Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bracket-by-bracket analysis & key players

(Analysis progress: できた!)

So before we go through the bracket-by-bracket analysis, I had a prevailing thought about how where it was advantageous to be slotted.

I thought that if you drew a spot anywhere in the 2nd round, you were at an immediate advantage because you had to play one less game. However, I don't think that fully true.

Take for example Aomori Yamada and Teikyou's drawn positions in Bracket G and H. Their first game isn't until the 7th day. But, then they have a 3-day turnaround before they play their next game. Should they win that, they're facing at best a 2-day turnaround in the next 2 games. On the other hand, PL Gakuen and Nihon Bunri gets a 4-day turnaround.

For those teams that have to play the 1st round, the advantage goes to the A, B, and 1st half of the C bracket (in that order). The closer you are to Meihou, Kounan, Yachiyo Higashi and Saijyou, the more rest you get early on. And given the summer conditions, it's a battle of stamina as well as skill.

Anyways, enough of that - let's get to the brackets:

Bracket A
Meihou (Oita) vs. Kounan (Okinawa)

This is a matchup I think I would have like to see later. You have 2 teams with a strong pitching staff. For Meihou, the headliner is 3rd year SS Imamiya Kenta. He sports a low 90's fastball along with a two-seam, slider, curve, changeup and sinker. But then they have 2 other pitchers, Noguchi and 2nd year Yamano to compliment him.

Opposite Imamiya is Shimabukuro Yousuke. You may remember him in this year's spring Koshien as the pitcher who threw a no-hitter through 9 innings, struck out 19, and lost! He can hit 90, and like Imamiya has a two-seam, slider and curve.

But it's not all pitcher oriented. Meihou has some offensive players to look out for such as leadoff batter RF Hirai, cleanup batter C Abe, and CF Kawano Ryouta. For Kounan, it's C Ketashiro.

Yachiyo Higashi (Chiba) vs. Saijyou (Ehime)
Oy. You're Yachiyo Higashi and you get your first ever Koshien appearance. Your reward is to face the 6'1", 200 lb ace Akiyama Takumi from Saijyou. He can hit the magical 150 kph (~93 mph) and has a wide array of pitches which include a two-seam fastball, a cutter, slider, curve and fork. And oh yeah, he's not that bad with the bat either. Joining him in the middle of the order as well is his batterymate C Mori Yuusuke.

Jyousuikan (Hiroshima) vs. Kochi (Kochi)

I remember seeing Jyousuikan on TV when I was in Onomichi winning the Hiroshima tournament back in 2006. And here they are back in 2009. They're led by ace Kouno, who is a converted outfielder. He hits mid-upper 80's with a slider. Offensively, they have 2B Ariyama and C Morimoto who can, and do, hit for power.

Kochi sends Koubun(?) onto the mound. His fastball matches that of Kouno while throwing a slider, curve and screwball. His batterymate, C Kinoshita, gives Kochi their offensive power.

Tokoha Tachibana (Shizuoka) vs. Asahigawadai (Kita Hokkaido)
The final matchup in Bracket A has the other Tokoha school (Kikugawa being the other), reaching Koshien for their first time. Their ace Shouji Hayato can hit 90 mph complimenting that with a slider and a curve. He can help his own cause offensively as well, displayed in the Shizuoka final when he hit 2 homeruns. He wasn't the only one though, as SS Inazumi Kouhei also hit 2 homeruns in that game. But true to form, Tokoha Tachibana's offense has shades of their more experienced bretheren where they burst out for a big inning. I think the difference is that they actually have batters to be scared of each time they're up.

Leading Asahigawadai is Kakita Ryuugo. Nicknamed Dr. K, he struck out 88 in 60 innings during qualifiers. He only hits the low 80's, but with command of a slider, slow curve and changeup, the speed difference seems to baffle the batters. He'll need it to make it past the first game.

