SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT — It took one of the most successful programs in recent Little League history to finally stop Red Land, which had sparked state-wide interest through its impressive run to draw the largest crowds ever to Williamsport.
Kitasuna overcame a 10-run first inning and eight-run deficit Sunday to spoil what had been a perfect season by Red Land with an 18-11 victory in the Little League World Series championship before an announced crowd of 42,218 on Sunday.
It was the biggest comeback in any game in the event’s 69-year history.
“When we allowed 10 runs, that was still the first inning and we have confidence in our batting lineup,” Kitasuna manager Junji Hidaka said through an interpreter. “I just told the kids not to give up.”
The team from Tokyo, Japan got started in a hurry, scoring seven times in the second. It erased the impact of Dylan Rodenhaber’s grand slam and Jaden Henline’s three-run shot in the first inning by producing five homers, including three straight at one point and two by Shingo Tomita.
The title was the third for Kitasuna, which has been to five finals since 2001. It won in 2001 and 2012, lost in the world title game in 2007 and lost in the International final last year.
Red Land was trying to give Pennsylvania its first champion since 1960.
Early on, there was every indication it would do so.
Leadoff hitter Braden Kolmansberger, whose father, assistant coach JK Kolmansberger, is a Pittston Area graduate, and Henline each scored twice as the team sent 14 batters to the plate in the bottom of the first.
“I think everybody was sky-high,” Red Land manager Tom Peifer said. “I guess my thought was, ‘it’s too good to be true.’”
Kolmansberger, who had scored the winning run in Red Land’s pair of one-run victories on the way to the final, finished 2 for 4 with a double and three runs scored. He used his leadoff double to score the final Red Land run in the third inning, but by then the Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic Region champions were behind and the game had changed.
Henline was tiring on the mound in his relief appearance and Red Land was running out of other pitching options. Kitasuna lefty reliever Noboyuki Kawashima had solved the powerful Red Land lineup.
“He was good,” Peifer said. “Soft-throwing lefty.
“If anyone would ask: ‘What’s your team’s Kryptonite?’ That’s it.”
Kawashima lived in San Diego from the age of 7 to 11 while his father was in the country doing cancer research. Kawashima said he remained comfortable pitching in front of 42,218 by pretending they were cheering for him.
Ultimately, the way Kawashima pitched and Yugo Aoki played shortstop while handling five of the last seven outs, took the crowd out of the game.
“I knew my breaking ball had to be on the corner and down low where they could not reach it too much,” Kawashima said.
Facing a team that went into the weekend averaging more than 15 runs per game, Kawashima retired the last eight. Entering the game immediately after the 10-run first, Kawashima pitched the remaining five innings, giving up just one unearned run on two hits and a walk while striking out four.
The offensive support seemed endless in a 22-hit attack.
“That’s the best hitting team I’ve ever seen,” said Pifer, who spent the summer coaching the best hitting team in the United States. “They were hitting pitches that I’ve never seen 12-year-olds hit.”
Masafuji Nishijima came off the bench to go 4 for 4 with a double, homer and six RBI. His three-run shot in the third inning gave Kitasuna the lead, 13-10.
Aoki, Kengo Tomita and Shingo Tomita, the top three hitters in the order, all had three hits.
Texas 6, Mexico 4
Earlier in the day, Isaac Garcia’s three-run homer with two out in the top of the sixth inning lifted Pearland West over Mexicali, Mexico, 6-4, in the third-place game.
Pearland has sent three teams to Williamsport and two to the U.S. final in the last six years, but the third-place finish was the best ever for the league.
Jarrett Tadlock pitched 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, allowing just one hit, to get the win. He also had a double to drive in one run, then came in on the two-run homer by Raffi Gross that followed in the third inning for a 3-2 lead.
Raul Leon hit two homers for Mexicali.
Reach Times Leader sports at 570-829-7143 or on Twitter @tlsports.