Game 20
Asia 7
 vs. Caribbean 2

Tuesday, August 22, 2006
8:00PM ET

Japan’s a ‘Go’ for International Semifinals
Matsumoto Pitching and Grand Slam Leads Kawaguchi City to a 7-2 victory over Curacao

By Brandon Miller
Special Correspondent

With a trip to the International Semifinals on the line, Japan sent ace Go Matsumoto to the mound to try and shut down the All-Stars from Curacao.

And shut them down is exactly what he did.

In a dominant pitching performance by Matsumoto, Japan out-dueled Curacao, 7-2, in front of 5,698 fans at Howard J. Lamade Stadium.

“I have a lot of respect for the Caribbean team,” said Japan manager Shigeru Hidaka through interpreter Bill Lundy. “They have a great baseball team. We knew that coming in and we’re very happy for our win.”

The win improved Japan’s record at the Little League Baseball World Series to 3-0 and earned the Asia Region Champions the number one seed in Pool D. They will face the Transatlantic team from Saudi Arabia in the International Semifinals on Thursday.

Going into today’s game, manager Hidaka was a little nervous about Matsumoto pitching since his last outing was July 23 against Taiwan in the Asia regional tournament. Of course, that outing resulted in a Matsumoto perfect game.

“It’s been a while since (Go) had to perform,” said manager Hidaka. “Overall, I’m pleased with his pitching today. It’s nice to be where we are.”

En route to the win, Matsumoto fanned 12 batters and held Curacao to only four hits while helping himself at the plate with a grand slam and three runs scored.

“I was nervous having pitched only one game in the regional (tournament) coming into this game” said Matsumoto.

“(Matsumoto) was nasty,” said Curacao manager Michelanelo Celestina. “Very good curveball; good fastball; out of the zone. Nasty.”

After shaking off some rust in the first, issuing a one-out walk and subsequent double to Sherman Lucras, Matsumoto struck out the next two batters to retire the side and solidify his confidence.

“After throwing just a few more pitches (following the Lucras double) my confidence grew and continued to grow,” said Matsumoto. “I was very happy then throughout the rest of the first inning and the rest of the game.”

The story of the tournament continues to be the power displayed by Japan’s offense. With two more home runs today, Japan has now hit a combined total of six home runs in three games.

Matsumoto’s grand slam came in the top of the sixth on a shot to center that glanced off the glove of the centerfielder to clear the fence. The scoring came after a Curacao solo home run by Haime Ingemar in the bottom of the fifth had closed the Japan lead to 3-1.

“As soon as I hit it, I thought it was a home run,” said Matsumoto. “And then, in the air, it started to come down and I started thinking about how they moved the fence back, and I got a little nervous whether it was going to go over or not. I was very excited when it did fall on the other side of the fence.”

Seigo Yada continued his offensive tear in the leadoff position for Japan going 1-for-3 with a solo home run. The line drive homer came in the third with Japan leading, 1-0.

“It was very good timing on hitting that home run,” said manager Hidaka. “It was a very important run to get at that point in the ballgame.”

“I’ve had three home runs in three games, and I hope to have a home run in each game following,” said Yada.

Yada’s statistics for the tournament are now 5-for-11 with three RBI and five runs scored.

Having advanced to the International semifinals, Matsumoto says it’s time to get serious.

“We’ve got to really start cracking down. We have to start getting serious as a team as a whole. I’m going to do my part from here on out and really try to focus.”

For Curacao, their early exit is a surprise.

“The team didn’t have the bats today,” said manager Celestina. “Our 3-4-5-6 hitters didn’t hit to put us in the game.”

The expectations were high for Pabao Little League who returned five players from last year’s World Series runner-up team.

“(Our team) was a good team,” said manager Celestina. “Sometimes you have to be lucky too. The kids are down right now.”

In addition to last year’s runner-up finish, Curacao has been to the International Semifinals for five consecutive years coming into 2006, and won the Little League Baseball World Series in 2004 with this year’s manager, Celestina, a coach on the team.

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