JAPAN beats Florida to win another Little League World Series championship

Monday, August 27th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) _ Before coming to the Little League World Series, members of the Tokyo Kitasuna team wrote the words ``sekai ichi'' _ ``No. 1 in the world'' _ inside their caps.

On Sunday, they lived up to their adopted motto, scoring two runs on their last at-bat and beating Apopka, Fla., 2-1 to win the championship.

It was the fifth Little League World Series title for Japan, and the second in three years. In 1999, Hirakata, Osaka, beat Phenix City, Ala., 5-0.

``When the team won two years ago, it was the first time in 23 years Japan won a Little League World Series,'' said Tokyo coach Kiichiro Kubo. ``Coming in this year, people told me we could win, but I was not certain.''

It was the second consecutive game _ and only the second time all year _ that Japan won in its last at-bat.

On Saturday night, Tokyo won the international championship in the bottom of the sixth on a two-run homer by Atsushi Mochizuki that gave it a 2-1 victory over Curacao, Netherlands Antilles.

In Sunday's game, Nobuhisa Baba hit a line drive off the shortstop's glove in the bottom of the sixth and final inning.

``I was expecting a fastball. It came in a curveball, a little slow, and I just had good timing on the hit,'' Baba said.

Masayuki Itoh and Yuusuke Nomura reached base in the sixth inning on errors by third baseman Zach Zwieg, one fielding and one throwing. Both advanced on a fielder's choice, then scored on Baba's line drive to left. The throw from the left fielder was cut off near the mound, and there was no play at the plate.

``When it came up to the final at-bat, we weren't trying to win the game all at once, we were just trying to get one run,'' Tokyo coach Kiichiro Kubo said. ``I told them not to swing for the fence, just to put some meat into it.''

Tokyo (5-1) had just three hits against Florida and both runs were unearned.

Apopka (4-2) was the seventh Florida team to reach the title game, but no team from that state has ever won. Manager Bob Brewer said later that he wouldn't let Zweig blame himself over the two errors in the final inning.

``I just told the boy, one person doesn't win a game and one person doesn't lose a game,'' Brewer said. ``WE lost the game.''

Apopka upset the Rolando Paulino team from New York City, 8-2 Saturday to win the U.S. championship game. Rolando Paulino had won the earlier meeting over Apopka when left-hander Danny Almonte threw just the third perfect game in Little League World Series history.

``We're No. 1 in the United States, and we're going to bring that back to central Florida and to Apopka,'' Brewer said.

After the win, Tokyo's the players ran to center field and started bowing to a statue of former Little League vice president Howard J. Lamade, the stadium's namesake. They had done the same after their come-from-behind win against Curacao.

The players had asked interpreter Bill Lundy about the statue, but he didn't know who it was.

``I simply told them that was the baseball god,'' Lundy said. ``When they won yesterday, they went out to pray to the baseball god.''

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