SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. » This time, Waipio couldn’t muster enough hits for a late-inning comeback.
Leading by one in the sixth, Japan’s Konan Tomori smacked a two-run homer to deep right field, giving his team a three-run lead, and relief pitcher Ichiro Ogasawara closed out the game, lifting the Japanese to a 4-1 win in the championship of the Little League World Series.
It was the first time since 2004 that an International squad had won it all, and it was Japan’s first LLWS title in seven years.
Tomori came off the bench and went 2-for-2 with three RBIs.
"I wanted to keep him in because he was swinging the bat well in practice," Japan manager Shingo Ariyasu said through interpreter Brian Thompson. "He’s been swinging well all week."
The loss doesn’t dampen the spirits of Waipio, which has won the United States championship in two of the last three years.
The Hawaii squad won five consecutive elimination games to reach the world final after losing to Georgia on the second day of the LLWS.
NO MORE COMEBACKS
The players who fought all week to overcome deficits and beat the odds didn’t quite have enough left in them after winning five elimination games.
The parents of the Waipio team enjoyed the wild ride their boys took them on and have no feelings of disappointment.
Columnist Ferd Lewis recognizes the Waipio players not just for how well they played but for how they carried themselves throughout.
A game-by-game look at how Waipio climbed back from the verge of elimination to win the U.S. championship and reach the world title game.
"Our boys battled until the end," Waipio manager Brian Yoshii said. "That’s all you can ask of them. I’m so proud of every one of them. Each one had a great moment in this series."
Hawaii’s Cody Maltezo, the sixth pitcher in the rotation, threw a gem despite the loss.
He allowed four hits and gave up three runs in 5 2/3 innings, striking out four.
Yoshii told the media that he filled out two lineup cards Saturday night, one with Maltezo and another with his closer, Keolu Ramos, starting.
His instinct told him that Maltezo was the right call.
"When I watched video of Japan, I saw that most of their top hitters were lefties, so we wanted that lefty pitcher to set up a nice matchup," the Hawaii manager said. "If he started to struggle, we were going to pull him and put Keolu in. But he didn’t."
When Maltezo left in the sixth inning after reaching his 85-pitch limit, Waipio was only down 2-1. But Tomori’s home run on an 0-2 pitch from Ramos gave Japan enough of a cushion, 4-1.
"I believed in him," Yoshii said of Maltezo. "I believe in every one of these kids. When their number is called, they step up and get the job done. He’s a good pitcher. The one thing we talked about was we couldn’t give them any free passes because they will cause havoc on the bases. We wanted to make them earn the base. Cody pitched great. You can’t ask for anything more from a 12-year-old kid."
Japan built a 2-0 lead before Waipio responded.
Back-to-back singles by reserve player Brysen Yoshii and Noah Shackles put two on with no outs in the fourth. Ariyasu immediately made a switch, taking out starter Ryusuke Ikeda for Ogasawara.
But an error on Ezra Heleski’s sacrifice bunt to third scored Yoshii from second, trimming the deficit by one. But the Japanese pitcher settled down, striking out consecutive hitters and inducing a grounder to second for the final out.
"I was trying to do my best not to allow a hit," Ogasawara said through Thompson. "I believe I grew through this series, especially with runners on second and third."
Waipio did get a runner on base in the sixth, thanks to Japan’s third error. But a strikeout and a pop fly to right fielder Natsuki Mizumachi gave the Edogawa Minami Little League of Toyko the 2010 championship.
"One of our rival teams told us if we didn’t win the title, not to come back," Ariyasu said through Thompson. "This 2010 team was very bright. They never gave up when they were down. They are tough."
Brian Yoshii praised Ogasawara.
"Their pitcher was good," the manager said. "We just had to watch him and try to adjust. Japan has a nice team. But every team we’ve played in his journey was great.
"We love it here in Williamsport, but I think everyone is ready to go home. It was a great run for our team. We’re just so delighted to be the United States champion. In my eyes, every team here is a winner. Being one of the top 16 teams in the world is quite a feat. We would have liked to win, but I’m still proud of the boys. That’s all I can say."
Asked by media about future Waipio runs to the Little League World Series, the manager smiled.
"Like I was told before we began our district play, anything is possible," he said. "It is possible to get to the Little League World Series. But this is a special group of kids that always battled until the end. It was tough, and we ended up playing more games than anyone else here. I’m just proud of this team."
JAPAN 4, WAIPIO 1
|Maruoka 3b,pr||1||0||0||0||Akau 2b||2||0||1||0|
|Saito 3b||1||0||0||0||DeSa 1b||3||0||0||0|
|Sugawara 3b,spr||1||1||0||0||Baniaga lf||3||0||1||0|
|Norimatsu ss||3||0||1||0||Bartolome c, rf||2||0||0||0|
|Ogasawara cf, p||3||1||1||0||Yoshii ph, rf||1||1||1||0|
|Ishii lf, pr||1||0||0||0||Shackles 3b||3||0||1||0|
|Nagata lf, rf||1||0||0||0||Heleski cf,pr||0||0||0||0|
|Shinozaki c||1||1||1||0||Kushima cf,ph||2||0||0||0|
|Mizumachi cf, rf||3||0||0||0||Nakagawa ss||1||0||0|
|0 Motegi 1b||1||0||0||0||Campos ss||2||0||0||0|
|Tomori 1b||2||1||2||3||Ramos c,p,ph||1||0||0|
|0 Ikeda lf, p, rf||3||0||0||0||Kaneshiro ph, rf||1||0||0||0|
|Kamikura 2b||1||0||0||0||Maltezo p, rf||2||0||0||0|
2B–Ogasawara (3). HR–Tomori (1). RBI–Tomori 3 (3). HP–Akau (2). SB–Heleski (1). E–Sugawara (2), Maruoka (1).
LOB–Japan 4, Waipio 6.
|R. Ikeda (W, 2-0)||3||4||1||1||0||5|
|I. Ogasawara (S, 3)||3||0||0||0||0||0
|C. Maltezo (L, 0-1)||5 2/3||4||3||3||3||4|
WP–Maltezo 5. HBP–Akau (by Ikeda). T–2:23.
Manager: Brian Yoshii. Coaches: Kiha Akau, Jason Heleski.
|2||Kaho ‘ea Akau||20||5||6||2||.300|
2B — DeSa 2, Akau, Bartolome, Kaneshiro. 3B — Martezo, Shackles. HR — DeSa 2, Shackles 2, Nakagawa 2, Bartolome, Campos, Kushima, Baniaga. SB — DeSa 2, Heleski 1.
|3||Ezra Heleski||8 2/3||2-0||3||0||0||1||11||0.00|
|17||Shiloh Baniaga||8 2/3||1-0||9||5||4||7||10||2.77|
|7||Cody Maltezo||5 2/3||0-1||4||3||3||3||4||3.18|
|22||Noah Shackles||10 2/3||1-1||6||10||8||5||14||4.50|
|20||Dane Kaneshiro||4 1/3||0-0||6||4||4||2||6||5.54|
Saves — Kaneshiro 1