Japan will play tomorrow its second World Championship Game in history, after a 2-1 win over New Zealand in the semifinal of the Men’s Softball World Championship 2019. Reo Koyama held New Zealand to 1 run and 2 hits in seven innings of play to claim the win. It’s the first time since 1980 that New Zealand won’t be playing the final game of the tournament.
In the top of the first inning, with one in the scoreboard, veteran infielder Nathan Nukunuku fell down 0-2 in the account, but five pitches later Koyama made his only mistake of the day, left the pitch in the middle of the zone and the left-handed batter crushed a no-doubter to center field, to put New Zealand ahead 1-0.
In its first at-bat, Japan loaded the bases with one out, on two walks and a single by Hiraku Matsuda, but then Daniel Chapman retired Tomonori Inoue with a short fly ball to the right-field line and Kotaro Yasumi with a grounder to second to escape the jam.
One inning later Japan also used a long ball to tie the game. Takuto Tsutsui found a drop ball in the lower part of the zone and sent it over the left field fence for an opposite-field home run.
In the top of fifth Japan scored the game-winning run. With two outs Yusuke Morita connected a single up the middle, and one pitch later he stole second. New Zealand head coach Mark Sorenson decided to intentionally walk Matsuda to face Tsukasa Oishi, and the catcher hit a hard line to third base that was touched by Tyron Bartorillo but rolled into the left field. In a close play at home plate, Morita scored the second and last run for Japan.
In the top of the seventh New Zealand put the tying run on base, but couldn’t score. Kallan Compain drew a walk on four pitches and was replaced by pinch-runner Josh Habrow. But Koyama recovered and struck out Joel Evans -who failed two bun intents-, got Ben Enoka to hit a fly ball to center field and finally fanned Nukunuku for the out 21 of the game.
Koyama went the distance allowing only 1 run and 2 hits, both off the bat of Nukunuku. He struck out seven.
Tomorrow, 23 Sunday, Japan will try to win the World Title for the first time in history. Their only final was in 2000 in South Africa, when they lost precisely against New Zealand.
The Black Sox, who arrived in Czech Republic having played the last 10 world championship finals, will play for the Bronze.