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(Premier 12) S. Korea rallies to beat Japan 4-3 to reach final

All Headlines 23:35 November 19, 2015

TOKYO, Nov. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea staged an improbable comeback to defeat Japan 4-3 in the semifinals of the Premier 12 baseball tournament on Thursday.

Cleanup Lee Dae-ho delivered a go-ahead two-run single to cap off a four-run ninth, as South Korea rallied from a 3-0 deficit at Tokyo Dome to reach the championship final of the inaugural competition.

The final will be 7 p.m. Saturday, back at Tokyo Dome. South Korea will face the winner of the United States-Mexico semifinals set for Friday, also at Tokyo Dome.

Trailing 3-0 after eight innings while managing just one single, South Korea quickly came to life at the start of the ninth.

Two straight pinch hitters, Oh Jae-won and Son Ah-seop, reached with singles off Takahiro Norimoto, and Jeong Keun-woo knocked in South Korea's first run with a double to left.

Norimoto, who had an easy eighth inning in relief of the dominant starter Shohei Otani, then hit Lee Yong-kyu to load the bases with nobody out.

Yuki Matsui came in relief, only to walk in a run to make it a 3-2 game. Lee Dae-ho, the reigning Japan Series MVP for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, then ripped a single to deep left to bring home two more runs, putting South Korea ahead 4-3.

Japan had the winning run at the plate pinch hitter Takeya Nakamura, who led the Pacific League with 37 home runs for the Seibu Lions this year, facing closer Lee Hyun-seung with a man on, but grounded out to third for the game's final out.

South Korea had no answer against Otani, who held South Korea to one hit while striking out 11 over seven masterful innings. Otani had a no-hitter through six, facing the minimum as he erased a hit-by-pitch with a double play in the second.

South Korean starter Rhee Dae-eun nearly matched Otani early on, as Japan managed only one hit through three off the right-hander.

Then things unraveled for South Korea in the bottom fourth. Rhee walked Sho Nakata to start the inning. He struck out Nobuhiro Matsuda, but then allowed back-to-back singles, the latter being Ryosuke Hirata's RBI hit that made it 1-0 Japan.

Japan added to its lead on a rare South Korean error. Motohiro Shima hit a high chopper to shortstop Kim Jae-ho, who fielded it on a short hop but threw the ball wide of second base as he tried to get the force out. Akira Nakamura scored as the ball rolled into right-center.

Rhee was chased from the game after the play and reliever Cha Woo-chan allowed a sacrifice fly to Hayato Sakamoto that put Japan ahead by 3-0.

It appeared to be more than enough support for Otani, who allowed two base runners all evening. And Norimoto, who led the Pacific League with 215 strikeouts in 2015, worked a three-up, three-down eight, before coming apart in the fateful ninth.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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