SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Noriatsu Osaka hit three homers and tripled, and Japan limited Tennessee’s potent lineup to two hits in a 12-2 victory Sunday in the Little League World Series title game.
Starter Kotaro Kiyomiya struck out eight in four innings and added an RBI single for the boys from Tokyo. The game ended in the fifth after Osaka’s third homer made it a 10-run game.
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.
The teams exchanged the customary postgame handshakes at the plate before Japan received the World Series championship banner and took the traditional victory lap around Lamade Stadium.
Carrying the flags of Japan and the United States with wide smiles on their faces, the players finally stopped in front of Japan’s giddy cheering section as proud family members and friends stood shoulder-to-shoulder to take pictures through the infield fence.
There were many highlights, including five home runs off Tennessee pitching. Rintaro Hirano’s three-run shot made it 10-1 in the fourth.
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.
“We knew we would be flat today — their parents and these kids,” manager Joey Hale said.
Tennessee lost a 10-run lead in the bottom of the sixth 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.
Butler went deep again off reliever Osaka in the fifth — Butler’s fourth homer in two days — to cut the lead to 10-2 and give Goodlettsvile some home hope. Tennessee’s mini-mashers have proven they can break out any time at the plate.
“It felt good, it felt really, really, good,” Butler said simply about his hitting exploits.
Its pitching depth sapped, Tennessee turned to right-hander Justin Smith to start against Japan — the first time the 12-year-old had pitched in the World Series or in Southeast regional tournament.
Leadoff hitter Osaka, 12, didn’t waste any time with a first-pitch triple to the right-field corner in the first. Kiyomiya delivered his RBI single two batters later to get the scoring started.
Osaka then homered in the second to left-center, just in front of the “Little League” sign above the fence, before leading off the fourth with his second homer, this time to center, for a 6-1 lead.
Osaka finished a perfect 4 for 4 on the afternoon with four runs and four RBIs.
The Kitasuna league all-star team from Tokyo won Japan’s eighth Little League title and second in three seasons.
Smith pitched admirably in a tough spot, allowing five runs and seven hits over three innings while striking out three. His team was trying to make history as the first squad from Tennessee to win youth baseball’s biggest prize.
Goodlettsville also was the first Tennessee team to advance to South Williamsport since Morristown in 1987. The suburban Nashville crew counts among its fans Rays ace David Price, who is from Murfreesboro.
They might be done with baseball for now, but the celebration is just beginning back home. On Tennessee’s social calendar is a visit to the Vanderbilt season opener Thursday night against South Carolina.
“When we get home, it’s going to be a carnival,” Hale said.