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South Korea beats Japan 2-1 for a spot in LLWS championship

August 25, 2018
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South Korea's Ji Hying Choi (17) celebrates with teammates as he returns to the dugout after hitting a solo home run off Japan's Shisei Fujimoto in the first inning of the International Championship baseball game at the Little League World Series tournament, Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018, in South Williamsport, Pa. (AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar)

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) — South Korea won the international bracket Saturday at the Little League World Series and there’s no question who led the way.

Choi Ji-hyung blasted his third home run of the LLWS, then struck out seven over 4 2/3 innings Saturday, giving South Korea a spot in the tournament championship with a 2-1 win over Japan.

South Korea will play Hawaii, which shut out Georgia 3-0 to win the U.S. bracket, in the Little League World Series championship on Sunday.

With two outs and nobody on in the first inning, Choi’s homer reached fans camped out beyond the left-field fence. He raised his right index finger in the air as he rounded first and jumped up to high five his third-base coach with both hands on his way home.

Though new bats in use at this year’s LLWS have caused home runs to become scarce, it was Choi’s second homer against Japan at the double-elimination tournament. He also hit one in South Korea’s 10-0 victory on Wednesday, and finished 4-for-5 with three RBIs across the two Japan games, scoring four runs.

South Korea also got its second run in the first inning Saturday. Just after Choi’s shot, Choi Soo-ho’s double to center drove home Kim Gi-jeong, who reached second on a throwing error by Japan.

“We didn’t expect a 10-0 game today, but getting two runs didn’t satisfy us,” said South Korea’s manager, Su Ji-hee through a translator. “We didn’t think the two runs would be the final runs.”

Choi Ji-hyung also started on the mound for South Korea, keeping Japan scoreless on three hits while he was in. But was pulled in the top of the fifth with runners on the corners.

Kim Yeong-hyeon came in to pitch a four-out save and allowed Masaumi Ikeuchi to hit a high double that dropped into right field and scored Kai Nogami, who reached base to lead off the inning when he was hit on the left wrist.

Kim struck out the next batter, Yuya Ito, to end Japan’s threat.

Japan’s offense, which scored 45 runs in their four-game sweep of the Japanese regional tournament, only managed 17 across its five games in Williamsport.

“I thought, because it was the same team, we won’t lose twice,” said Japan’s manager, Hiroyuki Takahashi through a translator. “But Korea, they were strong.”

With one out and one on in the top of the sixth, Japan sent to Masato Igarashi to the plate — hoping the 5-foot-9, 217-pound first baseman could bring some power to the team, which had failed to find much throughout the tournament.

Igarashi lined the third pitch he saw right into Kim’s stomach. Somehow, Kim not only held on to the ball but had the awareness to throw on to first, where he caught pinch-runner Takumi Nakata off the bag.

After South Korea piled on top of Kim between home plate and first base, South Korean players and coaches comforted Japan’s distraught starter, Shisei Fujimoto.

“Of course, it’s the joy of the tears,” said Su. “But the Japanese players are crying, so it makes us sad, too.”

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