediately faced adversity in their first game against Puerto Rico. No-hit going into the top of the sixth, and trailing 2-0, South Seoul rallied to tie the game in the sixth inning, and eventually pulled out a 4-2 victory in nine innings. The wake-up call helped South Seoul charge past Mexico Region Champion Matamoros Little League, 5-1; and then drub Japan, 10-0.
Players to Watch
Ji Hyung Choi – Starting Pitcher
Ji Hyung Choi is a player that is emblematic of South Korea’s strengths on both sides of the ball. He enters Saturday’s semifinal leading his squad in every offensive category, compiling a .667 batting average, a 1.333 slugging percentage, and an exceptional 2.083 OPS. Choi has recorded an RBI in all three games of his team’s World Series games, including the game-winning RBI in Game 1’s comeback victory. Against Japan, in the International Semifinal, he went 3-3 with two solo home runs to lead his team to their 10-0 defeat of the defending champions.
In addition to his prowess at the plate, Choi is also an excellent pitcher. His only appearance in this tournament was a big one. He pitched four innings of relief in Game 1, allowing only one hit, striking out seven and earning the victory for his team.
Gi Jeong Kim – Catcher
Gi Jeong Kim is the biggest presence in the South Korea lineup both physically and skillfully. He anchors the South Korea lineup, giving them a consistent bat with immense power potential. He has reached base safely in all three games, leading him to an impressive .667 on base percentage. To follow that, Kim has compiled a .667 batting average with two extra base hits and three RBIs. Kim’s short, compact swing allows him to explode on any pitch, hitting some of the hardest hit balls of the tournament.
Kim is the team’s defensive quarterback, having caught every inning for South Korea to this point, including their nine-inning victory over Puerto Rico. He has the rare ability to block pitches at this level. Kim has only allowed two passed balls in 18 innings.
South Korea has all of their pitchers eligible for the remaining games.
Japan Team Profile
- LLWBS Record: 3-1
- Manager- Hiroyuki Takahashi
Path to International Championship
Kawaguchi Little League came into the Little League Baseball ® World Series as a favorite to come out of the International Bracket, and now the Japan Region Champions will play in the International Championship Game. Posting a record of 3-1, the Japan team’s only loss is to its opponent, South Korea, 10-0.
Kawaguchi Little League had a challenging path to the World Series, but are now making the most of being Japan’s national Little League champion. Their journey began in the All-Kitakanto Tournament. A victory would earn them a spot in the Region Tournament. Kawaguchi’s Little Leaguers ® lost their first game of the tournament to Omiya Kita Little League, 11-8, but bounced back strong, outscoring opponents, 70-8 for the remainder of the tournament, and compiling a 4-0 record in the Round-Robin playoff.
Continuing to build on momentum during the region tournament, which featured the defending Little League Baseball World Series Champions Tokyo Kitasuna Little League, Kawaguchi went a perfect 4-0, and defeated Nagasaki Minami, 23-2, to earn the Japan Region Title.
Japan has shown a solid team in the early rounds of the World Series, defeating Europe-Africa,11-1, and Latin America, 4-2, behind strong pitching and timely hitting. However, South Korea stifled the Japanese bats, in a 10-0, four-inning loss. Japan rebounded once again, shutting down the Caribbean, 1-0, to earn a rematch against South Korea in the International Championship Game. Japan looks to win the World Series Championship for the fourth straight year and sixth time in the past eight World Series.
Players to Watch
Shisei Fujimoto – Pitcher
Fujimoto anchors Japan’s strong pitching staff. He was the Game 1 starter, going five innings, allowing one run on five hits, while striking out 10, with no walks. Displaying impressive command on the mound, compiling a 65-percent strike rate without walking a single batter in eight World Series innings pitched. He has a WHIP of 1.000, despite taking the loss against South Korea, allowing four runs in 2/3 of a inning. He righted himself against Puerto Rico, pitching 2 2/3 innings of no-hit ball in relief, eventually earning the save. He was instrumental in securing the rematch against South Korea.
Pitching is not the only thing Fujimoto can do, he has also shown pop at the plate, with two extra base hits, including a home run against Latin America that turned out to be the difference in the game. Shisei Fujimoto is a player to watch leading into Japan’s rematch against South Korea.
Shinji Furusawa – Third Baseman
Furasawa provides Japan with a reliable middle of the lineup bat. Starting each game in the three hole, Shinji has produced for his team. He has compiled a .429 batting average, with a .500 on base percentage, and OPS of 1.071. He had two key runs batted against Europe-Africa and Latin America to help lead his team to victory.
Through four games in the LLBWS, Furusawa has also played a solid and error-free at third base. Defense is crucial for any team making a run for the title, and Furusawa has exhibited extraordinary talent in the field.
Finally, Furusawa also adds to Japan’s strong pitching depth. He relieved starter Masato Igarashi in the fourth against Latin America, tied 2-2. He worked three strong, scoreless innings to propel Japan to the victory.
How They Match Up
Saturday’s International Championship game features a rematch between Japan and South Korea. In their first matchup, South Korea stole the show, dominating Japan 10-0, in four innings. Since 2009, Japan or South Korea has reached the World Series Championship every single year, with Japan winning five titles and South Korea winning one in that span.
Both teams come in with similar strengths, relying on their pitching and defensive fundamentals. South Korea appears to have the advantage in pitching. Yeong Hyeon Kim, who has been on target in eight and 2/3 innings of work, posting a 0.692 earned run average with 23 strikeouts, will be available for the International Championship Game. Japan’s top two pitchers are Masato Igarashi and Shisei Fujimoto.
Japan’s bats need to heat up if they are going to keep up with South Korea’s strong offensive attack. As a team, South Korea has a .301 batting average with OPS of .935. Japan is not too far off, posting a .275 team batting average, but have been held to one run and four hits over their last two games.
If Japan is going to take overcome the South Seoul Little Leaguers, it must rely on their signature style of play, which emphasizes fundamentals and finesse pitching. South Korea must keep its bats hot, and turn in strong performances from their deep pitching staff full of powerful arms.