Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Day 11 - Semifinal #2 - Hanamaki Higashi (Iwate) vs. Rifu (Miyagi)

The 2nd semifinal feature two more interesting teams. Say what you will about Hanamaki Higashi's ace Kikuchi - showy, cocky, even a bit arrogant. But there one more thing you can say about him - dominant. He backs up his attitude with a 145 kph fastball that just blows by batters.

Meanwhile, there's 21st century team Rifu. Usually, 21st century teams have not fared too well at Koshien. In fact since 2001, only 7 teams out of the 17 prior participants have won their first game. But Rifu was seems to be a bit stronger than most. They had actually made the Best 4 of the Tohoku Fall Tournament. They defeated a generally good Sakata Minami (Yamagata) squad 3-2 in 11 innings, and then lost in 14 to Ichinoseki Gakuin (I'm still a bit puzzled why Ichinoseki Gakuin did not get invited even though they were runner-ups, but I digress). So it's not like they were a pushover.

They proved that on the field. After annihilated Kakegawa Nishi, they squeaked one out against Narashino winning in the bottom of the 9th. Paired against Waseda Jitsugyou, they had their work cut out for them. But a 5-run 5th inning shocked everyone as they held on to win 5-4.

Not sine Ginoza of Okinawa back in 2001 (the first year of the 21st century team) has such a team advanced to the Best 4. And if they want to reach the championship game, they have to beat the now remaining pitcher yet to yield a run.

Discount them all you want, they've proven everyone (including myself) wrong...

Hanamaki Higashi (Iwate)
2B Kashiwaba
CF Satou Ryouhei
SS Kawamura
3B Sarukawa
1B Yokokura
C Chiba
RF Satou Ryuujirou
P Kikuchi
LF Yamada

Rifu (Miyagi)
C Endou
CF Fujiwara
1B Baba
RF Inoue
SS Sakurada
3B Yunomura
LF Katou Shuuta
2B Satou Yuuji
P Tsukamoto

1:20 PM - First Pitch

Top 1st
Kashiwaba with a safety bunt! Yunomura comes it, not really charging and his throw to 1st isn't in time! Leadoff man on for Hanamaki! Ryuuhei moves him over to 2nd. Kawamura advances him to 3rd with a grounder to 2nd... but Sarukawa hits a weak grounder to 2nd to end the threat.

Bottom 1st
While Kikuchi does yield a two-out walk to Baba, he strikes out the side. That half-game of rest did him some good.

Top 2nd
Tsukamoto quickly gets 2 outs, but then Ryuujirou hits one to deep left! Shuuta stands there for a second then turns around as he's completely fooled! Ryuujirou rounds 2nd and Shuuta's throw in isn't even close to his cutoff man! Ryuujirou takes 3rd!

But Kikuchi grounds out to short and the inning is over.

Bottom 2nd
Rifu gets contact on the ball, but to no avail. A 1-2-3 inning for Kikuchi.

Top 3rd
Tsukamoto gets his 1-2-3 innings and he's holding up well against Hanamaki Higashi.

Bottom 3rd
Yuuji starts off the inning by working a walk. Tsukamoto moves him to 2nd.

And Endou takes a pitch to right. Ryuujirou runs back, to the wall???


Endou takes the first pitch the opposite field just over the fence for a 2-run homerun!! And the last pitcher to not give up a run, gives up 2 in spectacular fashion! Rifu leads 2-0!!!

Then during Baba's AB, Fujiwara goes for 2nd and makes it!

And then he walks Fujiwara on 4 straight! This is uncharted territory for Kikuchi and the Hanamaki squad!

But he settles down. He stirkes out Baba looking, and gets Inoue to ground out to 2nd. But Rifu continues to shock the nation as they take a 2-0 lead!!

Top 4th
One down for Hanamaki, and Sarukawa singles past a diving Yuuji into right! But Tsukamoto strikes out Yokokura for the 2nd out!

Chiba looking to keep the inning going. He drives one to deep center! Fujiwara ranges back, and has to leap to make the catch!! A really close call there by the Rifu defense.

Bottom 4th
Yunomura steps in with one out and hits one to deep right center! That's to the wall! Yunomura pushes for 3! But the throw from Kashiwaba is in plenty of time to get him!

After that, it's just a 1-2-3 inning for Kikuchi. Kinda.

Top 5th
Ryuujirou with a soft liner that just goes over a leaping Sakurada! Kikuchi with the bunt, but tries to stall up the first base line. Baba comes over and it's a hard collision for the out. The home plate umpire has a word with Kikuchi before he goes back to the dugout.

One out, runner on 2nd for Yamada. He puts down the bunt. Endou with the ball, but the throw to 1st pulls Baba off the bag!! All safe. E2 and runners at the corners with one out!

Top batter Kashiwaba up. Grounder back up the middle! Yuuji ranges over makes the diving stop! Toss to 2nd, safe! Throw to 1st is in time. But Ryuujirou scores and Hanamaki has cut the deficit in half 2-1!!

Had not Yamada not gone on the play, the inning would have been over!

Ryuuhei steps up and hits a hard grounder right at 3rd. But it goes through Yunomura and into left! Yamada races for home!! Fuse charging in, makes the throw home! Endou with the ball and makes the swipe tag! Yamada's out at the plate! A possibly disasterous error turns into the 3rd out!

