South Korea celebrate a remarkable comeback victory over Japan in the semi-finals of the WBSC Premier12 ©Getty Images

A full-to-capacity Tokyo Dome was silenced here this evening as four runs in the ninth inning propelled South Korea to a remarkable 4-3 win over Japan as the latest chapter of a compelling rivalry between two of the sport's biggest rivals reached a thrilling conclusion.

Led by the flawless pitching of Shohei Ohtani, who struck out 11 batters and conceded just one hit in seven innings, Japan cruised into a 3-0 lead as their rudderless opponents appeared unable to respond.

The momentum changed dramatically, however, in the top of the ninth innings when replacement pitcher Takahiro Norimoto conceded four runs in a remarkable burst in which South Korea managed more hits than in the entire rest of the match.

A brilliant diving catch close to the fence by Shogo Akiyama to end the inning gave hope to the 40,258 fans packed into the Dome, almost all of whom were singing, chanting and waving Japanese flags.

Sho Nakata then scored a single to the centre to give Japan further encouragement.

It was to be short-lived, however, as a resurgent South Korea dismissed their opponents for the final time to secure the unlikeliest of victories. 

Lee Dae Ho hit the game-winning two run single to earn South Korea victory over Japan ©Getty Images
Lee Dae Ho hit the game-winning two run single to earn South Korea victory over Japan ©Getty Images

The Beijing 2008 Olympic and Incheon 2014 Asian Games champions will now face the winners of tomorrow's clash between Mexico and United States in the final on Saturday (November 21).

Japan will play the losers in the third place playoff. 

"We got the result we wanted because we never gave up," claimed South Korean manager Kim In-sik afterwards. 

"Our bullpen did a great job of keeping us in the game, and I could tell the players wanted to win this one.

"We could barely do anything against Otani, but the relief pitchers weren't nearly as overpowering as he was.

"We could get to some of their off-speed pitches in late innings."

Shohei Ohtani was unlucky to be on the losing team after a near flawless performance ©WBSC
Shohei Ohtani was unlucky to be on the losing team after a near flawless performance ©WBSC

In many ways this result is disappointing for the tournament, with the attendance for the final bound to be smaller due to the absence of the host country.

The finale was a strong advert for the sport, however, as it strives to return to the Olympic programme in time for Tokyo 2020.

Baseball and softball were recommended along with karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and squash by Tokyo 2020 organisers in September, with a final decision to be made by the International Olympic Committee next year.

While almost all the other teams sports currently showcased at the Games are fast paced, packed full of constant end-to-end scoring action, baseball provides a different, slow-burning form of entertainment.

For eight inning today, the game was short of action as the 21-year-old Ohtani - surely destined to become one of the biggest names in the sport - throttled the life out of the South Koreans with a near-perfect pitching performance until he was eventually replaced.

At that point, the only different between the teams had come in the fourth inning, when Nikata and Hayoto Sakimoto had each scored either side of some calamitous throwing by the South Koreans, allowing the home side to accrue three runs.

Japan had multiple chances to increase their lead, and will now be regretting their inability to capitalise and take the game out of the plucky Koreans reach before the ninth inning recovery.

Both of the teams who went unbeaten through the group stage have now exited the competition, with Japan having dominated Group B and Group A winners Canada losing their quarter-final to Mexico.

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