YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea – Even with a new coach, American School In Japan’s baseball team continues to look unstoppable.
Ian Hemmer homered, Kenichiro Bernier went 2-for-4 with an RBI, Kota Soda knocked in two runs, Sho Flores earned a four-inning save and the Mustangs broke it open with a five-run third inning to beat Kubasaki 9-3 and win their fifth straight Far East Division I Baseball Tournament.
“One bad inning with some errors and that was it,” Dragons coach Randy Toor said. “ASIJ made all the routine plays and their pitchers kept throwing strikes. Hat’s off to them. You can’t do that against a team as good as the Mustangs.”
ASIJ made it six titles overall, including the last five, and made a winner of rookie head coach Aaron Rogers. He worked for years as an assistant under longtime coach John Seevers, who retired last May.
“We did not miss a beat,” Rogers said. “Unbelievable. We had some young kids who just stepped up and got the job done. It was fun. It was a very competitive tournament.”
ASIJ closed the season 19-2-1, with the only two losses coming to Yokota, which won its third Division II Tournament title in four years on Tuesday at Iwakuni.
Wednesday’s D-I final began with a moment of hope for the Dragons, who haven’t won the D-I title in five years. Jonathan Hoppe’s one-out single plated two runners and Kubasaki found itself ahead 2-0.
“Kubasaki kept hitting the balls into the gap,” Rogers said. “They had us worried, but we came back.”
The Mustangs leveled the score 2-2 in the bottom of the first before Kubasaki led for the last time 3-2 in the top of the third. But from there, ASIJ took control.
Donahue homered off starter Kyle Powell, who proceeded to walk the bases full. Yamato Hill singled off reliever Jon Palmer to drive in the go-ahead run. Theo Welckle made it 5-3 with a sacrifice fly, then two more runs came in on a two-out error.
ASIJ wasn’t threatened again.
Aside from losing Seevers to retirement, the Mustangs have sent players such as Mizuki Shumsky (Miami, Ohio), Justin Novak (Virginia) and Tyler Sapsford (Yale) to the college ranks, yet more players fill those shoes and keep the Mustangs winning.
“Everybody’s coming back next year except for one player, and we’re not losing a single pitcher,” said Rogers, signaling more bad news for the rest of the Division I field.
Kubasaki loses four seniors, but the Dragons (14-17-2) plan to move some of their youngsters into those vacated spots and “be back stronger next year; that’s the plan,” Toor said.