In what was nothing short of a thriller, Japan defeated Mexico, 5-2, at the 2013 Little League World Series on Wednesday to clinch a berth in the International Championship game.
Japan also further proved its status as being among the world's elite.
Japan will next play the winner of the losers bracket game between Mexico and Panama to determine who will face Japan to reign supreme in the international division. With Japan as the only remaining undefeated international team, it's quite clear who will be the favorite.
The only question at this point is which team it will face.
To get back to the International Championship game, Japan had to turn in a gutsy performance against Mexico on Wednesday.
Entering the deciding fifth inning, Mexico and Japan were tied, 2-2. That was to be expected, as both teams had gone undefeated in the LLWS with Mexico dominating its opposition and Japan's rich history hinting at further future success.
Just like that, 2-2 turned to 5-2 and Japan advanced.
Kazuki Ishida sparked the fifth-inning rally with a solo home run, giving Japan a 3-2 advantage. Kouyou Mizushima and Kyousuke Kobayashi each added RBI for a three-run lead at 5-2.
Mexico never recovered.
Regardless of how well Japan has played in past events, this was a surprising victory. Mexico hadn't just defeated its first two opponents, but had absolutely decimated them by a combined 25-0 margin.
Against Japan's vaunted pitching staff, however, Mexico managed just two runs.
Brandon Montes hit a home run for a third consecutive game, but Japan managed to baffle his teammates. Japanese pitchers allowed five hits total, walking two and giving up just one earned run with eight strikeouts.
Just like that, we were reminded which is the true team to beat in South Williamsport, Pa., for the LLWS title.
By winning its division, Japan clinched its fourth consecutive International Championship Game. In each of the past three years, Japan has gone on to play in the Little League World Series Championship Game.
Japan, won it all in 2010 and 2012, has has won eight Little League World Series titles overall, ranking second only to Taiwan, which has won 17 crowns. However, Taiwan hasn't won a title since 1996 while Japan has won five championships since 1999.
When it comes to the modern era of Little League baseball, Japan has proven time and time again that it is the class of the field. No matter the year, the team that Japan produces is in contention until the very end.
After shutting down Mexico's explosive hitters, it seems as if Japan is destined for glory once again.
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