My choice: Man, I have two schools - Tokoha Tachibana and Saijyou to root for. And then there's the Meihou-Kounan matchup. I like Imamiya, but I wonder if the defense will hold up for him versus Kounan. I like Akiyama, but there's the nagging thought about Saijyou's offense though they showed quite a bit of offense in the Ehime qualifiers. The same goes for Kounan and Shimabukuro. Tokoha Tachibana has both the offense and pitching, but that "big inning" mentality could get them into trouble. Perhaps personally motivated, I look for Tokoha Tachibana to make it out of Bracket A.

Bracket B
Nagano Nichidai (Nagano) vs. Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi)
Nagano Nichidai burst onto the scene last year at the spring Koshien, making it all the way to the Best 8 before being eliminated by Chiba Keizaidai Fuzoku in 11 innings. Not a bad run considering Chiba still had ace Saitou, and along the way they beat Imabari Nishi and Kita Ootsu. This years' squad is different, but outside of their semifinal game against Chikyuu Kankyou, they blew through the Nagano qualifiers. While ace Katou shut down the competition, the attention really goes to 3B Itou. A good defender and a great hitter, he's the keystone of the offense.

Sakushin Gakuin also blew through their qualifiers, giving up all of 5 runs in 6 games, 3 of which was in their very first. While Kojima(?) leads the pitching staff and they put up a lot of zeros, they appear to be a pitch-to-contact team. Like Nagano Nichidai, their star isn't on defense - it's on offense. And it's actually Kojima's batterymate, Matsuzaki Takuya. He has a strong arm as well as a strong bat and we could see a deep shot before his time is up.

Tenri (Nara) vs. Nanto Sougou Fukuno (Toyama)
Tenri has been one of the establishments at Koshien along with other teams such as Chuukyoudai Chuukyou, Heian and Tohoku. While they weren't seeded, they blew through the Nara qualifiers earning yet another bid.

Tenri's run this year has been built not necessarily on the mound, but on the field and at the plate. Tenri has several people that could stand out at the next level (college or otherwise):
  • 2B Harada Takumi
  • SS Nishiura
  • 3B Yasuda Hiroshi(?)
  • 1B Nishigawa
That's the entire infield! And boy does Tenri need it because their ace is far from overpowering. Nakayama Takahiro throws no faster than the mid 80's, and uses a slider, curve, sinker and shuuto to induce outs.

Nantou Sougou Fukuno has been involved in close games througout their qualifiers, culminating in a 4-run 9th inning against defending champs Takaoka Shougyou to win it all 5-4. Their pitching staff is led by Ueda, with Morita making the occassional spot-start to rest Ueda. Offensively, there is no superstar, instead depending on timely hitting from whomever they can. It's a team that manages to scrap things together.

Kansai Gakuin (Hyogo) vs. Sakata Minami (Yamagata)
Man, it's been a long time since Kansai Gakuin has seen the summer Koshien. 70 years in all. And they had to defeat Houtoku Gakuen, Higashi Hyogo's representative last year (Hyogo earned another bid thanks to it being the 90th tournament).

The team is led by a pitching duo, and it's an interesting one at that. Their starter is ace Arakawa, the person that relieves him turns out to be his catcher Yamasaki! It's an interesting pair since Yamasaki is crouching to start the game, then has to get loose to relieve his pitcher! Offensively, their consistent performer is their 3B Kuroki and 1B Yamasaki.

Sakata Minami is one of the 6 returning participants. Southpaw Yasui Ryousuke, half of last year's duo, returns and is as dominant as last year. He throws 5 shutouts, and K's 52 in 41 innings. He hopes to do better this year as he fell apart late against Fukui Shougyou while the offense stagnated. He can hit the upper 80's and can throw a slider, a cutter, curveball, forkball, changeup and screwball.

Behind him, sits 2 players to help him in his efforts. CF Hayashi Kango is an all-around player while leadoff batter 1B Hirakawa Yutaka shows a lot of speed and good bat skills for a 1B.

Ryuukokudai Heian (Kyoto) vs. Chuukyoudai Chuukyou (Aichi)
Heian needed a 9th inning rally to make it here. The most impressive thing has to be their offensive juggernaut in C Hashimoto Takahiro. In the 6 games he went 12-19 with 17 RBI's! Pitch carefully, if at all...

