Thursday, March 31, 2016

Day 12, Championship - Takamatsu Shougyou (Kagawa) vs. Chiben Gakuen (Nara)

So here we are at the final, with one team perhaps becoming the new "Chiben" and the other looking to do what 3 other teams in history have done.

First of all, Takamatsu Shougyou. Should they win today, they would be just the 4th team in history to win the Meiji Jingu Tournament and then the following spring's Haru Koushien tournament:
  • 1983-84 - Iwakura (Tokyo)
  • 1997-98 - Yokohama (Kanagawa)
  • 2001-02 - Houtoku Gakuen (Hyogo)
Takamatsu Shougyou has gotten an easier time of things, what with Tsuruga Kehi and Osaka Touin both eliminated before they had to face them. They were given a bit of a shock right off the bat when facing Inabe Sougou Gakuen, but did not appear to be tested until their semifinal game yesterday again Shuugakukan.

Ura's main effectiveness is in his offspeed pitches. His repertoire has a slider, curve and fork, but in reality it seems that his curve isn't really a curve, but a slurve. From the game footage it seems like his looping curveball actually tails away from a right handed batter, causing many a Shuugakugan batter to swing and miss.

In reality though he isn't a strikeout pitcher, but instead uses these to induce poor contact. Of course, all one team has to do is develop a strategy of going after them or to just ignore them and work the count, but so far he's been effective enough and stamina shouldn't be an issue given their fall results.

What should be of more concern is their hitting, which struggled against Horie and needed help from the other side to eventually win the game. Ura might be able to keep them in it, but the offense needs to come though one last time.

With Takashima-kantoku's retirement and the steady decline his program has faced over the past decade, the parent Chiben Gakuen has now supplanted its younger Chiben Wakayama as the more dominant red "C" in the ouen-dan.

This run has seen them go through their 4 games giving up 1 run or less thanks to their ace Murakami. The weird bit is that unlike most pitchers who work laterally in the bottom of the zone, Murakami seems to work vertically, predominantly working the upper parts of the zone. Now, if you have a team that can hit the high ball, he might be in trouble, but so far it seems to be working. It's much harder to drive something from higher in the zone, and most batters are probably well-practiced in hitting the lower pitches. He even throws his offspeed stuff (slider, curve, change fork) up as well. It might explain why batters have a hard time driving the ball.

Offensively, the team can score runs, but their last game against Shuugakukan really saw them scuffle to put any scoring opportunity together until magically in the bottom of the 9th when everything just fell together. I don't know if they will be able to hold off on Ura's slurve, but if not this could prove an equally troublesome game.

As for predicting a winner, I don't think this will be a blowout either way. Unless either ace just fatigues out I expect this to be a low-scoring affair that won't be decided until the end. Takamatsu Shougyou is either (a) under pressure because they could go Aki-Haru, or (b) under no pressure because they've in some ways gone through it in the fall facing powerhouses bigger than Chiben.

It should be a lot of fun. I just hope I get to see it all (thanks MBS).

Takamatsu Shougyou (Kagawa)
CF Anzai Tsubasa
RF Arauchi Shunsuke
SS Yonebaku Keizou
C Ueda Kyousuke
2B Mino Kousei
1B Ueda Rikuto
LF Takeuchi Hiroto
P Ura Daiki
3B Yamashita Tatsuki

Chiben Gakuen (Nara)
2B Osame Daichi
C Okasawa Tomoki
SS Oota Hidetake
RF Fukumoto Yuuma
1B Takahashi Naoki
P Murakami Shouki
3B Oohashi Shunpei
LF Nakamura Akita (#13)
CF Aoki Yuudai

____________________________________________________________

12:33 - First Pitch!

Well, Anzai quick to start affairs! He lines a ball down the right field line for a double!

Arauchi lays the bunt down, Murakami spins and turns to 3rd... SAFE!!!

The throw was in plenty of time, but somehow Anzai gets under the tag! All safe! Takashou threatening immediately!!

But Yonebaku grounds right to 3rd! Oohashi has it, Anzai skirmishes back to 3rd, and that allows Oohashi to get the 5-4-3 double play! 2 out and you have to wonder if Anzai should've taken the bullet to prevent that.

Up to Kyousuke to get the timely hit. He hits a liner, but Oohashi is there again to make the quick catch! 3 out and Murakami gets his disappearing act!

Ura meanwhile is on it to start. Osame is keen to wait on the balls, but when push comes to shove, Ura's forkball catches the outside edge and he's down.

2 down, and Ura tries to sneak a fastball in, but Oota turns on it and sends it past a diving Yonebaku for a base hit.

That brings up the dangerous Fukumoto, but Ura goes high on him and he pops out to retire the side. Looks like the no rest hasn't hurt him to start.

Mino learning about swinging high, can't quite square up the ball and flies out to left center. Takeuchi draws a 2-out walk for Takashou, bringing up ace Ura who is actually not bad with the bat.

Murakami trying to blow him away, but Ura continues to foul off pitches.

He gets a hold of one! Aoki backpedaling.... makes a slight jump to make the catch! If Murakami things he can just blow fastballs by him, I think he might be underestimating him if prior games are an indicator.

After a quick out by Takahashi, Murakami is able to hold off the slurve and draw a walk. Oohashi also doesn't bite and he gets one he can line to center for a base hit. Runners at the corners for Nakamura! He hits a chopper to the right side, but Mino has to go for 2! Throw to 2nd, a bit high, relay to 1st won't be in time! Murakami scores and Chiben has the 1-0 lead!

And now Aoki slices one down the LF line... fair! Nakamura goes to 3rd on the play and Chiben threatens to take a larger lead!

Osame though flies out to left to end the inning, but Murakami's walk comes around to score!

Takashou still struggling a bit with looking vertically as well as some of them just can't level one of those pitches. Arauchi gets a 2 out double down the right field line, but not much else.

On the other hand, the 2-3-4 batters for Chiben in their 3rd all make solid contact, sending balls deep to left and center. You have to wonder if they're already sizing up Ura's pitches.

It really looks like Ura is avoiding the fastball as his velo may be down from yesterday. As a result, while he can strike out Murakami on a forkball on the outside edge, he either gives up a basehit if he turns to the straight (like in Oohashi's AB) or they start sizing it up, like the 3rd inning and Nakamura's flyball to center.

Tough luck for Oota to start the 6th, ball takes a bit of a high hop and he can't field it cleanly. E6 and Ura bunts him over for last batter Yamashita.

Once again though, Murakami plays the higher part of the strike zone and Yamashita and Anzai can't make anything out of it. 3 outs and more frustration on the bench of the Meiji Jingu champs.

Ura manages to hold serve to the break, but his offense needs to unlock the mystery of Murakami and quick.

Kyousuke gets a 2 out double to deep right center. Murakami then walks Mino to bring up Rikuto, whom he gets this time with a slider down. Murakami is allowing baserunners, but when it might hurt him less.

The innings continue to tick away, but Takashou just can't get their bat to make solid contact and they're quickly running out of time.

Anzai with a grounder to the right side. Takahashi with it, but Anzai beats him to the bag! Leadoff single and where we are in the order, this might be their best chance. Arauchi bunts him over.

And Yonebaku lines a ball to center! Anzai given the green light!! Aoki's throw home... not in time!! The captain gives his team life as we're all tied at 1-1! And with Yonebaku at 2nd, it's a great chance!

And then I see both Kyousuke and Mino go after the high pitches again, and both are unable to make anything out of it... Still, what matters is the game is tied!

But will it stay that way? One out, Osame hits a ground ball right at Rikuto and it deflects off him and towards center! Mino is out of position, and Osame bolts for 2nd! Anzai holding back, charges and throws to 2nd.. OUT!!!

Osame tries to take 2, but Anzai perhaps baiting him gets him out and the early chance is lost! That's a shame because Okasawa bloops a ball over Yonebaku for a single!

Oota with a ball to 3rd, and the hop eats up Yamashita! The ball goes to left and with Takeuchi's throw to 3rd, allows Oota to take 2nd!! Will that cost them?

