Little League World Series: Japan, Hawaii advance
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. ó The boys from Waipahu, Hawaii, dig the long ball.
Iolana Akau homered in his first action since getting hit by a pitch, and Pikai Winchester went deep twice as Hawaii moved on at the Little League World Series with a 9-4 win Wednesday night over Mill Creek, Wash.
Next stop for the hitting Hawaiians: the U.S. finals on Saturday.
Tokyo clinched a berth in the international finals after beating Willemstad, Curacao, 11-4. The matchups in both brackets won’t be set until after Thursday night’s games.
It looks as though Akau will be suiting up for the finals no matter the opponent. He played his first game since getting drilled in the left elbow on Friday, and he wore a padded sleeve on the arm during his first at-bat for added protection.
Akau didn’t miss a beat.
With Hawaii trailing 2-0, Tanner Tokunaga tied the game in the bottom of the first with a two run-homer to left. Later, Winchester reached on an error to bring up Akau, whose homer off a 1-2 pitch from Derrick Mahlum rattled off the brick wall just beyond the center-field fence.
Akau couldn’t hide his glee, pumping his right arm high in the air several times as he circled the bases.
“When I got to bat I was kind of nervous. I didn’t get a hit because I got beaned the first time,” said Akau, who had an ice pack on his sore arm. “I just tried to get a base hit and it just came.”
Winchester added to the barrage with opposite-field homers in the third and fourth, both clearing the wall in the left-field corner. The second homer gave Hawaii a 9-4 lead.
Winchester has three homers and eight RBIs in the tournament. The 12-year-old slugger was asked if this was a dream come true.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he said, laughing nervously before each word.
Washington had taken a 2-0 lead with two outs in the first on Alex Jondal’s two-strike single to left. The 12-year-old catcher has become Washington’s “Mr. Clutch” after having driven in the tying and winning runs in identical situations in a thrilling 3-2 win over Indiana on Tuesday that sent the team to the semis.
But after avoiding elimination in its previous two games, Mill Creek’s magical run ended. Washington stranded 11 runners Wednesday.
“One of those big hits changes the game,” manager Scott Mahlum said. “Unfortunately, they had more than we did.”
After the game, his team gathered in a circle in left field to decide what to do during the rest of their time in South Williamsport.
“They voted to stay here and go swimming,” Mahlum said. “They don’t have to be on a schedule where they have to be here and there. … They just want to be kids.”
In the early game, Japan fell behind 3-1 when nerves affected the control of starter Takumi Ozeki.
Then Japan’s offense got going. Shodai Mizuno and Akihiro Takeuchi reached base after getting hit by pitches by Curacao starter Junters Dosset in the second ó two of six hit batsmen in the game for Japan.
It set up Ryohji Kimura’s one-out homer to center field that allowed Japan to take a 4-3 lead against Curacao, which was eliminated. Takeuchi was so excited by Kimura’s home run, he kept turning around and smiling at his teammate while they rounded the bases.
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