Strong pitching continues to highlight field

Add South Korea’s Yeong Hyeon Kim’s performance on Wednesday night against Japan as the latest in a string of great pitching performances so far this year at the Little League World Series on the International side of the tournament. Regardless of which game fans attend at Volunteer Stadium, there’s been some solid pitching performances.

Kim’s 10-strikeout, four-inning rout of Japan, 10-0, last night was just one of two great performances from the South Korean ace. He opened up the tournament with a brilliant 13-strikeout performance through 4 2/3 innings in a win over Puerto Rico. Later that day, Mexico’s Gael Ponce then threw 4 1/3 innings of two-hit ball, striking out 12 and yielding just two runs in a 3-2 win over Australia.

Japan’s Shisei Fujimoto started Friday with a great 10-strikeout performance in an 11-1 win over Spain through five innings.

Mix in other International pitchers such as Puerto Rico’s Yadiel Delgado, Canada’s Zaeden Pleasants, Spain’s Ronald Vizcaino or Japan’s Masato Igarashi and Shinji Furusawa. They all delivered for their teams when needed and made opposing bats almost as quiet as the audience when the curtain rises for the opera.

And it’s really no surprise. An excellent pitcher — or rather pitchers — is what’s needed if you want to go far in the Little League all-star tournament at the beginning of summer. That depth on the mound is key.

Puerto Rico manager Carlos Texidor knows that.

“Our pitchers are the ones that bring us here in whole tournament, through state tournament and Caribbean tournament,” Texidor said through an interpreter. “Our pitchers are the ones that bring us here. We have a lot of pitchers and quality pitchers, all of them are quality pitchers. Anytime I need something in any situation, there is one. That’s the key for our team right now: our pitching.”

And for Puerto Rico, that pitching has been solid.

Delgado threw four innings of one-hit baseball with no walks in a 6-0 victory against Australia while striking out seven to keep the Caribbean Region champion’s title hopes alive in an elimination game. Four days later, Texidor called upon Luis A. Rivera and Eric Rodriguez to combine to throw 5 1/3 innings in a 9-4 win over Canada in an elimination game on Wednesday afternoon.

It’s what Texidor and the rest of the International teams come to expect at the Series. Sure, there’s hitters that can knock the ball out of the park almost with ease — think of Australia’s Oscar Hyde or Panama’s Adan Sanchez in this year’s tournament — but pitchers who can limit your offense? That’s what they expect to see and have seen so far in the Series.

“The International pitching is very powerful during this tournament. You see it in games here in International bracket,” Texidor said. “Games are going to be played around the pitchers all the time. So in the games, you have to sacrifice offense to have good pitchers on the mound. The small game, bunts and things like that.”

“The old saying pitching wins you games, pitching and defense wins you championships. You get a couple runs across the board, pitching and defense can take care of it,” Canada manager Mike Marino said. “I think its’ very important. we stress pitching a lot where we play. I know the American boys like to hit, but we stress pitching a lot and defense a lot, and that’s kind of how we made our bones this year by doing both very well.”

And Marino should know. It was Preston’s arm against Spain that propelled Australia into the international semifinanls thanks to his 12 strikeouts and two hits allowed in that 10-inning thriller that Canada won, 2-1.

And for South Korean manager Ji Hee Su, those tight games against Puerto Rico in the first game of the tournament and Mexico in the second helped them prepare and adjust.

“First game and second game, we were (surprised) and didnt expect it that close a game,” Hee Su said through an interpreter. “So maybe from my point of view, that makes us a better team because we went through those hardships in games against Puerto Rico and Mexico. So that’s kind of the lesson for us, so from my point of view, we will be a better team.”

There’s only two more International games scheduled for this tournament: Puerto Rico vs. Japan today and the winner of that game against South Korea in the International final. With how many talented pitchers there are still in the field, don’t be surprised if there’s another good pitching performance or two in store before this Series wraps up on Sunday.

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