Fukumoto chopper to 3rd. Yamashita has this one! He throws to first, but the throw is wide! Rikuto goes for the tag....

OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Somehow, he just gets Fukumoto on the leg as he's diving past him and they get the 3rd out! Oh man....

Rikuto looks to give Takashou the lead in the 9th as he singles to center! He's bunted over, but can the bottom of the lineup deliver the final blow?

(Follow the twitter feed, this is going too fast.)

Here's how it all went.

After Rikuto's base hit, they bunted him over hoping that they could get a base hit. But Murakami plays an audible, pitching away and inducing bad contact. Ura on the other hand, completely goes into boss mode in the 9th, sending it into extras.

In the 10th, both teams would get a chance to win the game. Anzai gets a single through the right side, and with his speed you had to bet he could steal. And as I thought that he did. Arauchi though couldn't bunt him over, and instead of three-bunting, he swings away and flies out. After that Yonebaku and Kyousuke both try to get base hits, but Murakami goes back up again in the zone and both fly out to end the threat.

For Chiben, it was Nakamura who singled to center. Aoki couldn't bunt him along, actually tried the three-bunt, but failed. Kosaka-kantoku goes for the bunt again looking for the one-timer, but Okazawa meekly grounds out to 2nd to move the game to the 11th.

Rikuto gets a one out single to center, but Nagao-kantoku elects not to bunt the runner over for his own one-timer. Once again, both batters fail to deliver.

To the bottom of the 11th, and after 2 quick outs, Takahashi singles back up the middle past Yonebaku. At that moment I was trying to swipe into my phone to make sure to play no-doubles defense.

And again, as I thought that, Murakami blasts a ball to center. Anzai has speed, but not enough this time as it goes over his leaping glove. That all but seals their fate as Takahashi slides in to give Chiben Gakuen the 2-1 sayonara victory, their first ever Koushien title.

It seemed like something preventable, but perhaps it was lost in the strategy, much like the 1st inning and maybe the 10th inning. For Takamatsu Shougyou, this was a grand opportunity to claim the title for their own, but alas it was not to be. Ura certainly is a great pitcher, but as is always the case with one-and-done scenarios anything can happen.

So it's instead the parent Chiben Gakuen who rises above its younger school to take up the mantle. While they certainly are the big dogs in Nara now, I'm sure people will pay attention to Murakami's pitching style and we will have to see come the summer if they have the same success again.

I will try to go back and watch the games that are available to see if there's any more information to gather for the summer. Until then I may have other things in store, time depending.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Day 11, Semifinal 2 - Takamatsu Shougyou (Kagawa) vs. Shuugakukan (Kumamoto)

The other semifinal is a shock as well. While Osaka Touin clearly wasn't their usual dominating selves, it seemed that they would at least make a deeper run. Instead they fell at the hands of Kisaradzu Sougou (no less) who had good pitching for sure, but managed to put together one good inning to defeat them.

Tsuruga Kehi was also slated to be here, but in perhaps the biggest upset, the lesser known Kaisei from Nagasaki somehow shutdown the Hokushinetsu champs. I thought the pitching would let them down first, but instead it was the offense.

In both cases, those teams that pulled off the upsets did the rest of the field a solid, but it sadly didn't help their own cases. Kisaradzu Sougou never went to reliever Takeda and perhaps paid for it dearly when Hayakawa couldn't close out the games against Shuugakukan. Kaisei went toe-to-toe with the Meiji Jingu champs, but just ran out of steam in the end.

In the end, this game may be self-explanatory. Shuugakukan has managed their pitching staff very effectively so far, allowing their players to get rest, and therefore be effective. This is opposite of Takamatsu Shougyou, who has a very shallow staff who may already be cracking if last game was any indication. There is a possibility of a Aki-Haru renzoku yuushou (Yes, I know that's isn't a thing, but I just made it one.), but I'm not sure it's possible.

Takamatsu Shougyou (Kagawa)
CF Anzai Tsubasa
RF Arauchi Shunsuke
SS Yonebaku Keizou
C Ueda Kyousuke
2B Mino Kousei
1B Ueda Rikuto
LF Yoshida Keigo (#12)
P Ura Daiki
3B Yamashita Tatsuki

Shuugakukan (Kumamoto)
SS Matsuo Taiga
CF Harada Takumi
1B Kimoto Ryouga
C Kuki Ryuuhei
LF Amamoto Kousuke
3B Hirobe Shuuhei
P Horie Kouhei (#4)
RF Kimura Yuuji
2B Miyahira Yasuta (#14)

____________________________________________________________

13:32 - First Pitch!

Horie once again takes the hill for Shuugakukan and pitches a clean inning. Two lazy popups and a K are about all you can ask to start a game.

I don't remember Ura throwing hard, but he's sure throwing a lot of offspeed stuff to start the game. He's about to get a clean inning, but when Kimoto hits a liner to left, bench starter Miyahira slips, then has to play it off a bounce, then get caught on a high bounce and it gets past him allowing Kimoto to reach 2nd. It doesn't hurt him in the end as Kuki grounds to 2nd to end the inning.

Really though both pitchers are off to goods start, as both Horie and Ura completely have the batters baffled, especially with their off-speed stuff. Shuugakukan has the edge though as they have at least collected base hits - their 2nd being Matsuo taking a slurve the other way for a single in the 3rd. It's with 2 outs though, so when Harada tries the same but instead lines out to short the inning is over.

So Horie hadn't given up a hit through 3, and the MBS announcers kept on mentioning it. As he finished his most recent time to say it, Arauchi softly singles to right. Jinx executed. Yonebaku though couldn't move him over to 2nd, instead popping up his bunt right to 2B Miyahira.

Well, Miyao-kantoku sends Arauchi instead, and while Kyousuke strikes out, Arauchi somehow gets the leg in on a throw that was well in time (Matsuo was a bit passive with the tag and allowed Arauchi to limbo under it).

And that could cost Shuugakukan! Mino with a grounder past a diving Matsuo! They're waving around Arauchi! The throw in... and he's in just ahead of the tag! 1-0 Takamatsu Shougyou!

I thought that would help settle down Ura, and after quickly getting 2 outs in the 4th, it seemed to. But then Amamoto singled through the left side and Hirobe got plunked. Worse yet, he had fallen behind his counterpart Horie 3-0. And yet Horie swung away on an inside pitch and grounded out to 3rd.

It does seem the momentum has shifted ever so slightly to Takamatsu Shougyou as Ura sweeps the 5th keeping the 1-0 lead for his team.

Arauchi draws a walk to start off the inning, and instead of bunting, they swing away and Horie uncharacteristically uncorks a wild pitch moving him to 2nd. Yonebaku then does his job and hits the ball to the right side to advance the runner. Kyousuke then does his job and flies out to left, allowing Arauchi to just slide in with the tag of home for a 2-0 lead.

Shuugakukan tries to strike back as Harada tries a safety bunt to lead out the inning. Ura gets there, but his throw goes high and into foul territory. Harada goes for 2nd, but he takes such a wide turn that Arauchi is able to make a throw to 2nd and cut him down.

Which is a shame because Kimoto singles to center.  Kiku would have grounded into a double play, if not for the fact that the ball took a final odd hop delayed the relay to 1st.

And then out of nowhere Amamoto rips a ball down the left side, one bounds to the wall for a double, scoring Kuki to make it a 2-1 game.

Hirobe with a screamer through the left side, but Yonebaku makes the diving stop! He throws from his knees, but it takes a high hop at the last and it goes off Rikuto! It bounces away towards the dugout and that allows Amamoto to score, tying the game at 2-2! Oh the Koushien ground is a very dangerous place.

And the MBS stream breaks again. #@*^($&

I find out we're headed to enchousen, and have to catch the replay of the 4-6-3 double play in the bottom of the 9th.

Day 11, Semifinal 1 - Ryuukokudai Heian (Kyoto) vs. Chiben Gakuen (Nara)

Well, I'm back, and the scene at Koushien is not what I quite expected. On this half of the bracket, if you had put a gun to my head, I would have picked 2 teams from the Kinki region, but just not these two. Instead I would have picked Shiga Gakuen and Akashi Shougyou.

