Japan blanks Mexico

Japan’s Keitaro Miyahara (10) is greeted by his cheering teammates at home during the International Championship game against Mexico on Saturday at Lamade Stadium. Japan won, 5-0, to advance to the World Series Championship today. (KATELYN HIBBARD/Sun-Gazette)

Hitting tips in the parking lot were nice, but what Tokyo Kitasuna’s Keitaro Miyahara really remembered from meeting Tom O’Malley was a reminder to play together.

“It was just simple advice,” said Miyahara, recalling a lunch the team had earlier in the week with O’Malley, a former MLB third baseman from Montoursville turned Central League MVP in Japan. “Play together, play your game, no matter how fast the pitcher is pitching.”

Miyahara did both Saturday in the Little League World Series International championship game, hitting a leadoff home run as the Japanese team beat Reynosa, Mexico, 5-0 to reach today’s final vs. Lufkin, Texas.

Kitasuna scored four times in the bottom of the first and again in the fifth, plenty of support for pitcher Riku Goto, who hit the pitch limit one out shy of a complete game in what was Japan’s third shutout in four games here. Goto struck out 13 and walked one, allowing four hits.

This was a team that, while disciplined and focused like so many Japanese squads here before them, came in rested from visiting the Dodgers-Pirates game Thursday in Pittsburgh and riding a Hiawatha riverboat cruise Friday along the Susquehanna River.

“We enjoyed ourselves,” said manager Junnji Hidaka through an interpreter. “We had image training and relaxation meetings.”

There wasn’t much to worry about with the early lead, one padded in the first inning by Ryota Ono and Natsuki Yajima scoring on a Yuya Nakajima single and Seiya Arai scoring on a wild pitch from losing pitcher Jorge Garcia.

Goto later singled home Ryusei Fujiwara in the fifth.

Samuel Juarez, who relieved Garciain the third innning, struck out Kazuki Watanabe and Ruyto Inoue with the bases loaded in the third inning to avoid further Kitasuna damage.

Mexico manager Jose Manuel Espinoza Urrea did not take postgame questions, but instead gave a lengthy opening statement saying how proud he was of his team, which will play Greenville, N.C., today in the consolation.

‘They did their best, and thanks to God for the opportunity to be here,” said Urrea through an interpreter. “Yesterday, we said the team that makes fewer mistakes will win, and today we made them.”

Mexico played a clean game other than that first inning, but never mounted an offense against Goto, who had been the only Japanese player to allow a run at the series, against South Korea.

Saul Soto and Cesar Monjarez hit one-out singles in the first and second innings, but Goto struck out the next two batters each time. He struck out Garza, Mexico’s most prolific hitter so far, all three times, including with a runner on to end the third ,and also to lead off the sixth.

Goto also dodged a jam in the fourth, when he struck out Rosendo Cantu with runners on first and second. He thought he pitched well, though he left at 85 pitches in what was his final Little League pitching appearance since he’s 12 and will play somewhere else in the final.

“Actually, all I thought about was the shutout,” said Goto through an interpreter, adding he was disppointed he couldn’t finish.

Hidaka wasn’t sweating it, leading a confident dugout playing with a lead the whole way.

“After that home run, we had the momentum. It changed and we believed we could score,” said Hidaka. “We knew (Garcia) was a good pitcher, so once we got that hit off him, it was very good.”