The two-time returning champs from Japan showed their mettle in the Cal Ripken World Series' International Division semifinals Friday evening, coming back from an early two-run deficit to knock off the Dominican Republic Squad, 4-2.
The victory vaulted Japan, which won the International and World Championship games at the previous two tournaments, to Saturday's final, where it will square off with the rival Mexican team, which beat Korea on a walk-off homer. That game is slated to be played at 7:30 p.m. at Cal Sr.'s Yard.
Friday's semifinal, also played at Cal Sr.'s Yard, began with the visiting Dominican squad rallying for a pair of tallies on the top of the first. Kicking off the two-run outburst was Masahi Takegama, who led off with a single, and wrapping it up two outs later was Jimmy Mojica, who blasted an 0-2 pitch over left field wall for a homer.
After putting just two men on base through the first two innings, Japan got the offense moving in the third, as Akito Shuzo smacked a game-tying, two-RBI double that scored Ryugo Komachi and Mizuki Katoaka, who had reached base on a fielder's choice and a single, respectively.
After swiping third base, Shozu completed one of baseball's most daring deeds, and put the Japanese team up for good by stealing home.
In the fifth, Katoaka reached base on a one-out single up the middle, stole second base, then scored the game's final run on Shozu's RBI base hit to center field.
The Dominican squad loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the sixth, but reliever Morimoto ended the contest by fanning Mojica with the tying run at second.
In addition to his base-running heroics, Shozu started the game for Japan and earned the win. Through four innings, he struck out three, did not allow a walk, and held the opposition to a pair of earned runs on five hits.
Morimoto closed out the game with a two-inning relief stint, striking out two, walking one and surrendering two hits along the way.
The Dominican Republic's Raymond went four innings, striking out three, walking three and allowing three earned runs on two hits.
In one inning of relief, Alenjadro Roman struck one and allowed one earned run on three hits.
Cervantes lifts Mexico
Omar Cervantes hit his second home run in three days off Republic of Korea pitchers Friday and the latest drive put Mexico into the International Championship game, after its 3-2 walk-off win in Friday afternoon's first semi-final game at Cal Sr.'s Yard.
Cervantes' heroics came as the leadoff batter in the bottom of the sixth inning after Mexico had squandered a 2-1 lead in the top half of the inning.
Cervantes fouled off the pitch before the winning blast and showed signs of disappointment after the swing. "Yep, it was the same pitch, inside, and I knew he was going to come back, so I got him," Cervantes said of both pitches after the game.
Cervantes had hit a grand slam on Wednesday to lead Mexico past Korea in pool play. That shot came an outside curve ball, according to Cervantes.
The contest was a pitcher's duel over the first two plus innings. Mexican starter Bryan Castro was setting down Korean hitters in order, pitching to the minimum through three innings, striking out six.
Korea starting pitcher Ju Young Kim wasn't quite as dominant, but effective. He allowed a single and walk over the first two innings, but a one out single in the third forced him from the mound.
That single by Junior Flores forced Korean manager Sun Il Park to make a change on the mound. A change that didn't work out too well for his team.
Reliever Chan Min Heo's first relief pitch to Jose Zepeda was drilled over the center field wall for a two-run home run. With the way Castro was pitching, those two runs seemed to be enough.
In the fourth, however, Mexico's defense let Castro down. Young Kim opened the inning with a ground ball to first that went through the legs of Sebastian Polo. Making matters worse, right fielder Kevin Sosa also misplayed the ball, allowing Young Kim to reach second.
In that fourth inning, Castro also became bothered by a blister that formed and popped on his middle finger. It didn't seem to bother his velocity, but he clearly had an issue.
He got the next batter with a strikeout, his seventh of nine, but Young Kim stole third in the process. The next batter, Hyeon Su Kim, flew out to right, but not deep enough for Young Kim to tag up.
Castro then struck out Hyeon Bin Choi, but the third strike was a wild pitch. Bin Choi reached safely and Young Kim scored.
Mexico got out of the inning on a groundout and Castro wet Korea down in order in the fifth. Through five Castro had allowed no hits.
In the sixth, Jin Kyu Park erased the no hit bid, doubling high off the right field wall to open the inning. Castro was relieved by Flores, who got a ground ball to short from Young Kim. The throw to first was low and Polo dropped the ball. Kyu Park, running on the play, scored on the error.
Young Kim stole second and Ju Sung Kim sacrificed him to third. Flores then struck out Hyeon Su Kim, before issuing an intentional walk to Bin Choi. Bin Choi took second on a defensive indifference and with runners at second and third, Flores picked Young Kim off third base to end the threat and set up Cervantes' game-winning homer.
Flores was the winner in relief of Castro, who went five innings, allowing just one hit and striking out nine.
Su Kim took the loss, working two and a third innings. He allowed two hits, walked one and struck out four.