The Chiben Gakuen appearance here really surprises me. They weren't any big shake in their first game, but certainly could have held their own against Kajitsu. But Shiga Gakuen seemed to be having the better of things going into their quarterfinal matchup. Instead, Murakami throws a 2-hitter against the runner-ups and they're here now!

Weirdly, while both semifinalists here played someone from the Kinki region in the quarterfinals, it wasn't any type of revenge match from the super-regionals. And even more odd, neither is this one. Heian's road is a bit more believable as they had Kousei in the 2nd round (who hadn't graded out all that well) and Akashi Shougyou (who rightfully provided an equal challenge).

I can't really speculate on games I haven't seen, but these teams initially graded out about the same. The pitchers have been equally effective at limiting runs, but it seems that at this point (a) Chiben Gakuen has been able to put runs on the board more consistently, and (b) Heian despite the day off has to recover from a 12 inning game. On both sides the advantage should favor Chiben Gakuen to reach their first ever final.

Ryuukokudai Heian (Kyoto)
CF Ogawa Koutarou
2B Kubota Yuu
SS Nishikawa Ranse
1B Hashimoto Kazuki
P Ichioka Souma
3B Tomita Shintarou
LF Okada Yuuki
RF Takeuchi Yoshinori
C Takeba Akahito

Chiben Gakuen (Nara)
2B Osame Daichi
C Okasawa Tomoki
SS Oota Hidetake
RF Fukumoto Yuuma
1B Takahashi Naoki
P Murakami Shouki
3B Oohashi Shunpei
LF Nakamura Akita (#13)
CF Aoki Yuudai

____________________________________________________________

11:04 - First Pitch!

Huh, Ogawa on the first pitch with a routine chopper to Oota, but he hustles out of the box and reaches safely! Kubota tries to pitch a ball that puts him on his kiester, and that never turns out well. Pops out to Okazawa.

Murakami though seems to be hitting the ground running. He's already working the sides of the zone. While Nishizawa and Hashimoto do try to go the other way, they can do no better than flying out.

Meanwhile, Ichioka isn't as on his game for Heian. Despite getting the first out, Okazawa lines a bender back up the middle for a single.

Both managers seem to want to keep the running game going as Kosaka-kantoku also gives the green light to his runners. He doesn't need to though as Oota draws a walk, creating an early pinch.

Ichioka seems to work exclusively away to Fukumoto to take away his power and I can't tell if he jus doesn't adjust, but he falls for a changeup wide for the 2nd out.

And Kosaka goes for a double steal for I don't know why and Okazawa is out by a country mile. 3 out and Ichioka walks away unscathed.

I thought Murakami was going to get an easy 2nd inning, as his first two pitches were flown out to right. However he then goes to issue a 4 pitch walk to Okada. The struggles continue as Takeuchi doesn't bite on the outside pitches, instead taking one at 3-1 back up the middle for a base hit.

Takeba though wipes it all out with one pitch, swinging at a ball up at his eyes, and not surprisingly popping out to Oota behind 2nd to end the inning. Still a 0, but perhaps a little more work than he really needed.

Ichioka continues to work exclusively outside to the batters. Takahashi falls victim the same way Fukumoto did, but when Murakami doesn't bite he gets a better pitch to hit and pulls a single through the left side.

But when Oohashi goes down swinging the same way the last 2 went, I notice that Ichioka's release on his Ks looks like he's trying to put reverse side spin to make it go away from the righties.

Nakamura does make contact, but grounds out to 2nd leaving the game scoreless.

It doesn't last for long though. After a single by Kubota, Hashimoto delivers a 2 out single to left. But bench starter Nakamura has the ball bounce off the heel of the glove and it gets by him. Kubota scores and Heian takes the 1-0 lead.

Ichioka tries to add on with a single to center, but Aoki shows how it's done with a seed to home throwing out Hashimoto by a wide margin.

Chiben Gakuen though is getting baserunners, but seems to be running themselves out of innings. Last batter Aoki gifts his team with a leadoff hit. But there's a failed bunt by Osame, and then he's picked off 1st to boot, effectively killing the inning.

Okada is really becoming a pain in the side of Murakami as he draws his 2nd walk. Not only that, but he picks the right time to take off for 2nd as Murakami's pitch is in the dirt and Okazaki can't cleanly pick and make a throw. However, they can't bring him home this time either as Takeuchi and Takeba both ground out.

Chiben Gakuen isn't even getting breaks when things seem to go right. After Fukumoto gets a one-out single, Takahashi scorches a ball up the 3rd base line. Tomita though, makes the diving stop right over the bag, fires to 2nd and just gets Fukumoto for the out. That stops that rally too and Heian still leads.

Murakami continues to put himself in bad situations. He walks Ogawa to lead off the 5th, then Ogawa takes off on the next pitch and just gets under the tag. A bunt over and Heian looks to double their lead.

Murakami blows one chance when he gets Nishikawa to fly out out center, and Hashimoto can only wince when he's called out on a change that just grabs the outer edge.

He's held serve, but his offense can't get anything going. Aoki gets on with 2 outs, but Osame's struggles at the plate continues, popping out in foul ground to send us to the break.

As much as I'd though Chiben Gakuen would have the advantage, it's actually been the reverse. Murakami looks like the more tired pitcher while Ichioka is giving the batters fits.

Post-break, the game seems to be giving the breaks to Heian. Bottom 6, Oota at 1st with 2 out and Takahashi hits another ball up the 3rd base line, and once again Tomita makes the stop and throw to 1st for the 3rd out.

And now in the lucky 7, Takeuchi's grounder to 1st takes a high bound at the last minute and goes over Takahashi for what turns out to be a double. After an apparent hit-and-run that is fouled off the non-protected part of Okasawa, Murakami goes top shelf to strike out Ogawa.

Kubota makes things interesting with a slow chopper to the middle, but Osame cuts it down, and makes the running throw across his body to 1st to get the 3rd out.

Kosaka-kantoku is running out of time and is resorting to pushing the envelope. Oohashi draws a one-out walk and gets bunted to 2nd for the one-timer. However, that forces him to send him home when Aoki gets a single to left. Okada comes up with a great throw home, and the side is retired with just 6 outs to go for the Chiben squad.

It's about this time that the MBS stream breaks repeatedly. But I'm able to get parts of the game where Osame singles to left and after a bunt Oota singles through the left side. Kosaka-kantoku doesn't send him this time with just one down.

But Chiben Gakuen cannot solve the problem of the outside pitch. Fukumoto chases that mysterious change away, and then Takahashi chases the high fastball away for the 3rd out.

The stream continues to break as Chiben makes one last rally in the 9th. But I catch Oohashi with a single through the left side, then the short clip when Nakamura singles to center, and then of Aoki with a single to right! Amazingly it's manrui!

But it breaks one more time. Am I really going to miss a sayonara hit?

Well no. But Osame singles back up the middle, 1 run will definitely score, but when Ogawa misplays the ball, the game is over and out of nowhere Chiben Gakuen comes back with 4 hits to win 2-1!

No, I don't understand what happened. Chiben Gakuen didn't get a break, couldn't get a hit, couldn't figure out Ichioka's changeup. And 4 hits later, they have a win.

*throws book out window*

Go figure.

I don't know if the better team won. Maybe they did because the other team couldn't finish. But maybe it was Heian who paid for all those breaks earlier that they couldn't cash in on. Either way Chiben Gakuen is in the finals.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Regarding coverage for the next 4 days

Unfortunately, because of conflicting obligations I will be unable to provide coverage of the tournament as currently done. I may be able to make comments via twitter if I am able to watch the game, but that's probably the best I can do. You can always watch the games live here and they will always start at 1700 PDT/2000 EDT until the 27th (US time) where it will start 30 minutes earlier and there will be 4 games on that day.

I apologize for the conflict, but hopefully if you've been following the tournament so far and reading my notes, you might have an idea of who might advance.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Day 5, Game 3 - Nagata (Hyogo) vs. Kaisei (Nagasaki)

Our penultimate matchup may have one of the better pitchers in the tournament, but as may be the case around the country, be paired with an offense who can provide no help.

