Two teams exit stage left and two punch tickets to championship games Thursday at the 2014 Little League World Series as the tournament nears its final act.
On the international side of the bracket, perennial powerhouse Japan found itself with its back to the wall in a matchup against a tough Mexico squad that had made a name for itself in the tournament with sound defense and erratic outbursts of offense.
Mo'ne Davis' Pennsylvania encounters Illinois in the late game, with the winner earning a spot in the U.S. championship against the offensively potent Nevada team.
In short, Day 8 was everything fans could have asked for and more as the few remaining teams brought contrasting styles to the contests and put on a show.
Below is how the events unfolded.
Day 8 Scores
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You can view an updated Little League World Series bracket here.
Day 8 Recap
Japan 12, Mexico 1
After a stunning loss to South Korea despite 10 strikeouts in 3.2 innings of work by Takuma Takahashi, Japan was in serious need of an awakening in the batter's box. Otherwise, the team would be on the next flight home earlier than anyone would have dared to predict prior to the tournament.
Let's just say the Japan offense was back to form Thursday.
Already owning a 9-5 victory over Mexico earlier in the tournament thanks to a pair of RBI from both Shozo Kamata and Hayato Ueshima, Japan took full advantage of the familiarity with the opposition to secure a spot in the international championship game.
Mexico actually struck first with a run in the opening inning, but Ueshima and Suguru Kanamori hit home runs in the bottom of the very same frame to take a 2-1 lead and never look back.
Japan added three runs apiece in the third and fourth innings, the latter of which made it 9-1 and a serious flirtation with the mercy rule, as Ben Brigandi of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette illustrates:
Thought Japan might end this one early. But it settles for 3 in the 4th and it's 9-1 over Mexico.— Ben Brigandi (@benbrigandisg) August 21, 2014
Kanamori did end the game with one swing of his bat in the very next inning, though, good for his second home run of the game and Japan's third—after going the entire tournament without one.
Which team wins the international championship?
Ren Takeuchi was the MVP for Japan as an all-purpose stud. He went 3.2 innings on the mound and fanned four batters to lead all pitchers and was second on the RBI list behind Kanamori's four with three of his own.
With the win, Japan—the defending champions and winners in three of the last four tournaments—keeps its run of dominance alive. The rematch with the surging South Korea roster will once again give fans an elite pitching showcase peppered with efficient offense.
The international championship game is always one to catch, but especially this time around with two historically dominant participants who happen to be as evenly matched as it gets.
Note: All statistics and info courtesy of LLBWS.org unless otherwise specified.