SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - A 5-foot-6 pitcher from Japan tormented the strapping Little Leaguers from Saudi Arabia on the mound and at the plate.
Left-hander Ryoya Sato frustrated batters with his breaking ball and added a key two-run homer in the sixth inning Thursday as Kawaguchi City, Japan, defeated Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, 4-1 to advance at the Little League World Series.
Sato also drove in two runs in the fourth with a single and homered to straightaway center to add a couple of insurance runs for Japan (4-0), which will face Mexico for the international title Saturday. The winner of that game plays in the World Series championship Sunday.
"I was fortunate I was able to hit a curve ball at the right time," the 12-year-old said through an interpreter.
Portsmouth, N.H. was scheduled to play Columbus, Ga., in a U.S. semifinal Thursday night.
Japan was bolstered by a cheering section. Their rhythmic clapping resonated throughout Lamade Stadium, and after Sato struck out Michael Knight to end the game, fans exchanged high-fives and waved little flags.
"The Saudis were an excellent team," manager Shigeru Hidaka said. "We were fortunate that Sato pitched so well."
His pitcher needed to get through trouble late before celebrating.
With Japan leading 2-0 in the fifth, Sato struck out Andrew Holden to end the inning in which Mexico had baserunners on first and second base.