Nagata came in as a 21st century squad who reached the prefectural quarterfinals, but whose ace Sonoda seemed to dominate in all matchups giving up 1 run or less in 4 of his 6 games (the other two he gave up 3). He struck out over 11 per 9 (albeit against weaker competition, but that's all we have to go on).

As mentioned though, his biggest problem is that his offense is rather punchless. 4 players batting under 0.230 is never a good sign - even if you're facing the powerhouse teams.

I mean they get a chance at least against Kaisei (Nagasaki) because their pitching isn't stellar, but on the flip side their offense appears to be the opposite of Nagata. While they only scored 2 runs against Shuugakukan, they still pounded out 11 hits. And since you can't win a game scoring 0 runs, unless Sonoda can throw bagels, it's hard to envisage a win.

Nagata (Hyogo)
2B Miyake Satoshi
3B Fujiwara Yoshiyuki
SS Yoshida Masatsugu
P Sonoda Ryousuke
CF Endou Tsuyoshi
1B Akagi Hirotaka (#16)
C Yoshikawa Takaki
RF Tomita Makoto (#7)
LF Koike Kouhei (#9)

Kaisei (Nagasaki)
CF Hattori Kanta
2B Ogawa Hiromu (#5)
3B Shimahara Yuuki (#6)
LF Obata Shoudai
1B Nagaishi Takumu
C Tagawa Kenta
SS Yamaguchi Hiroki (#16)
P Haruta Tsuyoshi
RF Sakata Wataru

____________________________________________________________

14:10 - First Pitch!

Trying to catch up from getting the lineups late, but it's a scoreless 1st on both sides. Ace Sonoda for Nagata gets his clean inning, but first impression is that there's nothing special about him yet. But it's just the first.

We get our first baserunner of the game in Endou when he draws a walk in the 2nd. Nagai-kantoku immediately gives the green light and Endou steals second with time to spare! Akagi moves him to 3rd with a grounder, but Yoshikawa flies out to center to end the inning. As expected, Nagata may struggle to score runs.

I still can't see what it is about Sonoda that makes him one to watch. And he ends up yielding a run though partially not his fault.

Obata hits a hard grounder right to Miyake, but he can't grab the ball to make the out. It's a base hit, but he prolly should've had it. Katou-kantoku sends him to 2nd and Yoshikawa's throw sails over everyone allowing him to reach 3rd. So when Tagawa hits a slow grounder to 3rd, Nagata has to concede the run. 1-0.

Nagata does the right thing to get back - get runners on base any way possible. With one down, Koike and Miyake both draw a walk. Haruta comes back to strike out Yoshida for the 2nd out.

But Sonoda crushes a ball to left center! Hattori won't make it there in time and it goes to the wall! Both runners score and Nagata has the 2-1 lead! Haruta just grooved that fastball in there and it got punished.

Oh boy. The defense is letting down Sonoda. I was about ready to talk about a 1-2-3 inning, but on Hattori's routine fly to left, Koike has it bounce off his glove for a 2 base error. And as expected, the error kills Nagata as Ogawa kills a ball to center. The outfield was playing in, so it's an easy triple and a tie game at 2-2.

The defense continues to puzzle me. Obata a short grounder to the left side, a charging Fujiwara has it, double clutches, then sails it over everything, resulting in Obata being awarded 2nd. After a grounder to advance the runner, Tagawa hits a ball back to Akagi. He snags it, charges in, but then when he thinks it's safe goes to try and tag the runner. But because he wasn't going at the batter-runner he has to change direction. That allows Hattori to come home. And not only doesn't Akagi not tag Tagawa, but Hattori scores as well. 3-2 Kaisei. It stays that way until the break. Nagata may be trailing 3-2, but it belies the fact that they have just 1 hit on the day - Yoshida's 2-run double...

The rest of the game had me trying to figure out what the whole deal was with Sonoda. He's has average velocity, and wasn't really putting away batters like he did in the fall. From what I can figure he has better than average control for the most part and has good movement on his pitches. But not being a scout, I can't tell if that puts him as a potential prospect.

As I'm trying to figure out my commentary on Sonoda, suddenly in the 9th Nagata is able to patch together one last rally. Sonoda's groundball is booted by Ogawa allowing him to reach base. He's bunted over for a chance by Akagi. And he actually connects on a soft liner just out of the reach of Sakamoto into right. But it's so shallow that they can't wave Sonoda home. But they get 2 chances to tie the game.

The first goes to Yoshikawa, but after fighting a couple of balls, he pops one up at the plate. Tagawa makes the catch and Nagata is down to their last chance.

Tomita stands in, and he actually gets a hold of one! Sakata is sprinting back towards the foul pole, slides... and makes the catch! Sakata saves the game for Kaisei as they advance with a 3-2 win.

We see the first show of emotion from a player in Sonoda, who while I think he is crying, I think that he in some way should be pissed off as well. All 3 runs could have been prevented if not for his defense making errors on the field. And these are errors that were more than preventable. It's just disappointing all around.

Day 5, Game 2 - Inabe Sougou Gakuen (Mie) vs. Takamatsu Shougyou (Kagawa)

In the matinee game, we finally get to see the Meiji Jingu Champions and what all the deal is with them.

Looking at them in terms of resume competition, you can't get much better than:
  • Eimei
  • Ikeda
  • Imabari Nishi
  • Saibi
  • Meitoku Gijyuku
  • Sapporo Dai-ichi
  • Osaka Touin
  • Tsuruga Kehi
That there is a list of schools who regularly make their trips to Koushien. Now, we know that the Shikoku region was a bit light this year given the rest of the region's performances. But then you turn to the Meiji Jingu tournament, and defeating both Osaka Touin and Tsuruga Kehi should be a big plus (unless you're under the mindset that neither team really wanted to win because it would invite a team that would just make the field tougher).

Either way, there should be some respect for them. But rarely does the Meiji Jingu champs go on to win the senbatsu title, so unfortunately it seems winning it is like the Madden curse perhaps.

I can't really tell which side of the ball is more important for Takamatsu Shougyou. I'd say the pitching, but you'd think the numbers still hold up - just because a team may not want to win, they usually just sit their ace and that's enough (like what Osaka Touin did in their game at Meiji Jingu). In addition, given what we've seen so far, the only thing the offense can hang their hat on now are the games against Osaka Touin and Tsuruga Kehi (who we haven't seen yet).

Still, it's going to to be a tough ask for Inabe Sougou Gakuen. Yes, the game against Touhou looks better given Fujishima's performance earlier, but there's been a query about his stamina in the long-term, so it's possible they caught him not at his best. Combine that with less than dominating performances against lesser competition, and there are more question marks than I think they can answer.

Inabe Sougou Gakuen (Mie)
RF Miyazaki Yuuto (#18)
SS Morita Ryouma
2B Kanda Shouji
LF Fujii Ryouma
C Watanabe Yuuta
1B Shimizu Hideki (#16)
P Yamauchi Tomoki (#5)
CF Okumura Touki
3B Fujita Ryouga (#15)

Takamatsu Shougyou (Kagawa)
CF Anzai Tsubasa
LF Takeuchi Hiroto
SS Yonebaku Keizou
C Ueda Kyousuke
2B Mino Kousei
1B Ueda Rikuto
RF Ookuma Tatsuya (#10)
P Ura Daiki
3B Yamashita Tatsuki

____________________________________________________________

11:40 - First Pitch!

Well, Mino getting extra infield work it seems. All 3 batters for ISG groundout right to him.

Yaamuchi gets an equally easy inning and I couldn't catch all his pitches - curve, slider, change, split, 2-seam, and more? But even with all though, we'll see how they are.

Ura breezing through his 2nd inning of work, does give up a hard liner (which is snagged by Rikuto), but otherwise racks up his first two Ks by working the edges of the zone,

His counterpart Yamauchi is benefiting from Takashou's batters being eager to swing away. He needs just 8 pitches to retire the side, and they're not exactly swinging at good pitches.

