Japan wins semifinal over Curacao
Six hit batsmen, 12 wild pitches lead to rout
WIILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Coach Shingo Ariyasa hadn't been satisfied with how his ballclub from Japan had been playing on the grand stage of the Little League World Series.
Ariyasa had to admit, however, that his Little Leaguers were starting to play the way they're capable of playing.
Then again, he'd have been less than candid on Wednesday if he'd found too much he didn't like in his team's 11-4 win in the first International semifinal over Curacao.
Yet with another game now assured for Japan, Ariyasa wasn't prepared to give too high of marks to his ballplayers.
"At least the fielding and batting is better than before," he said through a translator. "Now batting and fielding is about 85 or 90 percent of what it was."
That percentage was more than enough to beat a jittery team like Curacao, which seems to consistently run into problems when it meets Japan here.
Nothing changed in this year's appearance.
But in the early going, the boys from Curacao did look as if they might handle Japan. In the bottom of the first inning, they turned Japan pitcher Takumi Ozeki's two walks and Tivon Faneyte's homer into a 3-1 lead.
"At the first inning, I was stressed," Ozeki said through a translator. "It was difficult to control the pitching."
The lead disappeared quickly as right-hander Junters Dosset and relievers Entwin Reigina and Juremi Profar couldn't find the plate. What they did find, though, was the arms and backs of the Japanese hitters.
In the second, two hit batters and a wild pitch set up shortstop Ryohji Kimuri for the day's highlight. Kimuri's homer off Dosset erased the first-inning deficit and sparked what would be a six-run inning.
From there, two walks kept the inning alive for Ozeki, who duplicated what Ryohji had done earlier in the inning. Thanks to the walks and hit batters, Japan took a 6-1 lead.
"We never thought the pitchers would be that wild," Curacao manager Vernon Isabella said. "If the pitchers pitch their normal game, we expect Japan to score four or five runs, not 11. A lot of those runs scored on wild pitchers."
Their wildness led to six players from Japan getting hit. It also led to 12 wild pitches -- seven of them by Profar.
Isabella thought the problem was how close to the plate the boys from Japan stood, and with his pitchers trying to control the inside corner, the hit batters were to be expected.
"They do everything to get on base," he said of Japan.
Ariyasa said he didn't coach the players to stand tight to the plate.
"Players stand near the home plate by their own decision," he said. "They want to hit the outside ball."
While Japan didn't pound out double-digit hits, it did keep the bases clogged with runners, and the wildness of the Curacao staff kept those runners in scoring position throughout the ballgame.
With a victory in this win-or-go-home game, unbeaten Japan now advances to the International final on Saturday. It will play the winner of the Mexico-Venezuela game, which will be played on Thursday afternoon. Curacao exits the Series with a 2-2 record.
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.