CRYSTAL LAKE – An unconventional start for Team Japan didn’t discourage one of the McHenry County Youth Sports Association Summer International Championships pretournament favorites on Saturday.
The normally sure-handed team committed an error on the first ball put in play by Naperville, but quickly reclaimed the lead a half inning later. Japan shook off the opening blunder and rallied for four runs in the first, holding the Renegades scoreless the rest of the way en route to an 8-1 win in the 15U Gold Bracket.
Japan, which is the only undefeated team left in the 15U tournament, will play for the championship at 9 a.m. on Sunday against the winner of PoundTown Spiders and Naperville. If Japan (8-0) loses that game, it will get a second shot at the title in the double-elimination style tournament.
Naperville (6-2) was previously undefeated in bracket play.
First baseman Yuto Wakamatsu delivered the big blow for Japan in the first inning following three consecutive walks, plating Takuto Miura and Yuki Inoue with a two-out double to give Team Japan a 4-1 lead.
Also in the first, a bases-loaded walk from Miura scored Masato Soeda and a sacrifice fly from Kotaro Suno drove in Sho Fukunaga. Wakamatsu’s double was Japan’s only hit of the inning. Japan, which drew three walks in the four-run frame, had seven walks total in the game.
“We concentrate on picking the right pitch to attack each at-bat,” Japan coach Sadao Nakashiro said through his interpreter, Masa Iida. “Today we picked the right ones and let the bad ones go.”
Nakashiro said Saturday’s win was Japan's best performance in the tournament so far. In eight games, Japan has allowed only 16 runs, the lowest total in the 18-team division. Only the Spiders have a better run differential.
Japan used three pitchers and held the Renegades to five hits in the win, with Naperville’s only extra-base hit coming in the seventh inning. Renegades starting pitcher Garret Goetz collected a one-out double in the final inning, but was thrown out at home plate following a base hit from Andrew Zienty.
Goetz, who was charged with the loss, said Naperville had the right approach at the plate, but didn’t get the results.
“When we hit the ball hard, we hit it right at them,” said Goetz, a sophomore at Oswego East. “I thought we played decent and better than the scoreboard says. We just couldn’t find any holes. Credit their defense for making the difficult plays.”
Naperville coach Raf Soria said Japan’s three pitchers, Kotoku Katsumata, Tomoki Hayamizu and Tasuku Nishada, kept his hitters off balance all game and made it difficult for them to get comfortable.
“It’s tough facing several pitchers in one game, especially the caliber of the arms that Japan can throw at you,” Soria said. “You think you get the timing down on one guy and then they come at you with someone new.”
Connor Gurnik, who reached on the game's opening error and stole second, scored the only run for Naperville, coming home on a sac fly from Christian Gonzalez. Japan tacked on three runs in the fifth inning.