Maybe it just seems like Mexico and Japan play for the International championship at the Little League World Series every year.
They don't, but today's contest between Liga Municipal de Tijuana LL of Tijuana, and Musushi Fuchu LL of Tokyo is the fourth meeting between the two nations in the last 8 years.
Japanese teams have a 2-1 edge in those games, and this Japanese team had it this week in the teams' first meeting, 5-2, Wednesday night in the winners' bracket final. Mexico earned its way back to the International championship game with a 4-2, seven-inning victory Thursday over Aguadulce, Panama.
"I think we have the responsibility here to check all the videos, and scout each team, and get ready for them," said Mexico manager Francisco Fimbres through an interpreter. "Japan is tough. I thought they would play small ball, but they changed strategy. Swung at it."
Japan hit two solo home runs in that Wednesday night game, a pinch-hit shot by Seiya Nishino in the fourth inning, and a leadoff home run by Kazuki Ishida which sparked a decisive three-run fifth inning.
The Japanese players are hitting .375 as a team, and have scored 15 runs in their three victories. They opened with a 7-3 victory over Brno, Czech Republic, last Friday, and advanced with a 3-2 win over Taoyuan, Taiwan, on Sunday to play Mexico on Wednesday.
Ishida has two of his team's home runs, and his three RBIs are tied for the team lead with Kyousuke Kobayashi. Kobayashi, Shou Miyao and Kouyou Mizushima are all hitting over .500.
Ishida has also been the team's most trusted pitcher, going 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA in eight innings over two games. He's eligible for weekend duty, as is the entire roster, after throwing just 46 pitches. Japan's pitching staff has an ERA of just 1.00 for the tournament.
"Even before the tournament started, we knew the International final was one of the most important," said Japan manager Masume Omae through an interpreter. "You can't lose that game. We'll do what it takes to win, even if we have to use all our pitching."
The only Mexican team to beat Japan in recent International title games was Matamoros, which beat Edogawa Minami LL of Tokyo, 5-4, in 2008. Other Japan-Mexico recent International finals were Hamamatsu City, 5-2 over Mexicali in 2011, and Kawaguchi City, 3-0 over Matamoros in 2006.
This Mexican team hopes to become the first from its nation since one from Guadalupe in 1997 to win the International championship. So far, Tijuana has beaten Perth, Australia, 12-0, Panama, 13-0, and then lost to Japan before beating Panama again.
Brandon Montes has been the top offensive player, hitting .667 with four home runs and six RBIs. Ramon Mendoza is hitting .455 with two home runs and six RBIs.
Fimbres wasn't sure of a starter yet between Luis Manzo, Jorge Rodriguez, Alexander Artalejo or Miguel Artalejo. He wasn't concerned about his choice or depth he said, saying anyone on the team could throw. In fact, every player on the Mexican roster lists pitcher as one of their positions.
Manzo did not allow a run in four innings pitched in the first victory over Panama.
The International championship game is set for today at 12:30 p.m. at Lamade Stadium.