Japan advances to LLWS international final

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., lost to Columbus, Ga., 8-0 in a U.S. semifinal Thursday night.

Japan was bolstered by a cheering section that wore bright-red jackets and hats emblazoned with the Japanese flag.

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 walked Knight, then hit Nate Barnett to put runners at first and second with two out.

Matt Timoney followed and doubled to the left-field wall on a 2-2 pitch, scoring Knight. Sato struck out Andrew Holden to end the rally.

In the sixth, Sato retired the first two Dhahran batters before pinch-hitter Robert Eyvazzadeh doubled to center. Jin Ohkuma booted Ted Fitzmaurice's chopper to third to put runners at the corners before Sato got Knight for his 11th strikeout.

The 6-foot-3 Knight is tall for a 12-year-old, but he's not the biggest player on his team. That distinction belongs to 13-year-old first baseman Aaron Durley, who at 6-foot-8 is the tallest participant ever at the Little League World Series.

Aaron's father, Dhahran manager James Durley, is just as tall and his mother stands at just under six feet.

Holden was one of Dhahran's offensive threats, homering twice in the series.

Despite the loss, it was still a great tournament for Saudi Arabia (2-2), which went 0-3 at last year's series. Six players returned this year, including Aaron Durley.

"I want to tell you guys that I have 11 guys with the biggest hearts I've ever seen," James Durley said.