5-run second lifts South Korea

Seum Kwon doesn’t try to hit home runs. Sometimes, he doesn’t even see them.

Kwon’s two-run home run in the second inning sparked Asia-Pacific Region champion Seoul, South Korea, past Latin America titlist Aguadulce, Panama, 7-2, Saturday at Lamade Stadium in the Little League Baseball World Series International title game.

But that’s not what Kwon thought as he headed for first, with his head down as his fly ball sailed toward Eward Rodriguez at the left field warning track.

He figured it was just an out, which was why he said he looked surprised when he looked at the umpire and saw a home run signal. He didn’t see the ball clear Rodriguez at the wall nor Rodriguez toss his arms in despair in what became a five-run inning and firm command of the game. It also was Kwon’s third home run in the last two games.

The win puts South Korea into its fourth LLWS championship in four appearances here. Seoul teams won in 1984-85 and under current manager Heesu Ji in 2014.

“I’m just happy now that we’re moving on,” said Kwon, thinking somehow he was the game’s MVP until being told by interpreter during postgame interviews to a roomful of laughter that there are no official MVPs in Little League.

Kwon also stole home in the first inning.

That was more than enough run support for pitcher Youbin Choi, who set a Korean LLWS record with 14 strikeouts. He allowed no walks or earned runs.

“I thought the second inning was our early chance,” Ji said through an interpreter. “The pitcher was a little out of control, so we tried to take it to him and our batters did a good job.”

Minho Choi led off the inning with a double and a run and then Jaekyeong Kim homered to end it.

Wontae Cho added another home run in the third inning.

That was enough to put away a Panama team that had to beat South Korea twice to reach the title game, as Panama beat Korea, 3-2, on Wednesday in the winner’s bracket final of this modified double-elimination tournament.

“This team played a great Series,” said Panama manager Luis Gonzalez through an interpreter. “But they need to keep their minds in the game and keep it close. But we struggled today.”

Panama scored when Carlos Gonzalez doubled and scored on a first-inning wild pitch and Edwar Bethancourth singled home Jose Torres in the fifth.

Bethancourth also pitched four scoreless innings in relief of Joaquin Tejada and Esmith Pineda.

“We think that Panama team is really excellent,” Ji said. “A really nice team, one of the best teams in Little League. They did really well.’

Ji wasn’t as sure of his United States opponent. He only knew he’d probably pitch Junho Jeong or Wontae Cho. That’s because Ji said he felt he needed to scout every International game to its fullest because of the elimination format, and there wasn’t time to see United States games other than the one later Saturday afternoon.

A win would be a turnaround for a South Korean team working to overcome its first loss ever in LLWS play earlier in the week.

“Since I started Little League I dreamed of being a champion,” Jaekyeong Kim said through an interpreter. “And we’ll try tomorrow to be one.”