Japan powers past U.S. to claim Little League World Series crown
Nation wins 5th title in 8 years with dominant display
The crack of the bat, the gasp from the crowd, a fist pump on the trip around the bases and then a happy hop to waiting teammates at home plate.
Japan went through the routine three times in the fourth inning of the Little League World Series championship Sunday as Daisuke Hashimoto, Keitaro Miyahara and Natsuki Yajima homered, turning a tight game with Lufkin, Texas, into a 12-2 rout.
Tsubasa Tomii buckled down after allowing two first-inning home runs, finishing with nine strikeouts in a game that was stopped in the bottom of the fifth inning after Japan went ahead by 10 on Yajima's single to right field to score Seiya Arai.
"We were thrilled after we won the Japanese region before we came here," Miyahara said through an interpreter. "But now getting to this level and becoming the Little League World Series champions this year, it can't get any better than this."
The title marks the 11th time a team from Japan has won the Little League World Series, five of which have come in the last eight years. Tokyo Kitasuna, the club representing Japan this season, has won three of the last six.
Americans lose momentum
Lufkin had a six-run comeback victory over Greenville, N.C., in the U.S. championship game Saturday to reach the final. And early on, it looked as though the team's momentum would carry through the championship.
Japan had allowed only one run in the tournament heading into Sunday's game, but that changed when Chandler Spencer crushed the first pitch over the left-centre field fence.
Hunter Ditsworth cracked an opposite-field homer down the right-field line to put Lufkin up 2-0 with one out in the first. But Miyahara laced a two-run triple with two outs in the second to tie it at two, and Ryusei Fujiwara fisted a single to right to bring Miyahara home.
Lufkin manager Bud Maddux, who has coached youth baseball for 41 years and won 10 total championships, came just short of the most coveted title, in Little League. He blamed himself for the loss.
"Just like I told them, I'll take full credit for that," Maddux said. "We didn't make some adjustments that we should have. You can't hang your head because [Japan] beat you. They're a great baseball team, but we are, too."
Japan wins the 2017 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LLWS?src=hash">#LLWS</a>! 🇯🇵🇯🇵🇯🇵 <a href="https://t.co/FjLWzyOy75">pic.twitter.com/FjLWzyOy75</a>—@LittleLeague
But it was Japan's day. After Arai slid across the plate with the 12th run, his teammates leaped out of the dugout to hug him near home plate, jumping up and down in celebration.
Miyahara's home run in the fourth came after he fouled a ball off his left leg and was evaluated by the trainer before stepping back into the batter's box.
"I was in pain," Miyahara said. "But going through all that tough practice in Tokyo, I learned how to focus and forget about that pain and just focus on hitting the ball."
Japan manager Junnji Hidaka also led the Tokyo team that won the Little League World Series in 2015. When asked to compare the two clubs, he gave the nod to this year's group of players.
"This team is a little more of a tight-knit group," Hidaka said through an interpreter. "A lot more happier team."