Two teams at opposite ends of the win-loss spectrum met in the late game Thursday at Citizen Field - with somewhat predictable results.
Team Japan, perfect through four games at the Ramada World Baseball Challenge, bid sayonara to the winless Kamloops Sun Devils, handing them an 8-4 defeat which ended the tournament for the Sun Devils (0-6).
The win clinched first place for Team Japan and guaranteed they will play the Roswell Invaders of New Mexico for the five-team WBC tournament title today 6 p.m.
Continuing the trend they set Monday in an 11-1 triumph over the Sun Devils, Japan beat up on their opponents right out of the gate, building a 6-0 lead after one inning. Japan already had one run across when Tatsuya Maruko swatted a three-run homer with two out. Shunta Tanaka, in his second trip to the plate in the first inning, singled off Kamloops starter Brandon Marklund to bring in two more runs.
Five of the runs Marklund allowed were unearned. Kamloops third baseman Brennan Hegel booted a ball hit to him by Toshiyuki Hayashi for what should have been the third out.
"If we stop that big inning it's a very close game and that's been happening all tournament with one big inning and unfortunately we came up short this time," said Hegel, a 20-year-old Prince George native about to begin his second season playing for the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades.
Drew Boyer came in to pitch the second inning and looked a bit out of his comfort zone at first and Maruko made him pay with a run-scoring double. But after that, Boyer settled in quite nicely.
"It just takes one inning where we boot the ball around and we're playing against good teams that capitalize," said Kamloops centre fielder Erik Gulbranson, who gunned down Maruko with an impressive throw to second base when the Japanese slugger tried to leg out a double in the fifth inning.
"It felt pretty special playing against Japan again, we knew what they were coming with and we tried to hang with them. But they were finding the gaps and a crucial error cost a bit, but they're a good team and they capitalize on mistakes."
Japan starter Hitoshi Kondo was impressive in his second WBC start, allowing just two hits through five innings before he handed the ball to Yuki Sameshima with a 7-0 lead.
The Sun Devils finally got to Sameshima in the seventh inning, scoring three runs, and it could have been more.
Ian Horne, who plays professionally in the Pecos League for the Topeka Train Robbers, started it with a double off the centre field wall, Brandon Hunter walked and both runners came home on a double from Rob Morrison. Kamloops loaded the bases for Brad Bitz and his sharp hit gave splendid shortstop Sosuke Genda trouble, allowing Jared Frew to score the third run. Erik Herbranson had runners at second and third but Sameshima forced him to pop one up for the third out.
Hunter added to the count with a two-out solo shot to his favourite spot over the left field fence. It was a fitting farewell from the international stage for the 32-year-old from Prince George, playing in his fourth and what he says is his final WBC.
The Sun Devils came up with a defensive gem in the bottom of the eighth. Sosuke Genda was on base with a walk with one out when Shunta Tanaka popped up to right fielder Ethan Mohan, who ran in to field the ball and fired a strike to first baseman Morrison to force out Genda and complete the double play.
Kamloops opened with an 8-7 loss to Roswell and in the rematch Wednesday the Invaders trounced the Sun Devils 12-2. Aside from their first loss to Japan, their other defeats weren't that bad - 13-9 to Thurston County and 10-5 to Canadian Sidearm Nation.
"We had one bad inning in all six games that cost us the game," said Sun Devils manager Ray Chadwick, who coaches at Thompson Rivers University. "We had two five-run innings against (Japan) the first game, but other than that, considering we put a bunch of guys together at the last minute to come and play, I think we competed pretty good.
"All of our college guys didn't come because they wanted a couple weeks off before school started next week. So I picked up a bunch of the P.G. guys (seven locals were on the Kamloops roster) and we didn't win a game but we didn't embarrass ourselves and we competed. If we could take away one inning in all six games, we'd be 6-0."