On the mound Heian sends out ace Nawata with Sakai in relief. They've done a decent job on the mound, but they'll need more than that in their opening round game.

For their opponent will be Chuukyoudai Chuukyou. They're led by ace Doubayashi Shouta who throws in the low to mid 80's with a slider and changeup. Behind him is slugging 2B/3B Kawai and high-average, speedy 1B Yamanaka.

My choice: I'd love for Tenri to make it out of this bracket. A solid defense certainly helps when you have a pitch-to-contact thrower on the mount. Sakata Minami has to prove that their qualfiiers don't simply represent a weak prefecture. Yasui has to prove that his dominant pitching can translate. Teams that advance deep need a strong pitcher(s) because there are times when one can be base hit to death and the defense just can't help you. I'm not convinced of Sakata Minami, and that leaves me with either Chuukyoudai Chuukyou or Tenri - neither of which have a power pitcher. I can't quite decide, and I hate to make yet antother decision partially based on personal bias. From what I've seen of Tenri, I've noticed that their manager has tended to make questionable (or obvious, defensible) decisions in crucial situations - and that can overrule talent on the field. So I choose Chuukyoudai Chuukyou to advance, but if Tenri can play things right, I woulnd't be surprised if they advanced either.

Bracket C
Imari Nourin (Saga) vs. Yokohama Hayato (Kanagawa)
This is a battle of 2 newcomers to Koshien, both with their own stories.

Small Imari Nourin was the surprise of Saga-ken, rallying from 2 down in the 10th to upset Saga Shougyou. They'll go as far as their ace Yoshinaga Keita can take them. He sports a slider and changeup. Their offense is a basic, "get it where you can"type, not really dependent on any one batter.

Yokohama Hayato has had one heck of a ride. They've had to rally from behind on certain occasions, jumped ahead of Yokohama 8-2 before seeing the lead evaporate only to win in extras. And then tying the game up late in the finals before winning that game in extra innings. They are almost fully dependent on their 2nd year ace Imaoka. That's not to say he doesn't have offensive help either. He's got RF Yamaguchi Ryouji who is a solid power hitter, and C Funaki Yoshihiro who is good defensively and can wreak a little havoc on the basepaths.

Hanamaki Higashi (Iwate) vs. Nagasaki Nichidai (Nagasaki)
There's only one person you really need to talk about regarding Hanamaki Higashi, and that's Kikuchi Yuusei. He, by far, is one of the frontrunners when you talk about the #1 overall pick. And that's if he doesn't decide to go to the states. He can hit mid 90's with his fastball and compliments that with a cutter, slider and curve. About the only thing that could fail him is his offense, which it did against Seihou's Imamura earlier this spring.

Just in case, there's the power hitting 1B Sarukawa Takurou, who doubles as a pitcher. He can touch 90 and has a slider and curveball.

What an opener for Nagasaki Nichidai. They're just 2 years removed from their semifinal appearance when they lost to eventual champions Saga Kita. The headliner for them is Ooseyoshi who can at times hit 90 on the gun.

Kurashiki Shougyou (Okayama) vs. Tohoku (Miyagi)
Kurashiki Shougyou pretty much breezed through the Okayama qualifiers thanks in part to their ace Oka. He's also a big part of their offense as well, as shown being slotted in the cleanup spot during the qualifiers.

Tohoku, making their 21st appearance wasn't necessarily dominating offensively, but put an all-around solid run together to methodically make their way down the brackets. Their ace is Satou throws in the mid-80's with a slider and curve.

Nihon Dai-san (Nishi Tokyo) vs. Tokushima Kita (Tokushima)
For such a big region (possibly talent wise), Nihon Dai-san almost put together a dominating performance from top to bottom. The only exception was their semifinal game against Toritsu Hino where they had to rally from 4 runs down. Outside of that game, they outscored their opponents 66-3!