Bottom 5th
Kikuchi is starting to look human now!

Tsukamoto starts with a one-out single to right. Endou follows that up with a grounder to left! Obara-kantoku elects to bunt the runners along and Fujiwara executes the bunt.

2 down, runners on 2nd and 3rd for Baba! And after the count runs full, he walks him. Manrui!

But Kikuchi escapes! He gets Inoue to ground out to short to end the inning!

Top 6th
Hanamaki's offense starts again with one down. Sarukawa lines one to 1st, but it glances off Baba's glove! He gets the ball, but Tsukamoto isn't covering! E3!

Yokokura drives one down the right field line, but Inoue is there for the catch. 2 down.

Chiba lines one through the infield and into left! Runners at 1st and 2nd! AHH!!! He hits Ryuujirou! Manrui for Hanamaki Higashi!!

Kikuchi up hoping to help his cause. Count goes 2-2 when he reaches down for one! The ball heads to center and it falls in front of a charging Fujiwara!! Sarukawa scores! The throw home is cut off and Chiba scores!! Kikuchi with the bloop single and the error comes back to haunt Rifu!! Hanamaki Higashi takes the 3-2 lead!!

And Obara-kantoku feels like he's seen enough. He pulls Tsukamoto and #10 Takahashi enters the game. It's a bit curious since it wasn't really bad pitching that led to the 2 runs.

But Takahashi does get the job done, getting Yamada to ground out to first. But Rifu has given up the lead here in the 6th!

Bottom 6th
With the lead and new life, Kikuchi seems to return to his former self, retiring the side in order. Even gives a guts pose when he strikes out Fuse for out #3.

Top 7th
Kashiwaba opens "Lucky 7" with a single back up the middle. Ryouhei though can't lay the bunt and grounds out to 2nd. The Hanamaki batters seem to have an easier time with Takahashi as Kawamura also singles up the middle.

The pitching change could backfire of Rifu...

But Sarukawa grounds to 2nd! Yuuji starts the inning-ending 4-6-3 double play!

However, while Rifu just fell behind, time is already starting to run out on Rifu.

Bottom 7th
Yuuji with a grounder to the left side, Sarukawa charges, but gives up on it! Kawamura, backing up the play fields the ball and makes the throw to 1st just in time to get Yuuji!

Kikuchi retires the next two batter in quick order, and it looks like Rifu's chance to advance may have slipped away!

Top 8th
And their defense isn't helping them out. Yokokura singles down the right field line, but Inoue misplays the ball! Yokokura advances to 2nd! And the first pitch is misplayed by Endou! It gets away from him and Yokokura heads to 3rd! And Chiba walks on 4 straight to put runners at the corners with no down!

Obara-kantoku has a quick conference on the mound.


Ryuujirou goes for the bunt, but misses! Yokokura wasn't going though, but Chiba steals 2nd! Now a base hit blows the game open!

But Takahashi strikes out Ryuujirou for out number one!

Kikuchi up yet again to help his cause.


This time Sasaki-kantoku does call for the squeeze!! Takahashi gets to the ball quickly, throws home and AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

He throws it wide of Endou and it goes all the way to the backstop!! Yokokura scores! Chiba rounds 3rd and he scores!! Hanamaki Higashi does blow it open thanks to Kikuchi yet again, and it's 5-2!!

Yamada looking to keep the inning going, draws a walk!

Obara-kantoku makes another pitching change. #11 Katou Hiroki comes in. Still only 1 down in the 8th.

Hiroki gets Kashiwaba to fly out to left. 2 down.

Ryuuhei though hits a grounder to the left side! Sakurada dives, and it goes off of him into left! Kikuchi rounds 3rd, and Fuse bobbles the ball! But Kikuchi was heading back to 3rd, so he doesn't advance. But it's manrui for Hanamaki Higashi!

Hiroki gets Kawamura to strike out, but Hanamaki extends it's lead. And against Kikuchi, 3 runs is a lot.

Bottom 8th
It's just about over for Rifu now. Kikuchi retires the side in order and the magical run looks over here in the Best 4.

Top 9th
Hiroki walks Sarukawa to start the inning. He's bunted over for Chiba, but he pops it up to 2nd. Ryuujirou grounds to short and the inning is over...

Bottom 9th
3 runs in 3 outs for Rifu. That's what they face here...

But they fight on. Sakurada fouls off pitches at the dish until Kikuchi strikes him out on an outside pitch.

Yunomura though singles to right!! There's some life!

He's replaced by #16 Watanabe as it starts to rain yet again at Koushien.

And Fuse with a grounder up the middle! Kawamura with the ball, steps on 2nd for one, throw to 1st, in time to beat a leaping Fuse!

Rifu looked like it was going to continue it's amazing run. But poor defense won't get you there, and Hanamaki Higashi jumped on that to rally and defeat Rifu in good fashion.

Give Rifu a round of applause, but now we head to the finals. And it's the matchup that I think people were hoping for as the tournament progressed. Two intimidating and strong pitchers face off...

Imamura Takeru (Seihou Koukou - Saza-cho, Nagasaki)


Kikuchi Yuusei (Hanamaki Higashi Koukou - Hanamaki-shi, Iwate)

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