Celebrations over power hitting replaced concerns over contact hitting during Saturday's International title game at the Little League Baseball World Series.
Four players from Kitasuna LL of Tokyo, Japan, homered, including Kotaro Kiyomiya who had two, in a 10-2 victory over Aguadulce, Panama, at Lamade Stadium.
The victory put Japan into today's 3 p.m. world championship game against Goodlettsville, Tenn., a 24-16 winner over Petaluma, Calif., in the U.S. title game.
Kiyomiya's blasts did the most damage, as the 6-foot left-hander hit a solo shot in the first inning and a two-run shot in the fourth.
His first-inning homer, a deep shot to straightaway right, was followed in the next at-bat by Satoru Aoyama's shot toward the same spot, but about 40 feet shorter.
Kiyomiya's second home run came after an intentional walk at the end of a two-run second inning. It didn't reach a target planted by ESPN on the Lamade Stadium bank, but it gave his team a 7-2 lead.
Kiyomiya said through an interpreter that he saw the target - he also autographed it - and that he was happy to get another shot at a home run after being intentionally walked. He said he was intentionally walked all the time in the Japanese Regional tournament, so he doesn't mind it.
"Today's home runs were just as good as the others," Kiyomiya said. "I thought I picked a good time to hit them, but the ball was lower this time around."
Noriatsu Osaka added a three-run homer in the top of the sixth. The other home run was by Rintaro Hirano in the third.
Japan, a team that hit .291 coming into Saturday's contest, collected nine hits in 30 at-bats. And while the nine hits led to 10 runs, coach Junji Hidaka remained concerned about his team hitting enough singles and doubles later on.
"Our batting conditions weren't so good, but we have spent some time in the cages and on the tee," Hidaka said through an interpreter. "We want to hit the middle, inside and outside balls."
Yuta Ishida earned the win for Japan, allowing two runs on four hits through four innings. Shun Oshima, Osaka and Hajime Motegi all threw less than 20 pitches of relief. First-pitch swings got Panama into trouble, said manager Luis Gonzalez, when it was pointed out that 20 of his 24 hitters swung at the first one en route to 12 strikeouts.
"They're free to swing at them, but sometimes they made bad swings," Gonzalez said through an interpreter. "Mostly, it was on curve balls."
Panama scored in each of the first two innings. Edisson Gonzalez singled home Edwin Nieto in the first inning and Daniel Castro doubled home Daniel Fernandez in the second. There were just three base runners the rest of the game, leaving Japan to increase its lead with each home run.
Hirano didn't realize his home run would clear the fence until he saw it land beyond right field. Saturday's 2 for 2 effort also pushed his LLWS batting average to .571, second-best on his team behind Kiyomiya.
Osaka was concerned because he hadn't hit well the last couple of days, but was relieved when his three-run home run cleared the bushes beyond left-center field. He finished 2 for 4 from the leadoff spot, and while he did not double, he has three of his team's six doubles here
"As the coach said, today was mainly the home run, but tomorrow Nos. 1-9 have to try to get consecutive base hits," Hirano said through an interpreter. "We need to score by the single or another hit and not only the home run."
For all his power, Kiyomiya agreed. He has hit three of his team's eight home runs.
"After we arrived, we won with defense, not offense," Kiyomiya said. "However, our team's performance in this week We are an offensive team so we need that tomorrow, but it won't be the only difference."
The Panama players didn't appear too dejected after the game, as they shook hands and returned to the dugout. A consolation game awaits today, which Julio Goff will pitch.
"We talked to the kids in the fifth inning about how they are one of the best teams in the world," Gonzalez said. "They are one of the four best teams here, so they have to be happy about that."