Ace Sekiya Ryouta leads the team. A righty who can hit the upper 80's, he sports a slider, curve and changeup. To help him out offensively, he has slugging CF Hinoshita(?) Keisuke, and slick fielding SS Yoshizawa Shougo.

Tokushima Kita makes it's first appearance thanks to a two-run rally in the 11th against Naruto Dai-ichi. Their ace Sakamoto is not a hard throwing lefty, hitting the low to mid 80's with a good curve and slider. He carries the offensive banner as well, along with CF Horii and RF Saitou.

My choice: Hanamaki Higashi has some strong teams in Nihon Dai-san and strong names in Tohoku in this bracket. I'm sad to see Yokohama Hayato in this bracket because if they manage to win their first game, they'll probably get steamrolled by Kikuchi. Pehaps Nihon Dai-san could have a chance, but the choice here is clear cut. It's Hanamaki Higashi's to lose.

Bracket D
Seibou Gakuin (Saitama) vs. Miyakonojyou Shougyou (Miyazaki)
Seibou Gakuin made it out of Saitama, with a bit of help from their opposition. Certainly, reading Deanna's report and looking at the boxscores, there doesn't seem to be a lot about Seibou that stands out. Their hopes (no pun intended) will lie on ace Satou Yuugo. He's a soft-tossing lefty, hitting the mid 80's with a two-seam, slider, curve, fork and shuuto. For Seibou to make it, they'll need his entire repertoire and a little more.

Miyakonojyou Shougyou had a scare early in the Miyazaki qualifiers against Nobeoka Seiun, but otherwise had little trouble against the competition. Shinzai Takatoshi is their ace, and he can touch the upper 80's and has a slider. On occasion, he's on the bench while their lefty CF Fujimoto Yuuya takes the mound to spot-start. He can hit low to mid 80's with a slider, curve and changeup. He isn't that bad with the bat either.

Kumamoto Kougyou (Kumamoto) vs. Mie (Mie)
I find this matchup funny since I saw both of these teams during their last appearance at the summer Koshien back in 2006.

In one of the rare cases, Kumamoto Kougyou is led by 2nd year ace Tsukida Yuusuke. Another lefty, he's another soft tosser and sports a slow curve. He's usually relieved in games late by Ikeda. Offensively, they're led by RF Itonaga Hiroaki who generally sits in the 5-spot in the lineup and whose bat warmed up during the qualifiers.

Mie had patchworked things together to make it to Koshien. In the prefectural qualifiers, they threw at least 4 different pitchers throughout the tournament, although they did rely on Makita more in the semifinals and finals. The player to watch for Mie is 6' LF Miyataka Yuuma. He bats cleanup for Mie and has good bat control and isn't afraid to take a walk.

Chiben Wakayama (Wakayama) vs. Shiga Gakuen (Shiga)
Chiben Wakayama continues to dominate Wakayama earning their 5th consecutive appearance. They're led once again by Okada Toshiya who took the ace number last year as a 2nd year. While he had growing pains last year, he seems to have put it together throwing 3 consecutive shutouts, with two 3-hitters and a 4-hitter. His speed has reached the high 80's and he has a slider, curve and changeup.

Helping him out is RF Nishikawa Haruki. A great all-around player, he was good enough to earn the #18 jersey for last year's Koshien and did very well - highlighted by his performance against Tokoha Kikugawa going 3-5 with 2 triples and 2 RBI's.

Shiga Gakuen took a tough road for their first Koshien appearance rallying to defeat Kita Ootsu in the semis and Oumi in the finals. Their ace is Tanoue Takuya, who like Okada took the ace number in his 2nd year. He throws in the low-mid 80's with a curve, slider, screw and fork.

Tottori Jyouhoku (Tottori) vs. Sapporo Dai-ichi (Minami Hokkaido)
Tottori Jyouhoku is yet another first-timer here. It's been a long road for ace Nakao. He was given the ace number in his first year at Jyouhoku. Now a senior, he has been able to bring his team to Koshien. He's pretty much your average fare for a pitcher, with a fastball in the low 80's and a slider, curve and changeup for his offspeed. SS Tanikake Yuuya is by far the best position player, featuring good speed and a decent bat.

