One half of the International and U.S. Championship games have been set, as Chula Vista, California and Tokyo, Japan have advanced. Both teams used late-game rallies to secure victories and each escaped top tier opponents.
The question is, which key moments decided those results?
In the first of two games, Japan defeated Tijuana, Mexico by a score of 5-2. They used a fifth-inning rally to create that lead and closed out with a dominant pitching performance.
The score should be evidence enough after Mexico scored 25 runs during their first two games and just two against Japan.
Chula Vista traveled a similar road, defeating Westport, Connecticut of New England 6-3 in a nine-inning game. It was California's second extra innings game of the tournament, having outlasted Great Lakes just days prior.
Here's how it all got done.
Japan vs. Mexico: Kazuki Ishida Goes Deep
Japan entered this game with the momentum of making three consecutive appearances in the International Championship game. Mexico had dominated their opponents in 2013, outscoring two respected teams by a count of 25-0.
In the end, it was Japan who moved on and sent Mexico into an elimination game against the same Panama team they blew out 13-0 on Aug. 18.
It wasn't easy for Japan, as they were trailing 2-1 entering the bottom of the fourth inning. Fortunately, Seiya Nishino hit a deep home run to bring the game to an even 2-2 tie, opening the door for one team to come through with late-game heroics.
Kazuki Ishida obliged.
Japan scored three runs during the bottom of the fifth inning, but it was Ishida who stepped up when it mattered most. When neither side showing superiority over the other, Ishida stepped to the plate and blasted a solo shot to break the tie score.
Just like that, it was 3-2 Japan and Mexico's backs were against the wall.
There's no question that the two additional runs were welcome, but Ishida's homer was the difference. Mexico's momentum had been crushed, as they suddenly trailed for the first time all tournament.
The only question at this point is whether or not Japan can do it again if they're forced to play Mexico in the International Championship game.
West vs. New England: Grant Holman Strikes Again
Chula Vista, California star Grant Holman began the 2013 Little League World Series with an extra-inning no-hitter. Mere days later, Holman struck again, hitting a walk-off Grand Slam to send the West region winners to the next round.
Just so we knew it wasn't all a legendary fluke, Holman decided to hit a game-winning three-run home run against New England.
I've asked this question before and I'll ask it again: what can't this kid do?
Before Holman could strike and lead the West Region to the U.S. Championship game, however, another player had to step up. In a game with four lead changes, Nick Mora hit two home runs to give California their first lead of the game and to help California cut Connecticut's 3-1 lead down to 3-2 in the sixth inning.
Holman simply took clutch to a whole new level.
Already in possession of a walk-off Grand Slam, Holman stepped up to the plate with the game tied at 3-3. Flashing the power that has made him a star in South Williamsport, Holman launched the ball over the fence and we had ourselves a 6-3 lead.
A lead that stuck and enabled Chula Vista to move one step closer to achieving their dream at the Little League World Series.