Hawai’i beats Tennessee, will meet Curacao for Little League World Series title

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Curacao scratched out a 1-0 victory over Taiwan on Saturday to advance to Sunday’s Little League World Series championship game against Hawai’i, which advanced to the deciding game with a 5-1 win over Tennessee.

Cohen Sakamoto struck out seven and Ruston Hiyoto hit a two-run homer for Hawai’i as it completed a dominant run through the US side of the bracket.

Cohen’s stats, like his club’s, have been stellar throughout the 20-team tournament. In 13-plus innings, he has struck out 24 batters, and the two hits he gave up on Saturday were the only ones he allowed the entire tournament. He cannot throw Sunday under pitch-limit rules.

“I didn’t feel any pressure because I knew I had a great defense behind me,” Cohen said. “Even if I didn’t, I knew someone was going to pick me up.”

His team from Honolulu, representing the West region, has now outscored its opponents 47-2.

“Hats off to Cohen for buckling down when we really needed to buckle down,” Hawai’i manager Gerald Oda said.

Hawai’i will try to match the teams from 2005, 2008 and 2018 and end its season with a championship victory at Lamade Stadium.

Hawai’i’s Jaron Lancaster singled with an easy stroke to left field in the bottom of the first, then scored when Daly Watson hit a ball off the base of the left-field wall for the game’s first run.

In the second inning, Hawai’i put runners on second and third for Tau Parcell, who grounded out and scored Luke Hiromoto. Kekoa Payanal then drove the ball up the middle to tack on another run to make it 3-0, and Cohen did the rest.

The only team to beat Tennessee, the Southeast region champ, was Hawai’i, which did it twice.

Curacao didn’t do much at the plate Saturday, registering just three hits, but behind 4⅔ innings of shutout ball from Reangelo Decaster, a few defensive gems and Jaydion Louisa’s pinch-hit dribbler, the Caribbean team beat Taiwan 1-0.

Reangelo was “perfect,” Curacao manager Zaino Everett said. “He kept the ball down and threw good curveballs because they have good bats. A good inside and outside mix helped him get outs.”

Reangelo got some help as he worked out of a first-inning jam, thanks to a fly out and a groundout with Liao Yuan-Shu on third. In the fourth, left fielder Jaythan Cordilia ran down and snagged a fly ball that was tailing away to the corner. Afterwards, he got a hug from center fielder Davey-Jay Rijke for his effort.

“We were working on defense the whole year,” assistant coach Ringemar Raap said. “What you see is no surprise for us. We trust in these guys and know they can do the job.”

In the fifth, Taiwan loaded the bases on singles by Wu Hsuan-Hung, Hsu Ta-Sheng and Liao Yuan-Shu, which ended Reangelo’s day, as he surpassed the 85-pitch limit for Little League. Qshondrickson Doran came in with two outs to face Tseng Yi-Che and got him to fly out to left.

“I said, ‘You can do it,'” Everett said. “‘I need one out from you. Just throw strikes and we will make the out.'”

Davey-Jay rescued Curacao in the sixth, making a warning-track catch on a deep fly ball off the bat of Wang Yuan-Fu to preserve the lead, a play that resulted in Davey-Jay getting mobbed by his fellow outfielders.

Curacao scored in the bottom of the third. Alexander Provacia led off the inning with a bunt single and advanced to second on a throwing error. Alexander moved to third on a passed ball and scored on Jaydion’s single, a grounder that found a sweet spot between first and second base, to give Curacao a 1-0 lead.

“It means so much,” Jaydion said. “When I got back to the dugout, I cried because I knew we were going to win this game and go to the big final.”

An island with just over 150,000 people, Curacao has one tournament title, coming in 2004. But Curacao was also the last international team to play in the LLWS championship, in 2019, when it fell to Louisiana.

“It means so much because everyone believes in us,” Everett said. “During the tournament, they started to believe because we came out to do our job and came up with a W.”

The 2020 tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus and last year only US teams played because of travel restrictions caused by the pandemic.

Taiwan is historically one of the best international teams in the LLWS, winning 17 titles. But its most recent championship came in 1996.

Lee Fang-Mo was excellent on the mound for Taiwan despite the loss, tossing five innings of one-run, three-hit ball and striking out nine Curacao batters.

“Lee performed very well today,” Taiwan manager Chang Tzu-Chien said through an interpreter. “Competing against Curacao, we don’t have room for error. He missed one signal and the base runner advanced and that’s what we believe cost us the game.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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