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Where EAST meets the Northwest

UNEXPECTED ENDING. Kazuhiro Kishikawa (#1) of Japan fields a wide throw as Jaren Pascual (#18) of Wailuku, Hawai‘i runs to second base. Japan earned third place in the summer baseball tournament. (AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar)

Yuto Misaki (#18) of Japan slides into third base while Minwook Park (#2) of South Korea catches the ball during the Little League World Series held in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar)

BREATHTAKING BASEBALL. Yuto Misaki of Japan delivers a pitch during a game against Wailuku, Hawai‘i, at the Little League World Series tournament in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Japan won the game, 5-0, to earn third place. (AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar)

From The Asian Reporter, V29, #17 (September 2, 2019), pages 1 & 8.

Asians in American sports w Asian Americans in world sports

Hawai‘i, Japan unexpectedly battle for third place at Little League World Series

By Mike Street

Special to The Asian Reporter

The last time the Little League World Series (LLWS) didn’t have an Asian team in the championship final was 2004. Since then, a Japanese team has appeared in eight finals, a team from Hawai‘i has appeared in four, and eight champions were from either Japan or Hawai‘i.

After both Japan and Hawai‘i went undefeated in their first three games, the stage appeared set for just the third all-Asian final in tournament history. Instead, both teams met in the third-place game, shattering the expectations of Asian-American sports fans.

Chofu City, Japan, certainly seemed to have a clear path to another LLWS final appearance, emerging as the winner from the Japan region after outscoring its opponents 37-1. That dominance continued after they reached the tournament in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

In its first game, Japan cruised past Italy, scoring six runs in the first four innings before blowing the game open with 14 runs in the fifth. As they would all tournament, two Yutos — Yuto Misaki and Yuto Kakeba — led the team. Against Italy, they drove in five runs apiece while their opponent could only muster two hits. The final score was 20-0.

Japan also held Guadalupe, its second opponent, scoreless. The team notched just one run in the first two innings before capitalizing on walks and errors to score four in the third inning. The two Yutos again showed their heroism, this time on the mound, combining for about four innings of shutout, one-hit ball while striking out nine batters. Japan again won easily, 5-0.

They then faced the Chung Nam Little League team from South Chungcheong, South Korea, who scored the first run against Japan with a leadoff homer. But Japan didn’t trail for long, scoring two in the bottom of the first. Another solo homer for Chung Nam kept the score tied until Japan’s bats finally woke up. Japan scored five runs in the next three innings, taking advantage of five walks, to win with a 7-2 score.

In the game deciding the winner of the international side of the bracket, Japan again found itself in an early hole when Curaçao scored in the top of the first and then added two more in the third inning. Japan narrowed the gap to 3-2 in the bottom of the third, but Curaçao struck back in the fifth, increasing its lead to 5-2.

That’s where the score sat when Japan came up in the bottom of the sixth. Back-to-back doubles put two runners on, and a walk loaded the bases. Then a wild pitch plated two runs and put the tying run on third.

Second baseman Ryohei Ushikubo came to the plate and stroked a hard liner to left center, but Curaçao’s left fielder, Keven Rosina, ran down the game’s final out, and his team edged Japan, 5-4.

The Central East Maui Little League squad from Wailuku, Hawai‘i, had a rougher ride to the tournament, winning most of its regional games with victorious, but not dominant, one-run and two-run margins. Their first tournament game in South Williamsport was another close one, against the Southwest team from River Ridge, Louisiana, who would eventually win the tournament.

Hawai‘i plated four runs in the first inning to take an early 4-1 lead. Louisiana scored once in the fifth to narrow the lead, and Hawai‘i replied with a tally of their own in the bottom half. Louisiana loaded the bases in the sixth with two outs, but pitcher Jaren Pascual induced a lineout for the game’s final out, and Hawai‘i escaped with a 5-2 victory.

Hawai‘i had an easier time in its second game, shutting out Elizabethtown, New Jersey, on four hits for a 6-0 rout. In the third game, Hawai‘i struggled against the team from South Riding, Virginia.

Hawai‘i grabbed an early lead with a five-run first, then promptly surrendered two runs in the bottom of the inning. Another run in the second and two in the third gave Hawai‘i a more comfortable 8-2 lead. But in their half of the third, Virginia scored six runs to tie the game. Hawai‘i recaptured the lead in the fourth, pulling further ahead with a three-run fifth. Virginia scored another run with two outs in the sixth, but Hawai‘i again escaped with a 12-9 win.

Big innings also haunted Hawai‘i against the Louisiana team, in the final game of the U.S. side of the tournament bracket. The two squads were scoreless through the first four frames, but luck ran out for Hawai‘i in the fifth inning, when Logan Kuloloia gave up three runs. Then reliever Isaac Imamura had some bad luck of his own, surrendering two more runs on wild pitches before closing out the inning.

After Hawai‘i threatened but failed to score in the bottom of the fifth, Imamura had a chance to hold Louisiana scoreless in the top of the sixth, but with the bases loaded and two outs, he gave up four runs before retiring the side.

Down nine runs in the bottom of the sixth, Hawai‘i tried hard to claw their way back. They scored four runs, then loaded the bases with one out for cleanup hitter Nakea Kahalehau, who already had two hits on the afternoon.

Kahalehau worked the count full, then drove a ball right up the middle. But shortstop Stan Wiltz caught the liner off his shoetops and raced to beat Bransyn Hong back to second base, a game-ending double play that ended Hawai‘i’s championship dreams.

Unlike the matches determining the winners of the international and U.S. brackets, the third-place game between Hawai‘i and Japan proceeded more predictably. Japan jumped on Hawai‘i early, scoring three runs in the first. Hawai‘i mustered little offense until the fourth, which began with two singles, but Yuto Misaki ended the threat with two strikeouts and a fielder’s choice.

Japan added another run in the fifth, and then Hawai‘i loaded the bases to start the sixth, bringing the tying run on deck. Yuto Kakeba relieved Misaki and sealed the shutout with a double play and a strikeout. The two Yutos led their team again, this time to a 5-0 third-place win.

Asian-American sports fans were disappointed at the lack of eastern representation at the Little League World Series finals, but expecting an Asian team to be there says volumes about the dominance of Asian and Asian-American teams in this venue. Wait ‘til next year, the saying goes, when we’ll certainly see a return to form by teams from the east.

Opinions expressed in this newspaper are those of the
authors and not necessarily those of this publication.

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