By Matt Martell, The Associated Press
SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Lufkin, Texas, came from five runs down on Saturday to take the United States bracket at the Little League World Series.
Its task may be even tougher on Sunday, when Lufkin takes on 10-time tournament winner Japan in the championship.
Japan has won four of the last seven Little League World Series, and Tokyo Kitasuna, the club representing Japan this year, has won the championship three times before. Its most recent title came in 2015, when it was led by current manager Junnji Hidaka.
A Texas team has won the Little League World Series twice before, and has appeared in the finals six times previously.
Despite Lufkin’s elation at winning in such dramatic fashion, the team’s manager and players said after they beat Greenville, North Carolina, 6-5 that their hearts go out to those affected by Hurricane Harvey, which was battering Texas.
“I’ve heard that it’s been pretty bad,” manager Bud Maddux said. “Hopefully, (the Little League World Series) takes their mind off it a little bit, that it helps them get through it. We’re feeling for them.”
STORY SO FAR: Japan has cruised through the first four games of the tournament, outscoring opponents 27-1. What’s perhaps most impressive is the team has yet to commit an error. Its four wins have come against Australia, South Korea, Canada and Mexico, in that order.
Lufkin’s only loss in the tournament came against Greenville in extra innings on Wednesday. It was a loss that left a bad taste in the players’ mouths.
The team used the defeat as motivation and routed Fairfield, Connecticut, 14-4 in its next game to force a rematch with Greenville.
“I saw it all over social media that North Carolina was going to take the championship game,” Lufkin’s Colin Ross said. “I just wanted to prove everybody wrong.”
WHO TO WATCH: Keitaro Miyahara (Japan) hit a leadoff home run, which sparked a four-run first inning for Japan in Saturday’s 5-0 win over Mexico in the international championship game. He’s 6 for 12 with a home run and five runs scored in the tournament overall.
Manny Requena’s two-run home run in the sixth inning on Saturday lifted Lufkin to the finals. He has been one of the team’s best hitters in the tournament. He’s batting .556 with a 1.000 slugging percentage in Lufkin’s five games.
WHERE TO WATCH: The game is at 3 p.m. EDT and airing on ABC.
DID YOU KNOW?: Maddux has not allowed his team to go swimming during the Little League World Series, and he said none of his players brought bathing suits with them on the trip.
Once the tournament is over, however, swimming is fair game.
“I told them if we win that game tomorrow,” Maddux said. “I’ll be the first one in the pool.”
Matt Martell is a journalism student at Penn State. Penn State is partnering with The Associated Press to supplement coverage of the 2017 Little League World Series.