By Genaro C. Armas
The Associated Press
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — The Little League aces from Japan ended the United States’ five-year reign as World Series champions.
The team from Tokyo limited Waipahu, Hawaii, to four singles, and got a homer and three RBIs from Konan Tomori to take the Little League World Series title with a 4-1 victory Sunday.
For the first time since 2003, a team from Japan is flying home with the championship banner.
Hawaii, which had scored 29 runs over its previous three games, came up short at the plate against Tokyo.
Hawaii’s only run came on an error off a sacrifice bunt in the fourth, but reliever Ichiro Ogasawara worked out of a second-and-third jam with a strikeout and a weak bouncer.
Ryusuke Ikeda got the win after striking out five and allowing four hits over three innings, before Ogasawara pitched the final three, striking out three to get his third save.
Fittingly, Japan’s players gravitated to the mound after the game to scoop up bags of dirt to take home as mementos, as family members watched proudly from the first-base stands.
After exchanging handshakes at the plate with Hawaii, Japan also got another souvenir — a banner that read “2010 Little League World Series Champions.” They finished the tournament with a record of 5-0.
Cheered on by Hawaii fans waving U.S. flags and tea leaves they’d been carrying around for good luck, the Waipahu All-Stars put on a valiant effort. Thirteen-year-old starter Cody Maltezo, who hadn’t pitched in roughly a month, held Japan to four hits over five and two-thirds innings. Noah Shackles’ fine stop of a hard bouncer at third likely saved two runs from scoring in the third.
But the mashers from the West region couldn’t get the clutch hits that had propelled their unlikely run of four victories in four elimination games over four days into the Little League final.
So the All-Star team from Tokyo’s Edogawa Minami Little League became the first international team to take the crown since Curacao in 2004.
Throughout the week, Japan’s fans clad in bright red hats and white T-shirts cheered the team with rhythmic clapping from the stands, at times to the melody of “Popeye the Sailor Man,” the muscle-bound cartoon character.
But pitching and defense were the forte of a squad with a team ERA of 1.92 entering Sunday.
Natsuki Mizumachi took a few steps to his right and dropped to his knees to rob Kahoea Akau of a hit to center field in the fifth. Twelve-year-old second baseman Koutaro Kamikura followed that up with a nice stop to his right of a hard bouncer by Ty DeSa to save another hit.
The 12-year-old Tomori tacked on two insurance runs in the sixth with his opposite-field shot to right field.
Chants of “USA! USA!” echoed through Lamade Stadium after Shackles reached on an error with one out in the sixth.
But Ogasawara got a strikeout for the second out, and Teruma Nagata happily jogged in from right when he caught the final out. ♦