Takashou gets their first base runner when Ura singles back up the middle with one down. Nagao-kantoku goes for the one shot by bunting the runner over. However after giving up a walk, Yamauchi comes right back and strikes out Takeuchi on a fastball inside to retire the side.

The first run comes from an unexpected place. First, Miyazaki lays down a bunt, catching the defense off guard. Yamashita's throw to 1st is late. But Ozaki-kantoku doesn't bunt, and Morita flies out. Fukuda does manage to move him to 2nd on a groundout, but there's 2 down.

Fujii then catches a hanging slider and sends it the other way for a base hit. It's too hard though to send Miyazaki home, so he has to hold at 3rd.

And that's when Ura uncorks a wild pitch, bouncing seemingly 10 feet short and off Kyousuke's glove. It pops in the air and Miyazaki scampers home for a 1-0 lead for Inabe Sougou Gakuen.

Takashou tries to strike back. Kyousuke and Mino each with one out singles the other way put the douten runner in scoring position. And after Rikito walks it's manrui.

Ookuma hits a ball back up the middle, but somehow Kanda smothers it, scrambles to 2nd, and throws to 1st for the inning ending double play!

Still, they're not deterred, 5th inning, Ura gets his 2nd hit in as many at bats, a lucky blooper that falls in between the fielders down the RF line. After another sac bunt, Anzai can't get the base hit and there's 2 outs.

But then Yamauchi walks Takeuchi and there 2 on for Yonebaku.

And he punishes a fastball left in the heart of the zone to center! Okumura chases after it, but it falls in right in front of the wall! Ura scores, Takeuchi waved around, and he scores! The relay throw is high and that allows Yonebaku to take 3rd! Takashou claims their first lead right before the break! It;s 2-1!

Kyousuke can't drive him in, so we're left at that score, but it looks like their offense is finally getting going.

Inabe Sougou Gakuen scraps something together in the lucky 7.

Fujii's grounder takes an irregular bounce and skies over Rikuto for a base hit. After a fielder's choice, Ozaki-kantoku has Shimizu bunt, but instead of an out, Ura throws the ball wide and everyone's safe.

And then out of nowhere, Yamauchi goes down and crushes a ball to left center! The outfield is in, so there's no chance they'll get to it! Both runners score and it's a tie ball game! 3-3!

Okumura with a single to right! Now Inabe Sougou Gakuen has the lead! It's 4-3!

Ura's able to stop the bleeding there, but out of nowhere the 7the truly is lucky for ISG!

With the lead, Keigo finally enters the game as Yamauchi takes his numbered position. He retires the side in order and I might have my first true surprise of the tournament!

ISG then plays add on! After Ura bobbles a safety bunt by Murata, Fujii crushes another ball, again over the drawn in outfield for a triple! That scores 1, and knocks out Ura from the game. 2B Mino goes to the mound, but can't stop Yuuta tacking on 1 more with a single of his own! ISG now doubles up the Meiji Jingu champs at 6-3!

Takashou furiously tries to fight back. First Kyousuke draws a walk. After that Mino lines a scorcher that just gets past Shimizu into right! That's for a double and now a base hit can bring them within 1!

Instead though, ISG trades 2 groundouts for those runs, Kanda making a great running stop on the 2nd by PH Yoshida. It's 6-5, but there are no more base runners to bring home. So Manabe flies out to center and that's the inning.

Mino manages to hold serve, despite a leadoff single and several adventures with fielders choice's. But now they're down to their final 3 outs, and first up is Yamashita, who is 0-1 with 2 sacrifice bunts.

He flies out to left for the first out.

AH! Keigo hits Anzai and the douten runner is on base!

They send him! Throw to 2nd... NOT IN TIME!

Oh man... that was ballsy by Ozaki-kantoku. He's thrown out, this game is over.

Takeuchi shot to short... IT'S OFF MORITA AND INTO LEFT! Anzai coming around, and he scores without a throw! We're all tied at 6-6!!

Now Ozaki-kantoku will play for the sayonara run. He as Okumura bunt the runner over.

Kyousuke with a chance to end the game, but he pops one up. Shimizu heading over to the dugout, dives... MAKES THE CATCH!! He looks like he really crashed into the barrier, but he makes the catch! We're headed to enchousen!

And Fujii starts it off with a line single back up the middle! Yuuta bunts him over.

But then there's an audible gasp from the crowd! Fujii was heading back to 1st! He's run down and suddenly there's 2 outs! What happened?

Well, from the overhead shot it looked like that there was a player between Fujii and the umpire. So when he raised his hands he went back to first thinking it was a foul ball. But then again the umpire shouldn't have fully blocked by a player, so maybe it's not that. What I do hope is that it wasn't another player who tricked him. Though with batters selling dead balls, I don't know anymore.

With 2 outs now, Shimizu strikes out and the side is retired.

And wouldn't you know it, Mino takes the momentum from that and drives a ball to deep right center. It goes to the wall for a triple and the sayonara run is 90 feet away.

In the end, the game ends anticlimactically. Keigo throws a wild pitch and Mino comes home to score 7-6.

It kinds sours the mood considering how the game went, but a win is a win.

Day 5, Game 1 - Soushi Gakuen (Okayama) vs. Toukaidai Koufu (Yamanashi)

We're headed to the homestretch in the first round, and 2 more regional champions take the field today.

Soushi Gakuen were the champions of a seemingly down Chuugoku region. We've seen Kaisei already, and the 5-0 win they have over them based upon what we've seen doesn't count for much. So the only game we can take anything from is their loss to Tsuruga Kehi, which is problematic precisely because it is a loss.

On the positive side, ace Takada was able to keep his K rates up against Tsuruga Kehi, so his numbers may be believable. Or at least more believable than most. Flipping the coin, on face value it's of concern that against Tsuruga Kehi their supposedly strong offense got choked off.

Toukaidai Koufu on the other hand was pushing all their competition aside up until the super-regional semifinals when Kisaradzu's Takeda (that's right, not ace Hayakawa, but their reliever Takeda) pitched a shutout. This after the team scored more than 5 runs in every game before that. That could be a problem.

The team uses a tandem of pitchers, with both Kikuchi and Matsuba are control pitchers, and while they split time for the most part Kikuchi went the distance in their final 2 games. In the end, their numbers didn't regress, but Kisaradzu's offense may not be the best indicator for their abilities.

There are questions all around, but as mentioned in the previews I think based upon normal projections Soushi Gakuen has the advantage.

Soushi Gakuen (Okayama)
SS Kitagawa Daiki
2B Yui Asuka
LF Nanba Yuuhei
RF Takai Kakeru
CF Kusuka Minoru
1B Fujise Kanei
C Kobayashi Yuuki
P Takada Housei
3B Honda Ryuuji

Toukaidai Koufu (Yamanashi)
LF Hagiwara Kyouma
RF Taniguchi Kiwamu (#16)
SS Fukutake Shuu
3B Matsuoka Shunsuke
1B Kurita Shunto
CF Harada Ryuusei
C Kameda Keita
P Matsuba Koujin
2B Kawakami Kazuki

____________________________________________________________

09:00 - First Pitch!

Soushi Gakuen off to a good start, Kitagawa lines one back up the middle for a single.

Matsuba paying a lot of attention to Kitagawa, but he doesn't steal 2nd. Instead Yui bunts him over.

Looks like the Soushi batters have a clear idea what to do with the ball instead of just trying to make contact. Nanba clearly looks to go the other way, though he tries even with a ball inside. Matsuba goes with the high slider to record the K.

And I don't think Takai realized he'd been punched out by the umpire on that fastball outside. Side retired.

Great AB by Hagiwara to start affairs for the Yamanashi champs. Works count full and goes down to reach a fastball, singling to center.

Toukaidai Koufu making good cuts early. Taniguchi also reaching down on a ball and lining it to left. Nanba has to leap, but makes the catch.

And Fukutake grounds into the 6-4-3 double play, and the side is retired.

Odd that #5 batter Kusaka is trying for a bunt hit to start the 2nd, but maybe when he chases the curveball in the dirt, that might be why...

