SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, PA., (AP) - Hawaii’s offensive punch followed Japan’s stirring win in extra innings to create some high drama at the Little League World Series.
Now, the two teams will meet Sunday to decide who flies home with a World Series title.
Ryo Motegi’s RBI grounder through the infield with two outs gave Tokyo, Japan, a 3-2 win over Kaoshiung, Taiwan, to claim the international title Saturday, before Noah Shackles’ two-run homer to center capped a four-run first for the boys from Waipahu, Hawaii, in a 10-0 win over Pearland, Texas, in the U.S. championship.
Shackles finished 2 for 2 with three runs, and lefty Ezra Heleski allowed just two hits for the local Waipio Little League from Waipahu trying to win its second tournament crown in three years. The game ended with one out in the fifth because of Little League’s 10-run rule.
"USA! USA!," chanted the Hawaii fans afterward. Many held mini-state flags and tea leaves they have been waving in the stands all week for good luck.
After avoiding elimination four straight days, Hawaii has one more big game to go. Their blowout victory on a picture-perfect summer afternoon was in sharp contrast to Japan’s tight win.
"I wanted to connect, and I was aiming for center," the 13-year-old Motegi said through interpreter Brian Thompson.
And that’s about where the ball ended up after just slipping past shortstop Chen-Wei Chen into left center, allowing pinch-runner Ryusuke Ikeda to score the winning run.
Japan exchanged high-fives at the plate, shook hands with the saddened Taiwan players, then posed with the international championship banner at the mound.
"Very happy," Motegi simply said about the postgame celebration.
Taiwan came within two outs of doing the celebrating with reliever Shao-Fei Huang cruising on the mound into the sixth.
Leadoff hitter Koutaro Kamikura’s one-hopper handcuffed the third baseman and slipped into left before Huang got a strikeout. Kamikura advanced to second on a throwing error off a pickoff attempt before Ryota Norimatsu’s solid single up the middle tied the game at 2-2.
"The staff, especially the kids, they believed in themselves, so they didn’t feel the pressure too much," manager Shingo Ariyasu said.
Japan beat one of the tournament’s most fearsome teams at the plate, after Taiwan had outscored opponents 46-1 over its first three games. Taiwan took a 2-1 lead in the second after Shang-Yu Wu hit a fluke double that deflected off of Japan starter Natsuki Mizumachi into left, then later scored on a wild pitch.
Instead, it will be a Japan team playing for the title for the first time since 2007 to try to snap the United States’ five-year run as Little League champs.
"It was a 50-50 game," Taiwan manager Tung-Yo Ho said through interpreter Ming-Huang Yeh. "Good defense and making contact was going to win this game and Japan did that a little better than us."
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