Japan won its second straight Cal Ripken Major/70 World Series Sunday, beating Maryland state champion Upper Montgomery County, 17-7, in a full six-inning game at Cal Sr.'s Yard, where its permanent seats were filled to capacity from behind the plate and down both baselines.
Japan overwhelmed Maryland pitching with 14 hits and 11 stolen bases, which led to a fast start and a strong finish.
Japan scored six times in the top of the first inning and then closed out the game with a seven-run sixth inning rally. But in between the Maryland team kept battling.
Koki Okada led the champions with two doubles, a triple and four RBIs.
"That experience of losing in the international championship the first two years is what made us win the last two years. This is not sweeter than last year, but it's still great for our supporters, our family members and our host families," Japan manager Koji Okumura, who has headed the Japan team the past four years, said.
With two outs recorded in the inning, and no runs across the plate against Maryland starting pitcher J.P. Walsh, Japan's tremendous start was fueled by a one-out walk.
Number four hitter Okada changed that with one swing of the bat, doubling in the first of the six runs. Haruki Sako and Ryoki Nagai followed with two more doubles, driving in runs two and three.
A hit batter and two singles led to the final three runs, and a walk forced Walsh from the mound.
The critical sixth inning outburst was highlighted by Japan's lone home run of the game, a two-run shot off the bat of Takashi Nakayama, Japan's starting and winning pitcher.
Okada finished off his big day with a bases loaded and clearing three-run double.
Hiroki Matsumoto added two hits and an RBI in the inning and Nagai added his second hit and second RBI as well.
A happy Okada said, "I was dreaming of being number one in the world and I've achieved my goal, but I can't believe what has happened the last few hours."
Despite the fast start, Maryland didn't quite roll over. Jake Heskett singled in a run in the first and Walsh hit a two-run home run in the third to bring Maryland to within three, 6-3.
Japan, though, added a run in the fourth when Okada tripled and later scored on a wild pitch. Japan also scored three more in the fifth. Two errors aided the inning, which saw Shoto Yamazaki hit an RBI single and Tomoya Koike add an RBI triple and the lead grew to 10-3.
Again, Maryland showed its character and will to battle, scoring four runs to climb back in the game. Walsh had the key blow, blasting a long, three-run home run to left field, at an estimated 300 feet.
"I am happy with that," Walsh said of his offensive power display. "I was seeing the ball real well today and I hit it hard."
Marcus Brown, who scored on the blast, doubled in the first run, one of four straight hits in the inning.
The Walsh clout drove Japan reliever Shunsuke Yano off the mound and Matsumoto came on to retire the next three batters. Matsumoto also pitched the final inning, allowing a one-out double to Cole Carmack, but he finished off the win by getting a groundout and a strikeout to end it.
"The bottom line is this," Maryland manager Jody Pearre said. "We got our goal. We came here to try to reach being United States champions for the Cal Ripken World Series. It's hard to drop your head."
Japan will fly back home with another World Series trophy and banner, while Maryland, by virtue of its U.S. Championship, will fly to Memphis, Tenn., Thursday to compete for another title.
Maryland, the Babe Ruth League champions, will compete against champions of AABC, AAU, Dixie Youth, NABF, Pony, Super Series and USSSA in the New Era National Youth Baseball Championship.