Fujise gets unlucky on a ball at his sock height for the 2nd out, but Matsuba is working the expanded zone. Kobayashi has to go for a ball too far down and in, and still almost gets a base hit, if not for a diving Kurita.

A bit unlucky for Takada as Matsuoka's chopper is called foul by the home plate umpire as Honda throws to 1st. That extends the AB and Matsuoka bloops a ball to center.

After two choppers that allow him to advance to 3rd, Kameda pays it off hitting a 2-seamer that rides back over the plate to center, giving Toukaidai Koufu the 1-0 lead.

Takada trying to give his team a chance, fights off several pitches before earning a 9-pitch walk.

Honda tries to steal a base hit the other way, but Fukutake is able to cut it off in the gap and spin throw to 2nd to cut the lead runner.

Nagasawa-kantoku looks to press his runners, but Fukutake is waiting for him with the ball when he tries to steal 2nd. Kitagawa strikes out afterwards.

Back to Toukaidai Koufu, and it seems like the batters are keying in on that 2-seamer. Kawakami gets a hold of another one that crosses back to the edge and lines it to center. Hagiwara lays down the bunt, but Takada throws the ball wide and pulls Fujise off the bag. Big chance for Toukaidai Koufu.

Except that Takda gets Taniguchi to ground right to Kitagawa who turns the 6-3 double play! 2 out, but Kawakami stands at 3rd.

Fukutake a chance to extend the lead, but he's jammed and grounds to who else - Kitagawa - and he makes the 3rd out!

Soushi Gakuen's batters struggling with that inside pitches, but then they can't identify the good pitches on the outer half of the plate. So they're either striking out, or catching the ball off the end of the bat.

I say that and then Takai gets a fastball off the end of the bat, drives it almost to the wall in center, and thanks to Harada's overthrow, gets to advance to 3rd.

Once again though, Kusuka hits one off the end of the bat and grounds to 2nd - side retired.

Muranaka-kantoku perhaps trying to press as the game advances to the latter stages, has Harada trying to steal 2nd after getting a 2-out single, but he's out by a good margin there as well.

Soushi Gakuen meanwhile seems to be making progress. Fujise is able this time to get ahead of a fastball inside and turn it to right for a base hit. Kobayashi shows bunt, but doesn't straight go for it, instead earning a 4-pitch walk.

Takada though pops up his bunt unable to move the runners 90 feet closer.

So instead Nagasawa-kantoku sends the runners and the ball bounces away from Kameda! Both reach without a throw! Great chance for Soushi!

Honda with a slow grounder to the right side! That should get the run home! But Kawakami goes straight for home, and he has no play! Everyone is safe and the game is tied at 1-1! There was no chance for a play there!

And he almost goes home on an even slower grounder to the right side from Kitagawa! He thinks better and trades the run for the out. 2-1 Soushi Gakuen!

The fielder's choice continues to compound on itself. Yui and Nanba both use their bailing swings to get on an inside pitch and send it back up the middle for base hits, extending the lead to 3-1. Takai adds in one more, sending the first pitch into the wide open gap on the left side for one more run.

In fact, Soushi Gakuen might have extended their lead past 4-1 if not for the fact that Nagasawa-kantoku sent the runners yet again, though this time Nanba was easy meat at 3rd.

Toukaidai Koufu tries to cut into that deficit. Much like the 3rd, Kameda gets a leadoff base hit. PH Satou draws a walk, putting runners at 1st and 2nd with no out.

But again like the 3rd, Kawakami grounds into the 6-4-3 double play and there's 2 out. Hagiwara strikes out on a slider outside and Takada maintains the 4-1 lead into the break.

With Matsuba's day done, #10 Kikuchi takes the hill. He doesn't throw hard, but has the same compliment as Matsuba, and his first inning is a clean one.

As for Takada, he's getting an increasingly easier time it seems as the Toukaidai Koufu batters can't seem to lay off the slider and either make poor contact, or just plain strike out. With 3 innings left to go, there's still time for them, but it's quickly running out.

And instead Soushi tacks on another run in the 8th thanks to Takai once again. He takes a ball the other way (what else is new) for a single. 5-1 Soushi and if Takada can keep his pace it's all but a formality.

Small hiccup to start the bottom half of the frame. Yui throws high on a routine grounder allowing Kikuchi to take 2nd. Once again though Toukaidai can't make any headway. with both Kawakami and Hagiwara getting under Takada's pitches.

Taniguchi does manage to square one up, but credit Kitagawa with making the great stop and throw to 1st to retire the side.

In fact, Toukaidai Koufu would fail to mount a rally in the final innings and Soushi Gakuen advances with the 5-1 win.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Day 4, Game 3 - Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama) vs. Shuugakukan (Kumamoto)

Last pairing could be a tough one for a region champion as they are facing a region in form. Shuugakukan has posted good numbers, and despite a weaker super-regional schedule, their 4-2 loss to Touhou looks all that better. But while that may be the case, their offense certainly isn't as strong as their 0.374/0.411/0.637 line would indicate, and their pitching trio of Arimura/Horie/Nakai can somewhat hold their own.

Hanasaki Tokuharu has an ace in Takahashi that struck out more than 10 per 9. But in their game against Kisaradzu Sougou, that value was cut in half. I have no doubt that he can strike out batters, but probably not at the clip his fall stats indicate. In addition, in their two losses to Urawa Gakuin and the aforementioned Kisaradzu Sougou the offense, which had batted 0.309/0.408/0.520 were basically shut down. This may be due to the fact that a third of their lineup batted 0.260 or worse, so potential scoring opportunities could die on the vine depending where in the lineup they are.

Despite Kanto having success compared to Kyushu, Shuugakukan stands a chance against the floating bid from Kanto IF Arimura can manage the game.

Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama)
2B Chimaru Tsuyoshi
RF Takahashi Toshiki
SS Okazaki Daisuke
LF Nishikawa Manaya (#16)
3B Kusamoto Kouki
CF Yamamoto Yuuya
1B Nishime Kizuku
P Takahashi Kouya
C Nomoto Masayasu

Shuugakukan (Kumamoto)
SS Matsuo Taiga
CF Harada Takumi
1B Kimoto Ryouga
C Kuki Ryuuhei
LF Amamoto Kousuke
3B Hirobe Shuuhei
P Horie Kouhei (#4)
RF Kimura Yuuji
2B Hanjyou Touma (#17)

____________________________________________________________

14:40 - First Pitch!

Here I was worried about Arimura, and Horie walks his first batter. But Horie must have some goods to have a slider, curve, change, 2 seamer and I think I missed one. (changeup, it was the change)

Toshiki tries to bunt him along, but offers strike 3 on a ball in the dirt. That's the first actual failed three bunt this tournament if I'm not mistaken.

Horie is going back and forth it seems, walking Okazaki, then striking out Nishikawa on an inside change.

Kusumoto is awarded a dead ball, but I think the batters are catching on that the umpires aren't really checking. That's starting to really annoy me.

Thankfully for me anyways, Hanasaki Tokuharu doesn't benefit from it. Yamamoto gets frozen on a changeup on the outer edge.

As for Dr K (aka Takahashi Kouya), Shuugakukan may have something on him as he's not getting his way with the batters. I mean he's getting outs, but the batters are fighting tooth and nail. He walks 1 strikes out 1, but throws 26 pitches in the inning.

The bottom of the lineup fares worse against Horie, with all three batters getting under his pitches making for easy flyball outs. The location was better that inning and could just be nerves.

The 3rd inning sees Hanasaki get on the board. Toshiki, who couldn't lay down the bunt in the 1st, takes a slider the other way. After a sac bunt with 1 down, Nishikawa takes the 1st pitch past a diving Hanjyou into right. Kimura makes a great throw home, but Kuki just can't secure it before Toshiki boots it away on his slide. 1-0.

Shuugakukan looks to strike right back. One down, Matsuo singles just out of Okazaki's reach up the middle. Harada turns on a ball down the 3B line for a single.

