WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Canada's improbable run at this year's Little League World Series has hit a speed bump.
The team from White Rock, B.C., was routed 10-0 by Japan, setting up an elimination game Thursday against Mexico.
"They are obviously disappointed, we thought we would have played a better game than that," Canadian manager Ryan Hefflick said after the game. "I thought we were tight at the beginning of the game and I've never seen them like that. Maybe [it was] just the gravity of playing at Lamade Stadium [the main stadium] for the first time."
Coming into the game, the Japanese had a reputation for superior defence and pitching. And they didn't disappoint.
Hefflick called the Japanese defence "perfect," saying his team had never seen anything like it.
"We played some good teams in the Canadian nationals but just the defensive ability and the pitching of Japan was fantastic," Hefflick said. "From a velocity perspective, it wasn't faster than what we have seen, but to be able to control the off speed as consistently as they did was the best we've seen."
The Japanese team from the Tokyo Little League set the tone early. The first two Canadian batters of the game seemed to have sure hits, but they were turned into routine outs by the Japanese infielders.
On the day, Canada was only able to scratch out one hit and had just one runner reach second base. White Rock's booming bats have been the team's calling card on the road to Williamsport, Pa., but they were consistently baffled by a trio of Japanese pitchers.
Hardest working team
It's not by accident.
The Japanese team has been playing together since t-ball and is regarded as the hardest working team in Williamsport. Before the game against Canada, the team went through a rigorous four-hour practice that focused on hitting and fielding.
"To play for the Tokyo Little League, the attitude always is 'to do,' and that means to practice on defence, to practice pitching and always the defence has to protect the pitcher," Japanese manger Junnji Hidaka said through an interpreter. "That's the way we train. It's not really a difficult strategy."
For Canada, this is the first game the team has lost in months. And the team's quick start at this tournament had many people rallying behind them, evidenced by the Canadian flags sprinkled throughout the crowd.
The Drews family from Lundar, Man., was sure to make Williamsport part of their cross-country baseball road trip.
"It's pretty amazing to be at this park. You grow up watching it on TV and now you are actually here," said Josh Drew, who was just slipping into his recently purchased Canada jersey.
"To go to all of the MLB ballparks is great, but this has always been on my bucket list – to come to Williamsport, come to the Little League World Series. It's great to be able to show these kids support and show them the country is behind them."
David Ditsworth is here from Lufkin, Texas to watch his grandson play but came to support White Rock with a Canadian flag tucked into his hat.
"Canada always has our back no matter what happens, they are always there to help us and I feel like we owe [them] the courtesy to back them," Ditsworth explains.
Hefflick says he doesn''t know a lot about the Mexican team but joked: "I love Mexico, tequilla is my favourite drink."