Things looked ominous for Canada right from the start in an 6-2 loss to Japan Thursday at the ISF Junior Men’s World Fast Pitch Championship in Whitehorse.
Before receiving its first out, Japan loaded the bases and went on to score two runs before the inning was over.
Japan stuck to a game plan that has been producing results for it in the tournament. The 7-2 team set modest goals at the plate early on, getting the ball in play and using speed to get on base. Japan then often used bunts and other infield tactics to move its base runners around the bags, sacrificing batters as it went.
“Japan played exceptionally well — that’s the best that I’ve seen them play,” said Canada head coach Tom Doucette. “They executed their short game and put some runs on the board and we had to play catch-up and never got the job done.”
At the top of the second, leadoff hitter Takuro Shimada got on base after being hit by a pitch. The following two batters used infield grounders to advance him to third, from where he scored on a blooper to left field by Takaya Ueta.
“We’re working as a team to achieve that and it comes natural,” said Japan head coach Yoshihiro Umeshita, through a translator, referring to his team’s short, quick games. “I think things went smoothly, got the right balls and hit it right.”
Canada got on the board in the bottom of the third. With shortstop Terrell Walker on first, Mike Noftall hit a low-flying line drive that slipped under Japan’s second baseman’s glove and into the outfield, scoring Walker.
Although, Japan showed signs of tightening up, being dealt a three-up-three-down inning its next time next at bat, Canada was unable to perpetuate its newfound energy, going scoreless for the next three innings.
“Everybody is just taking each play very carefully and working together,” said Umeshita. “Of course we had to be very careful from that point on.”
“You start to get some momentum, but unfortunately we couldn’t follow through and get that one big hit we needed to drive in a couple runs,” said Canada team leader Duke Cormier. “We got down early and that always makes it difficult.”
Canada’s failure to ignite seemed to encourage Japan to abandon its short-game tactics later in the game, sending more drives deep into the outfield and scoring three more runs over the next three innings.
“When you’re dealing with youth sports, momentum is huge,” explained Doucette. “We got a run but just couldn’t build on that.”
“They’ve got lots of speed so the play’s quick,” said Canada pitcher Devon McCullough, who pitched all seven innings and produced five strikeouts. “They got a lead so they were probably just swinging for the fence … they were hitting the ball good tonight.”
Down 6-1 coming into the bottom of the seventh, Canada’s third baseman Dylan Cunningham kept hopes alive with a solo shot over the right field fence.
However, Japan’s starting pitcher, Kojiro Hamada, dashed those hopes in quick succession, striking out the final three batters of the game.
“(If) we play them again we’ll have to hit the ball hard and hopefully beat the crap out of them,” added McCullough.
Friday evening at 7:30, Canada will be taking on the United States (4-5). A win against its southern neighbours may keep Canada tied for second place going into the tournament’s playoffs.