SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pennsylvania — As soon as the ball came off his bat, Curley Martha pointed to the sky — he knew that one was gone.
Curley hit a two-run homer to center in the fifth inning and got the final 11 outs as a relief pitcher, helping Curacao beat Japan, 5-4, on Saturday (Sunday, Manila time) to advance to the Little League World Series title game.
Japan loaded the bases in the sixth but Curley got out of the jam after a wild pitch scored two runs and put the tying run at third base. Ryohei Ushikubo hit a line drive toward the left center field gap, but Keven Rosina made the catch.
"It was a little bit scary," Curacao manager Michelangelo Celestina said.
Curley and Shendrion Martinus combined to hold a Japan team that scored 32 runs in its first three games to four runs and five hits. Shendrion also contributed with his bat, providing a two-run double in the third.
The team from Willemstad fought back from a loss to South Korea last weekend, winning four straight games to reach the final on Sunday. Curacao will face Louisiana at Lamade Stadium and aim for its second Little League title.
The Pabao Little League, with current Oakland Athletics infielder Jurickson Profar on its roster, won it in 2004.
Profar's youngest brother, Jurdrick, caught all six innings of Saturday's game and added a double and a pair of runs for Curacao.
Japan has won five Little League championships in this decade.
The Japanese team came from Chofu, with a population of 230,000 — larger than the entire island of Curacao, which has 162,000 residents.
"It feels like we are on the map again," Celestina said.
DOING IT ALL
Shendrion's two-run double in the third put his team up 3-0 and allowed him to relax on the mound. He pitched 2? innings, allowing two runs and two hits, striking out two. He got into a jam during the third inning, but helped Curacao escape after he was moved to shortstop and Curley took over on the mound. Shendrion snagged a line drive with runners on second and third.
Little League officials announced Saturday they'll expand the Little League World Series from 16 to 20 teams in 2021. Cuba, Puerto Rico and Panama will receive a direct bid to the LLWS two out of three years. The Little League World Series for softball will expand from eight to 12 teams.