Georgia to take on undefeated Japan

Published August 27, 2006

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Clutch hitting and timely defense: The Little Leaguers from Columbus, Ga., are well-schooled in the art of winning baseball.

Good pitching and colorful home-run trots are the hallmarks of the undefeated team from Kawaguchi City, Japan.

Should be interesting when the teams meet for the Little League World Series championship.

Go Matsumoto homered and got starter Seigo Yada out of a sixth-inning jam with some sharp relief pitching in Japan's 3-0 win Saturday night over Mexico to capture the international championship.

Earlier, Brady Hamilton drove in two and J.T. Phillips struck out eight to help Columbus defeat Beaverton, Ore., 7-3 to win the U.S. title.

The kids from Oregon and Japan play for the title today.

Hamilton broke a tie at 3 by flaring a pitch from starter Jace Fry just out of the shortstop's reach to score Phillips from second in the fifth. Columbus got some breathing room with three in the sixth.

Cody Walker tracked a popup in foul territory and fell on his back just after catching it for the final out. Jubilant teammates started piling on him as parents cheered and snapped pictures.

"It's a dream come true," 12-year-old outfielder Ryan Lang said.

After receiving their championship banner, the Columbus boys raced to the Beaverton dugout and invited their opponents to accompany them on the honorary victory lap around Lamade Stadium.

But only Columbus gets to play in the title game.

"I said after the semifinals that everything is gravy," Columbus manager Randy Morris said.

At first, it seemed as if the Columbus Northern league team would have an easy win against Beaverton's Murrayhill league team. The Georgia fans chanted, "Here we go Southeast, here we go!" as their team returned to the dugout after a three-run first.

Momentum changed in the fourth.

Beaverton's Austin Perry had a run-scoring single to cut the lead to 3-1 before Trevor Nix homered to left. The 13-year-old pumped his fist after watching the ball land over the fence for a two-run shot that tied it.

Columbus went up for good in the fifth. Hamilton's looping single over shortstop Derek Keller drove in the go-ahead run.

"You couldn't place that ball any better," said Derek's father, Beaverton manager Jeff Keller.

Columbus put the game away in the sixth. Josh Lester's run-scoring single highlighted a three-run inning and made the score 7-3.

Lester also made a nice stab of a liner by Beaverton's Sam Albert to help douse a scoring threat in the first, one of several nice defensive plays in the game. With runners at first and second, Albert hit a shot up the middle. But Lester quickly took a couple steps to his left, made the catch and fell to one knee.

In the nightcap, Yada started for Japan and dominated until the sixth, when Mexico managed three straight singles to load the bases with nobody out.

In came Matsumoto to close the door. The lanky, 5-foot-10 reliever with the long delivery and nice fastball struck out the first two batters he faced, then ended the game by getting a weak groundout to first.

Mexico starter Josue Barron struck out six through the first three innings, but Japan's sluggers got to him in the fourth. Leadoff hitter Yada sent a 1-and-0 pitch over the leftfield wall. Two batters later, Matsumoto hit the first pitch he saw from Barron into a grassy patch just before the hedges beyond the centerfield fence.