Two-time defending Cal Ripken World Series champ Japan is going to get a shot at adding a third straight title to its resume, as the far east representatives came from behind on Saturday night at Cal Sr.'s Yard to defeat Mexico, 6-3, in the International Division final.
With the win, Japan will move on to play the Southeast squad from West Raleigh, N.C. in the World Championship game on Sunday at Cal Sr.'s Yard. That game begins at 2 p.m.
Japan, the home team in Saturday's game, went into the bottom of the fifth inning tied 3-3 with Mexico and then blew the game open with a three-run rally.
Mexico jumped out to a first-inning lead, courtesy of a three-run shot by Omar Cervantes. Jose Zepeda kicked off the rally with a one-out single up the middle, and teammate Kevin Garcia followed with a ground-ball base hit between third and shortstop. Cervantes stepped to the plate next and sent Japanese starter Kosuke Morimoto's 2-2 fastball over the fence in right field.
Morimoto minimized the damage, however, retiring the next two batters to close out the inning.
Japan wasted little time in closing the gap on Mexico, scoring once in the bottom half of the first. Akito Shozu, the hero of Japan's semifinal victory over the Dominican Republic, came through again, earning a two-out walk to start things. Yu Inaba stepped up next and sent a shot to left field. Shozu, running on the play, motored around to score Japan's first run.
Japan tied the game, 3-3, in the bottom of the third, manufacturing two runs on three walks, two singles, a passed ball and two errors by the Mexican team. Scoring were Mizuki Kataoka, who reached base on a throwing error, and Ryugo Komachi, who led off the inning with a walk.
In the bottom of the fifth, Komachi led off the inning with a single to center, then scored what would be the winning run on Kataoka's RBI double down the left field line. Kataoka did not have to wait on base long, as Shozu, the next hitter up, bashed a 3-1 pitch over the wall in dead center field for a two-run homer.
Not content with his two-run shot, Shozu came out to pitch in the sixth and retired the side in order on a infield pop up and two strikeouts, and Japan had captured its third straight International Division title.
Morimoto, the winning pitcher, went four innings in all, striking out seven, issuing zero walks, and holding Mexico to three earned runs on five hits.
Shun Nakayama tossed one inning of relief, striking out one and allowing one hit.
Cervantes, the lone Mexican batter with multiple hits, went 2-for-3. His homer was Mexico's only extra-base hit.
Kataoka, who went 2-for-3, was the lone Japanese player with more than one hit.
Mexico's starter Junior Flores took the loss, as he struck out four, walked four and allowed two earned runs over two innings.