South Williamsport, Pa. — With more than 42,000 fans cheering against them, the Tokyo players found themselves down eight runs in the first inning of the Little League championship game against Lewisberry, Pennsylvania.
That brought out manager Junji Hidaka’s inner Yogi Berra and sparked a record rally that saw the Kitasua Little League pound out 22 hits in an 18-11 comeback victory in a battle of undefeated teams.
“I told the players it doesn’t end until it ends,” Hidaka said through a translator.
Tokyo responded with seven runs in the second, four in the third inning and five in the sixth.
Masafuji Nishijima had four hits and six RBIs, and Shingo Tomita hit two of Tokyo’s five home runs.
Tokyo’s third pitcher, Nobuyuki Kawashima, held Lewisberry in check most of the game, giving up just one run and two hits over five innings.
“Today my fastball wasn’t going fast enough,” said the 12-year-old, who lived for four years in California, and speaks fluent English. “I knew my breaking ball had to be on the corner, down low, where the batters can’t reach too far or it just gets them off-balance.”
It was the 10th title for Japan, second behind Taiwan’s record 17. It’s the third title for the Kitasuna Little League team (2001, 2012).
Tokyo had given up a total of 10 runs in its other tournament games, but Lewisberry scored 10 times and sent 14 batters to the plate in the bottom of the first after falling behind 2-0.
Lewisberry knocked out starting pitcher Daiki Fukuyama before an out was recorded. Dylan Rodenhaber made his first hit of the tournament count, hitting the ball over the right-field fence for a grand slam. Jaden Henline added a three-run homer.
The Red Land Little League, which draws players from several central Pennsylvania towns around Lewisberry, scored three more times.
Fans of the Lewisberry team helped set a tournament attendance record of 499,964, well over the previous mark of 414,905 set in 2011, when a team from Keystone, Pennsylvania, was in the tournament.
Tokyo responded after their manager’s pep talk. Yugo Aoki hit a three-run homer in the top of the second, which was followed with solo shots from twin brothers Kengo and Shingo Tomita.
Daiki Fukuyama added a two-run double up the middle to bring the Japanese back within a run.
Shingo Tomita tied it at 10 in the third with a solo home run to left. Three batters later, Nishijima hit a three-run homer.
“They hit pitches I’ve never seen kids, especially 12-year-olds, hit,” Lewisberry manager Tom Peifer said.
Lewisberry got one back in the bottom of the third. Braden Kolmansberger hit the ball over the head of Japan’s center fielder and eventually scored when third baseman Koki Jo could not handle a slow roller by Henline.