Japan limits Panama’s batters

KATELYN HIBBARD/Sun-Gazette Japan catcher Masaumi Ikeuchi looks to throw the ball during Sunday’s game against Panama at Volunteer Stadium.

A closer look at Kawaguchi Little League from Kawaguchi, Japan’s win over Vacamonte Little League from Arraijan, Panama, 4-2, on Thursday at Volunteer Stadium.

PLAY OF THE GAME: Top of the fourth inning — Just when it looked like Mexico was gaining momentum and threatening to pull ahead of Japan with the bases loaded, Japan’s Eisaku Nakajima squeezed a routine pop fly in shallow right field to end the threat. Althought a routine play, Mexico had back-to-back walks to start the inning, had a strikeout and another walk loaded the bases. Carlos Arcia hit an RBI single down the third base line which kept the bases loaded for another RBI single by Adan Sanchez before Nakajima recorded the third out.

JAPAN PLAYER OF THE GAME: Shisei Fujimoto — Japan’s first baseman went 1-2 at the plate and reached base two times, the other on a catcher’s interference in the fifth inning.

PANAMA PLAYER OF THE GAME: Center fielder Brian Villarreal — Villarreal was all over the out field snagging three deep hits off the bats of Japan in the fourth and fifth innings. His coaches had some praise for his defensive plays, but would like to see him perform at the plate.

“We are still waiting on the contribution of Villarreal, he’s a good player, but just hasn’t been putting up the numbers like he had in past tournaments. We are expecting him to get back to do his stuff,” Panama manager Elpidio Pinto said through an interpreter.

BIG INNING: Bottom of the first inning – Japan did not waste any time to score the first runs of the game. Masaumi Ikeuchi was hit-by-pitch in the head on a 2-1 pitch, after a breif check-up from coaches, and trainer’s Ikeuchi trotted to first. Yuya Ito hit into fielder’s choice as he was jammed inside, the ball rolled between the Mexico pitcher who spun and threw to second for the out. Then Shisei Fujimoto belted a 1-1 pitch to dead center for a two-run homerun. In a game that saw powerful pitching from Sanchez, Japan was relieved to take an early lead.

BEST EFFORT: Any Japan hitter and Panama catcher Jean Rodriguez against Adan Sanchez’s 75-plus mph pitches — Sanchez threw North of 75 mph for most of his 90 pitches that he threw. With an equivalency to a major league 100-103 mph pitch, Sanchez made it difficult for Japan’s hitters to locate where the ball was going and when to swing at it.

Rodriguez was solid catching for Sanchez, only shaking his hand off in the fifth inning after about 80 pitches. Rodriguez removed his mitt and surprisingly he caught the enitre game without a batting glove or extra protection.

HOME RUNS: Shisei Fujimoto’s two-run home run in the bottom of the first got Japan off to a start that it never looked back from in the 4-2 win.

“It was a four-seam fastball on the outside and we practice to hit home runs, so it’s like the same as practice,” Fujimoto said through an interpreter about his home run.

FLASHING LEATHER: Sanchez snagged a comebacker in the third inning. The big pitcher had to have just as quick of a reaction as his hitters when the ball rocketed off the bat of Takumi Nakata. Sanchez just threw his glove out to his left and found the ball resting in the web for the second out of the inning.

WHAT THE ADULTS SAY: “We were ready for the Panama’s higher velocity pitchers, we told the kids to stay back and hit for contact.” Japan manager Hiroyuki Taka Hashi said.

“In the fifth inning our bench players got on base so we could get our big guns up to bat, they did that, but it wasn’t enough,” Pinto said.

WHAT THE KIDS SAY: “If (Shohei Ohtani) was watching the game I should have showed a better performance relief pitcher Shinji Furusawa said when a reporter told him Los Angeles Angels’ Ohtani was watching Japan’s game before a game in Texas.

“(Ohtani) is an amazing hitter and pitcher, that would have been awesome if he saw me hit the home run in the first inning,” Fujimoto said about Ohtani.

WHAT IT MEANS: Japan advances to play South Korea in the winners’ bracket on Wednesday at 3 p.m. Panama plays Puerto Rico in an elimination game Monday at 1 p.m. at Volunteer Stadium.