Japan was the clear favorite going into the 2012 Little League World Series, and they proved why on Sunday afternoon with a remarkable 12-2 victory over Tennessee in the title game.
Japan’s magical run through Williamsport, Pa. ranks as one of the best in Little League World Series history. They had impeccable pitching and outstanding hitting in every single game that they played in and were rarely tested.
Here’s a glance at just how good Japan was over the past 10 days and what they did to become the eighth team from Japan to be crowned champions.
An opening round victory is essential in the Little League World Series. It keeps you out of the loser’s bracket and allows you to set up your pitching staff going forward. It’s definitely not an easy win, though, since it’s your first look at the opposition.
Despite the pressure, Japan came out strong against Curacao and quickly entered the winner’s bracket with a 7-0 victory. Japan put their two best pitchers on the mound—Kotaro Kiyomiya and Noriatsu Osaka—and they dominated. They combined to strike out 14 batters in just six innings while only allowing two hits.
Japan did win by seven runs, but their offense was just getting warmed up as you’ll see in the next few slides.
Japan’s first true test came a few days later against the Asia-Pacific champions, Chinese Taipei. This game quickly turned into one for the ages as both pitching staffs were dominant. Neither team could put the smallest of rallies together, and the game went into extra innings.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Tatsuya Irie drew a walk and then Hajime Motegi ended the game with a two-run blast. There were only nine combined hits in the game, and both teams struck out 15 batters.
This was a major win as Japan would’ve entered the loser’s bracket and been on the verge of elimination for the remainder of the tournament. Instead, they were just one win away from clinching a berth in the International Championship Game.
In Japan’s third game, they started to show how talented some of their hitters were. They took an early lead in the first inning with a two-run home run by Kiyomiya and then a solo shot from Shun Oshima. Those three runs would be all Japan needed to shut down Panama, but they did add another in the fifth inning.
Ryuji Osada was perfect on the mound and did exactly what his teammates needed him to do. He allowed one unearned run in five innings of work while walking two and striking out seven. Osaka came in for the sixth and struck out two in a solid relief appearance.
Through three games, Japan had yet to allow an earned run. That is saying something right there. With the victory, Japan advanced to the International Championship Game and was the clear favorite to win that game no matter who they were going to face.
As it turned out, Panama would win against Mexico for another shot at the Japanese champions. They wouldn’t be able to do much this time either, though, as Japan rolled to a 10-2 victory. It was an absolute slugfest for Japan.
Panama would score the first earned runs against the Japanese pitching staff, but it wouldn’t be nearly enough to top the bats of Japan. They hit five home runs on the day, two coming from Kiyomiya. Ishida pitched four good innings and then three relievers finished the job.
Japan’s fourth win put them into Sunday’s featured game, the championship against Tennessee who would win later Saturday night. By this time, everyone in Williamsport knew that Japan had a very good team and that they were going to be tough to beat.
Japan was heavily favored in the championship game as Tennessee just came out of a very long, tough fight against California just to have the opportunity to play on Sunday. The bats for Japan started hitting early and often and kept Japan ahead for the entire game.
Japan scored twice in the first inning, once in the second, twice in the fifth, five times in the fourth and then twice gain in the fifth to put the 10-run rule into effect. Ishida and Hirano each homered, but Osaka was the hero as he homered three times and was the one who clinched the victory with a bomb in the fifth.
Japan set their staff up perfectly so that Kiyomiya would be able to pitch, and boy did he impress. He struck out eight over four innings of work where he only allowed one hit, a home run off of the bat of Brock Myers. Osaka allowed a run in the fifth, but it didn’t matter much.
No team in Williamsport played at the same—or even close to the same—level as Japan. They were clearly the best team, and they deserve every second of their glory.