By Curtis Driscoll
Japanese captain Keitaro Miyahara provided the early momentum needed for Japan as they beat Mexico, 5-0 in the 2017 International Championship of the 71st Little League® Baseball World Series.
Miyahara led off the game with a long battle against Mexico pitcher Jorge Garcia. After fouling off multiple pitches to stay alive, Miyahara crushed a home run to deep left-center field to give the Japan national champions, Tokyo Kitasuna Little League, a 1-0 lead and the early momentum to start the game.
According to Japan’s Manager Masanori Takeda, the home run from Miyahara was the confidence boost the team needed early on.
“After that first home run off this pitcher, yes, the momentum changed and made us believe we could score more runs,” said Takeda. “I knew that Garcia was a very good pitcher, but we believed that we could hit off him even though he was among the very best pitcher we faced.”
The home run from Miyahara set up a four-run first inning and gave Japan a lead they would never relinquish.
Miyahara has been a consistent offensive force throughout the tournament. He is second on the team in batting average, on-base percentage, and hits. He is also Japan’s co-leader in home runs and walks.
For Miyahara, the point of the at-bat was to keep working the pitch count until he got something good he could hit.
“I was a bit bummed out I didn't swing at the first strike, but otherwise I kept battling and battling until I finally got the right pitch to hit,” said Miyahara.
Miyahara is also the team's starting shortstop and leader in the infield. Throughout the game, he regularly communicated with his teammates and organized the defense when Mexico's runners were on base.
The game's most crucial defensive play came in the top of the fourth inning, with one out and Mexico's Jesus Lambarria on second. Erick Vazquez hit a high, chopping ground ball to Miyahara as Lambarria sprinted to third. Miyahara calmly surveyed the situation before firing a perfect throw to third base that resulted in Lambarria being tagged out. For Miyahara, the ability to make a difficult decision look routine is the result of the long hours of practice he goes through for situations like that.
“We always do this during practice situations where the ball is bounced really high, and I had a clear view, so I always thought about throwing him out at third because … I knew I had a chance,” said Miyahara.
Mexico’s Guadalupe Trevino Kelly Little League, only got one more hit the rest of the game and never got a runner past first base.
Miyahara's day got even better as he became the closer for the last out of the game, the first time he has pitched this tournament.