Pitching, team speed and defense trumped tape-measure home runs at the Pony League World Series Wednesday.
As a result of last night’s 5-4 victory over Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico, in the tournament’s championship game, Okinawa, Japan, won its fourth one-run game and snagged the 10th Pony Series title for the Asia-Pacific Zone, all since 1987.
“So happy,” Japan coach Asoa China said through a translator. “Very satisfying.”
The game was tied at 4-4 after Mexico hit three home runs in the third and fourth innings combined, but Japan got a run on a walk, a single from center fielder Kansei Ashitomi and an error charged to Mexico left fielder Antonio Lopez that allowed right fielder Tatsumi Higashionna to score.
“We lost,” Mexico coach Luis Castro said through a translator. “They were a better team than us.”
Okinawa, which was making its third appearance in the Pony League World Series in 11 years, totaled 12 hits. All were singles.
Japan was without its best starting pitcher, Yuma Tamanaha, who was hit by a pitch in the “if necessary” game Wednesday morning and couldn’t play.
Taira Shindo came on in relief to start the fifth inning and earned the win, allowing one hit, a walk and striking out five.
“Very good,” Castro said of Shindo. “Very good curveball. Very good slider.”
China said it was a team effort to address the loss of Tamanaha. The original plan was to have Tamanaha start the game, throw three innings, then give way to Japan’s bullpen.
“Everybody got together, the whole team, to cover for him,” China said. “He was our ace pitcher, so that was the strategy.”
Alonso Villarreal took the loss for Los Mochis, giving up just one run in 4 2/3 innings.
Perhaps the biggest testament to Los Mochis’ offensive firepower – the team from Mexico scored 60 runs in seven games – came late in the evening, as Javier Lopez was recognized for hitting .583 (14-for-24) with six home runs in the series.
Teammate Luis Acosta took home the earned-run average title after allowing one earned run in 12 innings (0.75 ERA).
Higashionna led Japan with three hits, and third baseman Kenta Nikawadori and left fielder Kaito Miyagi finished with two apiece. First baseman Guillermo Guerrero had two hits for Mexico.
Japan jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning on a single up the middle from catcher Keiya Kinjo.
That lead grew to 4-0 in the third, as Ashitomi, a left-handed hitter, yanked a single to right to score second baseman Tomoki Nako and Nikawadori’s single scored two runs.
Mexico’s bats came alive in the third inning, and the resulting power surge tied the score.
Center fielder Gerardo Quinonez drove a two-run shot the opposite way to right, slicing the lead in half.
Right fielder Miguel Sanchez and Guerrero crushed identical, solo homers an inning later, both sailing well past the fence in left field.
No doubt the homers – bringing the total in the tournament to 50 – were impressive. But Japan, slow and steady the whole way, found yet another way to get it done.
“I trusted my players,” China said. “They made me very happy.”
The championship was the first for a team from Japan. ... Okinawa won four games in the tournament, each by one run, and lost a game by one run.