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California, Japan win as LLWS kicks off

A team of youngsters from Petaluma, Calif., kicked off this year's Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., with a victory over Connecticut on Thursday in the closest contest of the double-elimination tournament's opening four-game slate.

One year after a team from Huntington Beach, Calif., took home the LLWS title, Petaluma started its journey to keep the title in-state with a 6-4 triumph. This year's California squad was led in its opener by 13-year-old Bradley Smith, who was a force on the mound and at the plate.

Smith struck out seven over four innings and also went 4-for-4 at the plate with a home run and three RBIs. With the game tied at 1, Smith delivered a two-run shot in the third inning to give California a lead it wouldn't relinquish.

In the other matchup of United States teams, Tennessee slugged its way past Nebraska, 12-1, in the final game of the night. Tennessee crossed the plate seven times in the sixth to blow the game open.

As the Southeast regional representative, Tennessee posted a balanced offensive and defensive attack in the victory -- slugging four homers while allowing just two hits. Brock Myers led the way on both fronts, striking out eight over 4 1/3 scoreless innings and also going 3-for-4 with a home run, two RBIs and three runs scored.

As for the two international games, Japan -- which has claimed back-to-back international titles -- defeated Curacao, while Chinese Taipei rolled past Germany.

Japan notched three runs each in the first and second innings, jumping out to a six-run lead en route to a 7-0 victory. Japanese pitchers Kotaro Kiyomiya and Noriatsu Osaka combined for a two-hit shutout while striking out 14. Osaka also went 2-for-4 in the leadoff spot and drove in a team-high three runs.

Chinese Taipei turned in an impressive performance at the plate, collecting 14 runs on 11 hits and seven walks. Catcher Feng Chen and outfielder Li-Wei Chiang went a combined 5-for-5 with seven RBIs and four runs scored. Chiang was also responsible for the game's lone home run.

With the first day of games in the books, the four winners will each have two days off before taking the field again on Sunday, when California meets Tennessee and Japan squares off with Chinese Taipei. In the loser's bracket, Connecticut will clash with Nebraska, while Curacao meets Germany in a pair of elimination games slated for Saturday.

The other eight teams in the 16-team field will open play Friday, featuring New Jersey vs. Texas, Indiana vs. Oregon, Mexico vs. Canada and Panama vs. Uganda.

Paul Casella is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.