Genaro C. Armas
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa.: Arms outstretched and a smile from ear to ear, Noriatsu Osaka couldn’t contain his glee.
Neither could his teammates from Tokyo after Osaka’s third home run of the game put an exclamation point on Japan’s 12-2 victory over Tennessee in five innings in the Little League World Series title game Sunday.
The 12-year-old Osaka added a triple for good measure, too, to top off his 4-for-4 afternoon. In a symbolic gesture, Japan’s players jogged the traditional postgame victory lap carrying the flags for both their country and the United States.
“We had such a great time in Pennsylvania and we really played a good game today. It was kind of a, ‘Thanks,’” Osaka said through an interpreter.
Starter Kotaro Kiyomiya struck out eight in four innings and added an RBI single for Japan. The game ended in the fifth after Osaka’s third homer made it a 10-run game.
“We thought we played the best in the tournament so far, especially to win by the 10-run rule in the finals,” said 12-year-old Rintaro Hirano, who homered in the fourth to make it 10-1.
A day after pounding out a 24-16 win over California in the U.S. title game, the Goodlettsville, Tenn., sluggers could only muster two hits — solo shots by Brock Myers and Lorenzo Butler.
It was a bittersweet final game for two teams that grew close during their two weeks in South Williamsport. They exchanged customary postgame handshakes at the plate before Japan received the World Series championship banner and took their warning-track run.
“Tennessee was our best friends in the U.S. division,” Kiyomiya said.
Japan’s jog finally stopped in front of the team’s giddy cheering section as proud family members and friends stood shoulder-to-shoulder to take pictures through the infield fence.
There were so many highlights, including five home runs off Tennessee pitching.
That was more than enough offense for 13-year-old ace Kiyomiya, who had a fastball clocked in the high-70s. The right-hander with the hitch in mid-delivery pitched like a big-league ace in allowing just one hit.
Regardless, this is still a banner year for Goodlettsville after its exhausting victory Saturday over Petaluma, Calif., for the U.S. championship. That game set a record for most combined runs in the World Series.
The thrilling victory kept the Tennessee players and their families up late into the night.
The parents “must have partied harder than the kids did,” manager Joey Hale said. “I knew we’d be flat today.”
Tennessee lost a 10-run lead in the bottom of the sixth of that game before scoring nine times the next inning to finally put away Petaluma in a Little League classic. Even more impressively, Butler had three homers and a record nine RBIs — a feat so unique the 12-year-old’s name became a trending topic on Twitter.