By Anthony Caruso Staff Writer
Sure, winning and losing matters in this double elimination tournament. However, the biggest part of this entire experience is to interact with each other.
They get to put their towns on the map during these two weeks. But the friendships are what is going to last longer — as they get to hang out with each other in The Grove, or in the pool.
The games are played on pristine fields at Volunteer and Howard J. Lamade Stadium. The championship games are hosted at Lamade Stadium, where more than 100,000 people took in the three championship games this past weekend.
On Saturday, Aug. 29, Japan went into extra innings to defeat Mexico in the International Championship game. A few hours later, Lewisberry, Pa. outlasted Pearland, Texas, for the United States Championship.
Lewisberry, Pa., who was representing the Mid-Atlantic region, was trying to become the first overall championship for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania since 1960. That year, a Little League team from Levittown, Pa. won it all.
On Sunday Aug. 30, two undefeated teams took to Lamade Stadium in from of 42,000 fans. The majority of the fans were in red, as they were rooting for Red Lands Little League, but they saw Japan overcome an early deficit for an 18-11 win.
After scoring eight runs in the first inning, Japan’s Manager, Junji Hidaka, fired up his team. His actions worked, as the far Eastern hitters wound have 22 hits in the game.
“I told the players it doesn’t end until it ends,” he said through a translator after the game.
The Kitasuna Little League followed with seven in the second and four more in the third. They added an additional five runs in the sixth, putting the game out of reach.
This same Little League team also won it all in 2010 and 2012. Plus, Japan has won it all 10 times, including four in the past six years. They have won the second most overall championships, as Taiwan has the most with 17.
Japanese pitcher Daiki Fukuyama began the game on the mound, however he did not make it past the first inning, as he was removed without an out being recorded. After another pitcher, Hidaka gave the ball to Nobuyuki Kawashima, who lived in California for four years, before moving to Japan.
In the top of the second, Yugo Aoki hit a three-run home run to cut the lead to 10-5. Then twin brothers, Kengo and Shingo Tomita, hit solo homers.
Fukuyama did not let his troubles on the mound affect him at the plate, as he hit a two-run double to make it 10-9.
Japan tied the game in the third after Shingo Tomita hit another solo home run. Then, just three batters later, Masafuji Nishijima hit a three-run home run to give Kitasuna a 13-10 lead.
“They put the bat on the ball,” Tom Peifer, Pennsylvania manager, said. “They hit pitches I’ve never seen kids, especially 12-years-old, hit.”
It was 13-11 going into the fourth. After several scoreless innings, Japan added five in the top of the sixth.
Lewisberry, Pa. had a powerful offense, but Kawashima was able to shut them down. After coming in the second inning, he gave up one run and two hits over five innings.
“[Sunday] my fast ball wasn’t good enough,” Kawashima said. “I knew my breaking ball had to be on the corner — down low — where the batters can’t reach too far or it just get them off-balance.”
The United States team fell to 15-35 in the final against international competition. But while Lewisberry, Pa., was upset over the outcome, they did become the first team from Pennsylvania to win the United States Championship since Shippensburg in 1990.
Also, they were a part of the championship game that set a record for most runs with 29, which was previously 23 in 1947. The 10 runs in the first inning and 30 hits for Lewisberry were a record, as well.
In addition, the eight-run deficit is the largest ever overcome in a Little League World Series game.
“There are a lot of tears, even from myself, to know that the run is over” Peifer said. “But we quickly told them, ‘When we leave here, let’s get the tears out, because there is nothing to be sad about.’”