Asia dominated the Little League World Series on Sunday, with South Korea defeating Jackie Robinson West in the championship game, and Japan winning the consolation game to take third place.
Jae Yeong Hwang and Hae Chan Choi propelled South Korea to a 8-4 victory in the LLWS championship game against the much celebrated U.S. champs, Jackie Robinson West from Illinois. Hwang started on the mound for South Korea, retiring the first six batters including four strikeouts. He also drove in South Korea’s first two runs.
However, after he reported feeling sick between innings, he was pulled from the mound in the third after the first batter broke up his no-hitter. Hae Chan Choi took over pitching responsibilities and completed the rest of the six inning game. Choi also contributed on offense hitting a solo homerun in the top of the sixth inning and scoring twice.
South Korea dominated the game, more than the final score suggests. Jackie Robinson West only managed one run before the final inning, allowing South Korea to establish a commanding 8-1 lead. Jackie Robinson West briefly rallied with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, scoring three runs before Choi retired the final batter.
South Korea’s team celebrated by throwing water on each other and running around the field. It was South Korea’s first LLWS victory since it won the tournament in back-to-back years in 1984 and 1985. When asked how he would celebrate, outfielder Don Wan Sin told reporters: “I want to go to the Blue House — the White House of Korea — and meet the President [Park Geun-hye].”
The reigning LLWS champions, Japan, were even more dominant in the consolation game against Las Vegas. Led by Takuma Takahashi, Japan handedly defeated the U.S. runner-ups by a score of 5-0. Takahashi pitched the entire game, striking out eleven batters in a three-hit shutout. Takahashi surrendered singles with one out in both the first and the second innings of the game, but nothing came of either. The leadoff batter in the third inning also singled, but Japan turned a double play to eliminate any threat.
Besides the three base hits, Takahashi didn’t surrender a single hit. The feat was even more impressive given that Las Vegas had been a powerhouse the entire LLWS, averaging nearly 10 runs in its previous four games. Takahashi also contributed a solo homerun to his team’s victory.
The LLWS has two brackets: one of U.S. teams and one comprised of international teams, with the winners and runner-ups in each playing each other in championship and consolation games. South Korea and Japan had played each other in the international championship, which South Korea won 4-2.
The victory remarks a return of South Korean baseball to LLWS after a long absence following the back-to-back victories in the 1980s. As Samuel Chi noted on The Diplomat earlier this month, “The Asia-Pacific Region (formerly the Far East) has long been dominated by Taiwan and Japan, who between them have accounted for 47 of the region’s 52 appearances in the Little League World Series before Japan split off in 2007 with its own automatic entry. Since that split, Taiwan had claimed six of seven regional titles until this year.”
South Korea’s team was miraculous this year, absolutely dominating the competition in the Asia-Pacific regional tournament. Indeed, Seoul won its six Asia-Pacific Regional games in the Philippines by a 74-2 margin. Its closest victory was a 9-2 win over Taiwan in which it surrendered its only runs in the tournament. The other five were all shutouts.