The stage for the Little League Championship game has been set, as both Japan and California have perfect records after going 4-0 throughout the Little League World Series.
Which team will prove it is the best in the world?
Both teams have individual stars and elite pitching staffs. The Tokyo, Japan squad slipped by Tijuana, Mexico 3-2 in the semifinal round to lay claim to the international championship once more. In the U.S. bracket, the West representative from Chula Vista, Calif., obliterated New England representative Westport, Conn., 12-1 in an upset to become U.S. champions.
Here are key factors that will determine whether it is Japan or California that has the best team in the world.
When: Sunday, Aug. 25 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Howard J. Lamade Stadium, South Williamsport, Pa.
Note: All stats and info courtesy of the tournament's official website.
Can Kazuki Ishida Power Japan One More Time?
Kazuki Ishida has far and away been the best player for Japan. He is hitting .417 and has hit two home runs and notched two RBI.
While his offensive firepower is impressive, it is Ishida's ability to limit the opposition from scoring that has helped his team the most.
Ishida has pitched in all four games for Japan. Against the Czech Republic team from the Europe & Africa region, he helped limit the opposition to just three runs, while adding a double and a home run.
No team has scored more than three runs on Japan in the tournament. Ishida's presence on the mound is a large part of that, but Japan will need one more big game from him to win it all.
Will Grant Holman Win the Pitching Duel?
Grant Holman has been the star of the tournament—and it is not even close. Not only did he throw a historic extra innings no-hitter, Holman also hit a three-run home run and a clutch grand slam. SportsCenter highlighted his big tournament perfectly:
Holman is a very, very big kid among boys and will have to play that way for his team to be crowned champions.
California's MVP is similar to Ishida in that he is dynamite on the mound as well. No team has scored more than three runs on California either. Holman is a major reason for that.
Holman did not take the mound when his team cruised by New England in the semifinal, so he will be at full strength for the championship match. It would be unwise to bet against him.
Which Team Will Break the Mold?
The cream certainly made it to the top. Now something is going to have to give between two teams that have had no real issues getting to this point.
The only real blemish against Japan is that it has not blown any team out of the water, winning its four games by a total of 18-9. California has been in plenty of routs, winning its four games 36-7.
Japan is used to low-scoring affairs where the pitching comes through. California is accustomed to piling up runs with the offense matching the stellar pitching.
When the two forces collide, one team will likely have to leave its comfort zone to become a world champion. Japan may need to push more runs across the plate to keep up, while California may have to withstand the pressure of an uncommonly close affair.
Either way, expect a classic between the two best teams in the world.
Follow B/R's Chris Roling on Twitter for more news and analysis @Chris_Roling
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