But instead of a bunt to move the runners over, Kouya makes a wild throw to 2nd on a pickoff attempt and lets Matsuo move to 3rd. Harada subsequent steals 2nd without a throw. To top it off Kimoto gets his 2nd walk in as many appearances.

And then all heck breaks loose. Kouya grooves a fastball that Kuki drives to left center for a double, giving Shuugakukan the 2-1 lead. But that's not all. Amamoto gets a hold of one himself, and if the wind wasn't blowing in from left, he might have had a HR. Instead, he gets a sac fly for 3-1. Hirobe connects on a slider and drives that into the gap in left center, rolling all the way to the wall scoring one more at 4-1.

Capping it off, Kajisha-kantoku goes for the double steal, and Hanasaki Tokuharu had had enough of that inning, they just let the run score to get the 3rd out. 5-1.

Hanasaki Tokuharu gets back a run before the break. Nomoto crushes a fastball down the left field line for a double. after a bunt, they get a wild pitch to make the score 5-2.

Of course, in order to get back the run you have to hold serve. Kouya didn't.

Kimoto single to center. Kuki bunt, but Kouya goes to 2nd where Kimoto beats the throw. Then Amamoto singles past a diving Nishime to score 1. The lead goes back up to 4 at 6-2.

They may not be done yet either. Kimura with 2 down holds up on a 2-2 pitch just outside. As a result of holding off he gets a walk to load the bases.

Even though it's their #9 batter, Hanjyou drives a ball to deep right. Toshiki makes the easy catch, but it's scary how well the team is seeing the ball.

Post-break, Kajisha-kantoku's pitching machine churns. #11 Taura comes in to pitch and bats in Hanjyou's spot. Horie goes to his numbered position.

This is where it starts to get interesting because Taura has a 13/10 K/BB ratio.

Uh, he's doing fine thanks?

Catches the outside edge both times on Nishikawa and Kusumoto for 2 outs. Yamamoto makes contact, but it's just a grounder to 1st. Not a bad way to start.

It gets better for him in the 7th. He's hitting all the corners and he actually strikes out the bottom of the order!

But in the 8th things get pear shaped, and FAST.

Hitting Chimaru wasn't a problem, until Toshiki doubled down the left field line. A groundout was welcome by Shuugakkan as they would love to trade a run for an out. 6-3.

Instead of trading runs for outs, they were just hemorrhaging runs.  Nishikawa spins around a 150 kph fastball to left center, to score 1 more. 6-4.

And when Kusumoto doubles down the right field line making it a 6-5 game, he has no choice. Ace Arimura enters the game to try and stem the tide.

And he does! Yamamoto fouls out to Kuki, and Kimoto smothers a grounder from Nishime! Shuugakukan just holds onto their lead!

#11 Tsunawaki holds serve the last two innings giving his team a chance.

Iwai-kantoku goes for broke. He PH for his 3rd P, but Tominaga flies out to right. Nomoto goes down swinging for the 2nd out, and Chimaru chases a forkball in the dirt for the final out!

It wasn't a complete performance by Shuugakukan, as there are questions regarding the bullpen, but the team feels very well built - several pitchers Kajisha-kantoku can turn to, and hitters who can put together professional ABs.

And also, who knew a double steal would be the difference in the game? But they're certainly not going to complain - and Nanyou Kougyou better watch out next round.

Day 4, Game 2 - Nanyou Kougyou (Yamaguchi) vs. Shiritsu Wakayama (Wakayama)

Our matinee matchup could be another low scoring affair given what we've seen so far. Originally I had given Shiritsu Wakayama an edge just because of the competition faced and the fact that while Nanyou Kougyou scored a lot of runs, the slash lines were weak given the competition.

But Akashi Shougyou was a rather anemic winner, and they wound up mercy-ruled by them in the quarterfinals. Maybe if they were in the semis it could be forgiven (as they would almost certainly get a bid), but this was in the quarterfinals where nothing is guaranteed.

Now, this doesn't make Nanyou Kougyou the favorite by any stretch. The numbers for them don't impose confidence in the team (4 batters hitting under 0.250 and a pitching staff that barely Ks out 5 per 9 and BBs about 3 per 9). What it does mean is that their chances are greatly improved. Not 50-50 though, but still a fighting chance.

Nanyou Kougyou (Yamaguchi)
SS Yamasaki Daisuke
RF Sasabe Kousuke
CF Ieiri Ryuusei
3B Yamaguchi Yuuta
C Fujimoto Daisuke
1B Chikama Kazuki
LF Satou Wataru
P Shigetomi Shouki
2B Yoshii Kotarou

Shiritsu Wakayama (Wakayama)
3B Yamazaki Takuya
2B Kawasaki Shin
CF Shichino Rei
1B Kitajima Riku
RF Kinoshita Kouji
LF Kitamura Tatsuhito
C Okamoto Naoki
P Akaba Riku
SS Hamano Shougo

____________________________________________________________

11:55 - First Pitch!

Akaba for Shiritsu Wakayama has a 3/4 delivery? Doesn't look very traditional, nor does he throw very hard. Still, it's a clean start of sorts as although he gives up a soft liner to right, he's assisted by his SS Hamano who makes a diving catch on a liner and doubles off Sasabe at 1st.

Shigetomi gets his 1-2-3 inning, though while the outs themselves were not stressful, the Ichiko batters were working the counts.

Akaba one of the harder throwers, hitting 141 on the gun, though perhaps a bit all over the place as he leaves one over that Chikama lines back up the middle, and he scatters his fastballs to walk Satou. Once again, the batters still swing away and Shigetomi grounds out to short - inning over.

Shigetomi's delivery seems to lead itself to inconsistency as it looks like he's leaning at times and out of balance. Once again in the 2nd, he gets his clean frame, but the Ichiko batters are sticking to the game plan of working the count despite it resulting in 2 Ks.

Nanyou certainly having the better of it in base runners - Yoshii goes down and takes a slider the other way for a soft single. Yamasaki looked to have offered on a 2-strike ball that gets by Okamoto. Yoshii advances to 2nd, but Yamasaki is not called out.

That had the opportunity to hurt Ichikou as Yamasaki grounded to short, allowing Yoshii to reach 3rd. But with the infield playing hard in, Sasabe manages to hit one right at Kawasaki, and there was no way Yoshii could head home. And the threat is diffused when Ieiri is jammed and grounds one right to Kitajima for out number 3.

It's all a 1-sided affair in terms of getting a base hit. Chikama so far the best at seeing the ball, taking a ball the other way for a double. Though with 2 outs, it's erased on the next pitch as Satou gets jammed by Akaba.

Finally though Ichikou gets their first hit. Captiain Yamazaki takes a ball through the opposite gap for a single. Despite the single though, Shigetomi induces 2 more flyouts, and the no-hitter is gone, but not much else it seems.

The game really just feels like the Shoudoshima - Kamaishi game, the pitchers are better, but the effect is the same - a scoreless affair where teams are just looking for a run.

Shigetome threatens that in the 5th, and it's all his own doing. He walks Kitamura, then throws a wild pitch, then walks another batter, then Fujimoto in a snap throw to 2nd throws wide missing the SS and the CF. But Hamano decides to swing on a slider in the dirt, somehow makes contact (which was unfortunate) and grounded out to short. 0-0 at the break.

Nanyou gets another chance for a run when Yamazaki boots a grounder from Ieiri and compounds that with a high throw to 1st. But as bad luck would have it (or rather a TOOTBLAN), Yamaguchi lines out to 1st and Yamazaki is easily doubled off 2nd having taken off on contact.

Again, to maintain the status quo, Ichikou gives one back. Yamazaki connects with one for a double to right center. But after a bunt, Handa-kantoku calls for the contact play, and Shichino finds a drawn in Chikama. He goes home and Yamazaki is meat.

But we seem to be in a zone where the teams are trying to give each other a run. Shigetomi can't find the zone, plunking Kitajima and walking Kinoshita. Handa-kantoku sends in lucky boy #14 Oono, but he flies out to center, and well, there goes that.

Lucky 7 time, and Satou gets a break when Kawasaki charging his short chopper, makes his running throw wide and into the camera well. There's 2 down by this point so Nanyou needs a base hit. Shigetomi walks, which means it's up to #9 batter Yoshii.

