SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – Cohen Sakamoto hadn’t allowed a run in the entire Little League World Series. But in the fourth inning of a Little League World Series semifinal Saturday, a run was in and there was a baserunner on second with just one out.
Cohen wasn’t worried. He struck out the next two batters and Hawaii was cruising again, on its way to a 5-1 win over Tennessee and a spot Sunday in the LLWS championship.
“I didn’t feel any pressure because I knew I had a great defense behind me,” Cohen said. “Even if I didn’t, I knew someone was going to pick me up.”
Cohen finished with seven strikeouts and Ruston Hiyoto hit a two-run homer to put the game out of reach, making Hawaii the winners of U.S. bracket. The Honolulu team will play Curacao, 1-0 winners over Taiwan in the international bracket earlier Saturday.
Cohen’s stats, like his club’s, have been stellar throughout the 20-team tournament. In 13 2/3 innings he struck out 24 batters and the two hits he gave up Saturday were the only ones he allowed. He can’t throw Sunday under pitch-limit rules.
“Hats off to Cohen for buckling down when we really needed to buckle down,” Hawaii manager Gerald Oda said.
Hawaii has outscored its opponents 47-2. It has already topped last year’s squad, which finished third at the LLWS, and now will try to match the teams from 2005, 2008 and 2018 that ended the season with a championship victory in Lamade Stadium.
“You almost want to be mad at them,” said Tennessee manager Randy Huth, whose Southeast region team lost to Hawaii twice in the tournament. “I would much rather not like them, and us go play them, than like them so much.”
But Huth and his boys watched the international semifinal with Hawaii. “It’s more about the community than the games sometimes,” he said.
In the bottom of the fourth, Ruston pinch hit and smacked a two-run home run just out of the reach of the center fielder to put the game out of reach at 5-1. Ruston pumped his right fist over his head as raced around the bases. He now has four hits in four at-bats for the tournament.
Hawaii’s Jaron Lancaster singled with an easy stroke to left field in the bottom of the first, then scored when Daly Watson hit a ball off the base of the left field wall for the game’s first run.
In the second inning, Hawaii put runners on second and third for Tau Parcell, who grounded out and scored Luke Hiromoto. Kekoa Payanal then drove the ball up the middle to tack on another run to make it 3-0.
Tennessee’s Jack Rhodes shot a single in the right field gap in the top of the forth to break up the no hitter. Wright Martin later laid down a bunt back to Cohen and beat the throw to first, which scored Jack to make it 3-1. But then Cohen’s two consecutive strikeouts ended the rally.
Matthew Gelhard is a Penn State journalism student.