WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Lufkin, Texas', Mark Requena belted a dramatic two-run homer with his team down to its final three outs Saturday, sending the Southwest region champs to the Little League World Series championship game.
In a rematch against Greenville, N.C., for the U.S. Championship, Lufkin again had its hands full, but was able to come back from a 5-0 deficit to win, 6-5.
Earlier in the day, the Japan team started Championship Weekend with a bang. Facing a red-hot Mexico team in the International Championship at Lamade Stadium, the Kitasuna Little League from Tokyo rode a four-run first inning to a spot in the world championship.
Since Greenville pitchers had allowed just one hit and one run through their first three games, the lead seemed insurmountable. But Texas manager Bud Maddux has made believers out of the Lufkin boys, and they battled back for their leader.
Third baseman Chip Buchanan crushed a two-run homer to deep center field in the fourth inning to get Southwest on the board. A Malcolm Deason RBI single highlighted a two-run fifth inning to tighten things up, 5-4.
Down to its final three outs, Lufkin got a leadoff baserunner in the sixth inning when Collin Ross was plunked in the helmet. Mark Requena followed with a laser home run over the left-field wall to give Texas its first lead of the game, 6-5, and the eventual margin of victory.
The Southwest region has never won a Little League world title. Three Texas teams have finished as high as third place, including the 2004 Richmond team for which Cardinals outfielder Randal Grichuk played.
It's Wigley time! Let's go, Texas is out there fighting! #LLWS
Japan 5, Mexico 0
Japan shortstop Keitaro Miyahara led off the bottom of the first inning with a loud home run off the light pole beyond the left-center-field fence, and the Kitasuna kids were off and running.
They scored three more runs in the first after two walks, a wild pitch and a two-run single by Yuya Nakajima. The right fielder is one of several Japan players with an entertaining nickname, as teammates call him "American Dream" because he blasted five home runs in a recent tournament in Los Angeles.
Riku Guto was dominant on the mound, throwing 5 2/3 shutout innings and adding an RBI single in the fifth inning. Japan finished storming through the LLWS international bracket with a 4-0 record, outscoring opponents 27-1. The country has captured four championships since 2010, with the most recent coming in 2015. The Kitasuna Little Leaguers will face the winner of the U.S. Championship on Sunday.