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Dominant Reliever Leads Japan to LLWS Title

LLWS Recap - Little League Baseball and Softball - The Season - GameChanger

The championship game of the Little League World Series produced the biggest comeback win in the history of the 69-year-old event. But compared to the rest of the championship weekend, and even the tournament as a whole, it came up a little short in terms of late-game drama.

The excitement in Sunday’s final at Lamade Stadium was packed into the first 2½ innings.

Japan lefty reliever Nobuyuki Kawashima quieted the powerful lineup from Red Land, Pennsylvania, helping Kitasuna from Tokyo pull away to an 18-11 win. The championship was Kitasuna's third in 15 years.

Red Land had scored 10 runs in the first inning before Kawashima took over on the mound.

Over the final five innings, Kawashima allowed just one unearned run on two hits and a walk while striking out four. He retired the last eight batters, coasting through the bottom of the sixth inning after Japan broke the game open by scoring five times in the top half.

“I knew my breaking ball had to be on the corner and down low where they could not reach it too much,” said Kawashima, who lived in San Diego for four years while his father was in the United States doing cancer research.

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Kawashima picked away at a Red Land lineup that averaged nearly five home runs per game. He hit his spots well, often starting with curveballs.

“He was good,” Red Land manager Tom Peifer said after the Mid-Atlantic Region champions lost for the first time in 20 games across district, section, state, and regional play.

“Soft-throwing lefty. If anyone would ask, ‘What’s your team’s Kryptonite?’ That’s it.”

Red Land got off to a super start, scoring 10 runs in the first with the help of a Dylan Rodenhaber grand slam and Jaden Henline three-run shot.

Kitasuna immediately got started on the comeback that kept Red Land from becoming the first Pennsylvania champion in 55 years.

The team's 1-2-3 hitters — Yugo Aoki, Kengo and Shingo Tomita — who all finished with three hits, hit three straight homers during a seven-run second inning to cut the deficit to 10-9.

Masafuji Nishijima, who came off the bench to go 4-for-4 with a homer, double and six RBIs, hit the three-run shot that put Kitasuna ahead in the third.

Shingo Tomita hit two of the team’s five homers.

The championship game capped a 10-day tournament that drew record crowds to Williamsport.

The scoring didn’t even start on the final weekend until Kitasuna and the Seguro Social Little League from Mexicali, Mexico, got into extra innings of Saturday’s International final.

Armando Verdugo took a no-hitter into the bottom of the seventh for Mexicali, only to give up two hits and lose 1-0 on a bases-loaded fielder’s choice. Verdugo struck out 10.

Kabu Kikuchi pitched a four-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts, also working all seven innings for Kitasuna.

The largest single-game crowd in tournament history filled Lamade and the surrounding hillside in the afternoon.

A crowd of 45,716, the vast majority of whom supported the home-state team, watched Red Land pull out a 3-2 victory over Pearland West of Texas on a Chayton Krauss single in the bottom of the sixth inning.

The third-place game Sunday also went down to the final inning with Isaac Garcia adding a two-out, three-run homer to 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief by Jarrett Tadlock to rally Pearland West past Mexicali 6-4.

The 32-game series drew a crowd of 467,964, breaking the four-year-old record by more than 50,000.

Those fans saw many entertaining games. 

There were seven one-run games, including three 1-0 scores, starting with a double one-hitter in the first U.S. game when Pearland West got past Wilshire-Riverside, the Northwest champion from Portland, Oregon.

The next day, Alex Edmondson threw a no-hitter to make Northwood from Taylors, S.C., the first team from its state to ever win a game in Williamsport with a 7-1 victory over Cranston Western, the New England champion from Rhode Island. 

From GameChanger and Tom Robinson, a freelance reporter for Red Line Editorial, Inc. Photo courtesy of Little League Baseball and Softball.