And he delivers! He gets around on an inside 2 seamer and singles to left! They're waving Satou home! Oono double clutches and uncorks one high, but Okamoto comes down with it, dives at home...

OUT!!!  Okamoto makes a great play to save a run! Maybe sending the runner home wasn't the right thing, but Ichikou gets the job done!

Akaba tries to help his own cause in his lucky 7 with a base hit, but he's not helped when Hamano lays down a poor bunt, getting him forced out.

8th inning comes around and I'm pretty much frustrated. Sasabe gets a one-out single, and advances to 3rd when Kinoshita drops the ball trying to get it quickly in. Runners at the corners, and Yamazaki-kantoku calls for the contact play. But, like the other one, Yamaguchi finds Kawasaki who goes home where Sasabe is, not surprisingly, out.

That effectively kills that rally as Fujimoto grounds out to short thereafter.

Ichikou gets another shot at it as Shigetomi issues another free pass. He's bunted to 2nd (of course). But while Kitajima gets a hold of one, it dies in front of the track for the 2nd out.

Kinoshita with a rip shot up the 1st base side, but Chikama makes the diving stop! Goes to the bag for the 3rd out! Might have saved a run there!

The top of the 9th though is where I get frustrated, and this goes back to when I thought Osaka Touin had called for an appeal on a play just to throw off Mie in the final.

Chikama gets awarded on a dead ball but on the helmet to start the inning. But on the replay the ball doesn't look like it changed direction. The umpire didn't even check the helmet - though his teammates did in the dugout with a laugh.

Compounding that, Satou claims to get hit in the foot and is awarded 1st. There is no replay, but on first glance I didn't see the ball change direction there either. But I'm not as sure about that.

It all comes to a head right after because on Shigetomi's sac bunt, Akaba goes to 3rd and throws it away. Chikama scores to make it 1-0, and after that it all goes to hell. I'm not going to go through it because I think Ichikou may be been as pissed about it as I was. In the end it was 6 runs.

No way Ichikou comes back from that. And I'm done here.

Day 4, Game 1 - Tosa (Kochi) vs. Osaka Touin (Osaka)

I'd like to be able to say that the tournament has been great so far, but to be honest I'm not really one to blow smoke up one's hind quarters so I won't. Most of the games have not been competitive, and the two that were, one was a bit of a snoozer (sorry Shoudoshima/Kamaishi, but while I know why teams employ the severe bunting strategy it doesn't make it any more interesting), and the other didn't really feel like there was much tension in the air (sorry Akashi Shougyou, it really didn't feel like it was anything of your doing that gave you the win outside of executing the squeeze bunts, and even to that extent blame had to be on Nichinan Gakuen's ace for continuing to pitch out of the windup).

Sadly, the opening game of Day 4 won't be any better...

That's because Osaka Touin takes the field, and the unfortunate victim is the Meiji Jingu bid in Tosa. Their key win was against Shoudoshima, who didn't show anything against Kamaishi, and then their 2 losses were to Meitoku Gijuku who also failed to do much against Ryuukokudai Heian. That alone should wave one of the biggest red flags now in the tournament. It makes their 0.260/0.319/0.337 line even more damning, and their ace Osaki, who sports a 5.4 K/9 and 3.4 W/9 rate that much more questionable.

Compare that with Osaka Touin, who while they all didn't impress, all the participants they faced in the fall that qualified for Senbatsu have moved on so far - Chiben Gakuen (ok), Akashi Shougyou (meh), Shiga Gakuen (interesting), and Kisaradzu Sougou (meh) - with only Takamatsu Shougyou yet to play.

Now Osaka Touin does have a weakness this year, and that is their ace Takayama. There has been some fanfare regarding him, but as concerning is the fact that he has walked 31 in his 63.2 innings of work. It would be more of a concern if teams were more welcome to just take a darned walk when it's handed to them, and maybe, maybe, Tosa might be able to as they averaged 4 per game. But unless Takayama just walks in runs left and right, I don't see them troubling the team I call the Yankees (or Kyojin if you like) of the 高校野球 world.

Tosa (Kochi)
RF Yoshihara Tarou
SS Morisaki Yuuto
CF Yoshikawa Shuusuke
1B Shibata Daisuke
LF Matsubara Nobuki
2B Doi Ryoutarou
C Kaji Kengo
P Osaki Genshou
3B Baba Shunpei

Osaka Touin (Osaka)
2B Nagahiro Tomoki
SS Nakayama Yuuto
3B Yoshizawa Kazuto
LF Mitsui Kensuke
1B Furutera Kouki
RF Matsuyama Shin
C Kuribayashi Yuuma
P Takayama Yuuki
CF Kawanaka Ryouutarou

____________________________________________________________

09:00 - First Pitch!

So Takayama looks good off his first batter hitting all his spots.

Of course, when I think that, he plunks Morisaki...

But Nishiuchi-kantoku pushes a bit too far, He tries for the straight steal but Shuusuke stares at a fastball on the outside corner for strike 3 and then Kuribayashi throws Morisaki out.

Meanwhile, Osaka Touin is already trying to jump on Osaki. Nagahiro and Nakayama both hit deep fly balls to center, and Yoshizawa tries to, but pops out instead.

Oh? What's this? Shibata gets a hold of a fastball and drives it to center! Kawanaka has to chase and it's over his head! Shibata's in with a double! And now Matsubara bloops one to center! Shibata holds at 3rd as Kawanaka fires one home, but that allows Matsubata to take 2nd!!

What's worse, Takayama has issues with his control and walks Kaji! Manrui for Tosa!

But like I always see, when you have a pitcher with control issues, they still try for base hits instead of the free pass. Osaki winds up unable to check up on a pitch way down and away, and then Baba hits a routine grounder to 2nd for the 3rd out. So Tosa gives Takayama a helping hand.

That's a shame because Mitsui looks to get the Osaka Touin engine going with a double just out of the reach of Yoshihara in RF. He's bunted to 3rd.

But Matsuyama can't take it the other way and grounds to 3rd. Mitsui has to hold.

Osaki gets out of the jam! He gets Kuribayashi to swing over a changeup and for now he staves them off!

But things finally start crumbling in the 3rd. It starts with a hit batter to the #9 batter Kawanaka. After a fielder's choice for the 2nd out, Nakayama hits a slow grounder that Morisaki can't pick. Yoshizawa then turns on a ball and lines it down the LF line for a double, scoring Nagahiro. 1-0.

They walk Mitsui to create the force, but Furutera simply lifts a ball to left. It's slow enough to score 2 (never mind Matsubara's throw takes a million bounces to home). 3-0.

After 1 more hit batter (which really didn't matter since there was a free base), Osaki finally gets his 3rd out. But 9 batters later and they're spotting the Evil Empire (Don't blame me, their ouen-dan played the Star Wars music!) 3 runs.

Tosa's been shut down since their chance in the 2nd, while Osaki has kept Osaka Touin off the board. Eventually we hit the break with the score still 3-0. Osaki has actually done his job, but the problem is in part the defense has let him down.

The game was probably out of reach already, but Osaka Touin extended the lead to 5-0 in the 6th thanks to 3 hits to start the inning and a subsequent sac fly later.

Defensive gaffes continue for Tosa, who should have had their 3rd out in the 7th with the bases loaded, but Morisaki goes the short way instead of the natural 1st throw, and wouldn't you know it Doi can't secure it. 7-0.

Add on 2 more in the 8th in garbage time and we get to the final score of 9-0. It was all downhill for Tosa after they let the manrui 1-out chance slip away in the 2nd. Osaka Touin would get on the board and not look back.

And the questions regarding Osaka Touin are not answered. Takayama's control was about as one would expect with him walking almost 3-4 batters a game and he was never in a stressful situation after that. As for the offense, they did show the power that the Evil Empire would have, but it wasn't all that consistent. And you can't look at the end of the game because Tosa by that time was already defeated.

So the concerns one would have with Osaka Touin are not answered. Nor will I think they will be facing Kisaradzu Sougou next.