NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan – No more disappointments, Justin Novak told himself. He’d had enough, after losing in the semifinals last year, on the heels of his team not even being invited to defend its 2011 title.
So the senior right-hander pulled out all the stops in Saturday’s Far East High School Division I Baseball Tournament final. He pitched a four-hit shutout and struck out 10 as his American School In Japan Mustangs blanked Kadena 3-0 for the Mustangs’ second D-I title.
“It was burning in my mind the whole game,” Novak said of the memory of a 1-0 loss to eventual champion Kubasaki in the 2013 semifinals at Yokota. “Right now, I feel awesome.”
“I’m really proud of this guy (Novak) finishing it out the way he did in the final,” coach John Seevers said. “I know that (semifinal loss) was big on his mind, making sure he got this win tonight.”
Novak got in a bind just once, loading the bases in the second inning. Kadena’s Kota Manning tried a squeeze bunt. Novak threw to catcher Kenji Yoshii, who stepped on the plate for the second out and fired to first baseman Ryan Glasenapp to end the threat.
Then ASIJ’s bats went to work. Yoshii walked, went to second on an error on a pickoff attempt, and scored on Jack Welling’s single.
Two innings later, Yoshii walked a second time, advanced to second on Welling’s sacrifice bunt and scored on a Glasenapp double. Kent Chang added an RBI single later in the inning to cap the scoring.
From there, ASIJ’s defense took over. In addition to the second-inning double play, second baseman John Yonamine made a diving catch to end the third, and shortstop Tyler Sapsford made a similar catch for the first out of the fifth inning.
Kadena’s last threat came in the seventh when Justin Sego doubled. But he got picked off second by Novak.
“My defense has been ridiculous this year,” Novak said, adding that as a group, the Mustangs did a lot of batting and fielding practice on their own. “Nobody skips a day. It’s a team effort. It’s not me, it’s all the guys.”
While many things broke right for ASIJ, much didn’t happen for the Panthers, coach David Compton said.
“Their bats came alive; ours kind of went cold,” Compton said. “Their pitching was right on. (Starter) Cody (Prince) pitched a great game, but they (ASIJ) were just hitting everything. We had a couple of rallies, but we couldn’t bring them home.”
Novak is one of seven senior Mustangs, six of whom started Saturday, helping comprise a team that Seevers says stacks up well against successful Mustangs teams of the past.
“We’ve had some teams that have gone 72-0 over the course of four years,” Seevers said of teams in the pre-Far East era.
“But talent-wise, this is one of the best teams we’ve had and … one of the classier teams we’ve had as well. There are a lot of seniors we’re really going to miss next year.”
Saturday’s triumph concluded the Mustangs’ successful run through the Far East spring sports tournament week. ASIJ won the D-I girls and overall team banners in Far East track and field, came in third in D-I softball and second in D-I girls soccer.
Saturday was also the third time in the five-year history of Far East tournaments that Kadena has lost the final. But Compton said he was nonetheless proud of his Panthers.
“We won district, we beat our cross-town rivals four out of five games. I’ll take this. It was a good season,” he said.