Columbus slips past Japan to land USA LLWS title

Updated: August 28, 2006, 9:37 PM ET
Associated Press

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- The chants of "USA! USA!" spread through the crowd when the kids from Columbus, Ga., got the last out in the Little League World Series.

How fitting.

Cody Walker hit a two-run homer, Kyle Carter struck out 11, and Columbus beat Kawaguchi City, Japan, 2-1 on Monday, giving an American team the championship for the second straight year.

"It feels great," Walker said with a grin.

Columbus' victory in the Little League title game came one year after Ewa Beach, Hawaii, beat a squad from Willemstad, Curacao for the championship. A U.S. team hadn't won back-to-back Little League titles with different teams since 1982-83 when Kirkland, Wash., and Marietta, Ga., celebrated in South Williamsport. That Marietta team was the only other club from Georgia to make it to the tournament.

"That is pretty awesome," Columbus manager Randy Morris said. "We've been here twice and won it twice, so maybe we should try this more.

Long Beach, Calif., was a repeat champion in 1992-93, though the first victory was awarded after a Philippines squad was stripped of the title for using over-age players.

Just 13, Japan's Go Matsumoto dominated hitters like a major leaguer with an overpowering fastball.

It was potent again for him on Monday, except for Walker's shot in the third inning that followed a baserunning blunder.

Carter overcame a bout of wildness in the sixth and final inning after walking one batter and hitting another to become the only pitcher in World Series history to win four games.

Morris visited the mound, but stuck with his ace.

"I didn't think he was losing it or anything," Morris said. "I just went out to him to tell to take a deep breath, and don't let up."

With two runners on, he got Ryoya Sato to hit a weak bouncer to Josh Lester at second for the last out of the game.

That prompted the Georgia-leaning crowd to erupt in cheers, chant "USA! USA!" and wave American flags. Columbus players rushed toward Lester, skipping up and down in celebration and tossing their gloves to the sky.

Then they posed on the mound for a group picture with a banner that proclaimed them "World Series Champions" as their gloves were strewn across the infield.

Kawaguchi City manager Shigeru Hidaka called Carter's performance "fantastic."

"His curveball was right on," Hidaka said through an interpreter. "He pitched a great game."

Columbus' rally was nearly thwarted by Carter's mistake on the bases.

Carter took off from second on Lester's single to center but didn't heed the stop sign thrown by Morris at third. He was nailed at home for the second out, sliding into the catcher's shin guards well short of the plate.

It didn't matter, because Walker then hit his opposite-field shot over the right field fence. Lester pumped his fist as he rounded third, and Morris got so excited as Walker circled the bases that his hat fell off. Jubilant teammates greeted Walker at the plate.

"All year, we have found a deep strength. When he hit the home run, I think we thought we would still win," Hidaka said. "We have come back before, and the kids thought we would come back again."

It wasn't to be. A sign in the Columbus cheering section read, "Georgia, Not Just Peaches." Now, it's also home to the best team in Little League baseball.

Lester said he watched Hawaii's Little League championship win a year ago, "but I didn't know what kind of team we'd have."

He, Walker and Carter ended up playing instrumental roles. After the game, the players picked up fistfuls of dirt and placed them in plastic bags as keepsakes.

Carter found his father, coach Richard Carter, and gave him a hug.

"He told me I did a great job," the 12-year-old lefty said.

Japan is known for its power hitting, having hit 11 homers in its first five games of the Series, including four by Seigo Yada and two by Matsumoto. The international champions used small ball to score their only run in the third inning on Monday.

Yada hit a one-out bouncer into center. Pinch-hitter Yusuke Inuzuka missed on two bunt attempts but advanced Yada to second with a slow grounder down the third-base line.

Matsumoto, who struck out nine and walked two, followed with a high chopper up the middle that drove in Yada.

Rain forced the title game to be pushed back from Sunday, and organizers then moved the starting time ahead by three hours after weather forecasts showed another chance of rain in the evening.

The title game had been rescheduled just once before, in 1990, when rain forced San-Hua, Chinese Taipei, and Shippensburg, Pa., to play one day later than scheduled. Chinese Taipei won 9-0.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press