Sapporo Dai-ichi makes their 2nd appearance, along the way edging by last year's representative Hokkai and blowing out Komadai Tomakomai. They'll be dependent on their ace Kakehata to take them through to the next round. However, fatigue may become an issue as his performance started to decline in the semifinals and finals. Offensively, look out for cleanup batter C Matsuura Shouhei.

My choice: This so far has to be one of the weaker brackets in the tournament and therefore is an easy road for the favorite here - Chiben Wakayama. Only they can stop themselves from making their 5th Best 8 appearance in this decade.

Bracket E
Kenritsu Gifu Shougyou (Gifu) vs. Yamanashi Gakuindai Fuzoku (Yamanashi)
Yet another 2006 team, Kenritsu Gifu Shougyou returns to Koshien hoping to get past the 2nd round. Ace Yamada's fastball can reach the upper 80's and throws a curve and forkball. They have no real standouts in position players so all-in-all probably an average team.

Yamanashi Gakuindai Fuzoku is in a similar situation to that of Gifu. Their offense isn't anything to write home about and depend on their ace Yamada Yuuya, a mid-80's righty with a slider.

PL Gakuen (Osaka) vs. Seikou Gakuin (Fukushima)
PL makes a return appearance to Koshien - and hopes to do better than the 2nd round this spring. And boy are they stacked. Starting on the mound is lefty ace Nakano Takayuki. He's still not a hard thrower (mid 80's), but has a nasty slider as well as a curve and screwball.

Behind him are some solid hitters, RF Ootsuki hitting out of the #5 spot can hit to all fields and can even relieve Nakano on the mound with a low 80's fastball and sinker. Leadoff CF Yoshikawa Daiki is a 2nd year that earned a spot on the 1st team in his freshman year. Good on both sides of the ball and coupled with good speed make him a threat at the top of the lineup. In addition C Fujimoto and 3B Murata join Ootsuki in the middle of lineup and can also wreak havoc on opposing pitchers.

Seikou Gakuin will counter with their ace Yokoyama Takaaki who hits the high 80's with a slider, curve, changeup and fork mixing them together to garner a fair amount of K's. Offensively, they have RF Yotsuya(?) who is their cleanup batter and has been a regular since his first year. However, the offense for Seikou seems to come late in games, perhaps after making adjustments in-game or facing aces which started to fatigue.

My choice: In the first small bracket (and easy road) to the Best 8, PL Gakuen looks to have the inside track to get there. As long as they don't trip themselves up against Seikou Gakuin, count them in.

Bracket F
Meiou (Akita) vs. Nihon Koukuu Ishikawa (Ishikawa)
Meiou returns to Koshien with the help of ace Futaki. He has a mid-upper 80's fastball with a slider, curve, change and screwball. His signature game was a 3-hitter against Honjyou in the finals. Offensively, the most consistent performer was cleanup batter 1B Kotsugai.

Just as we see the other Tokoha school come out of Shizuoka, the other Nihon Koukuu (that's Japan Avaiation Academy, hence the JAA) qualifies for Koshien. Okay, so the main one is in Shizuoka, but I digress...

Nihon Koukuu Ishikawa is one of those scrappy teams that managed to find a way to Koshien. They depend mainly on a duo on the mound - led by 2nd year southpaw Kurimoto, and relieved by senior Nakata (also a lefty). Interestingly enough, they actually started another 2nd year player, righty Hamada. Perhaps Imakurusu-kantoku needed a right-handed pitcher.

Nihon Bunri (Niigata) vs. Samukawa (Kagawa)
Nihon Bunri - yet another 2006 team! Yet with as many times they've been to the summer Koshien recently, they've been unable to get past the first round. They basically return the same team, but there is a change in CF as 1st year Yumoto Shouta has taken over the position. Another first year, and yet another Takahashi takes the #10 jersey and can spell ace Itou Naoki.

Naoki really didn't need it. The offense scored a lot of runs, with the lowest margin of victory being 7 runs. Nonetheless, he was part of 3 shutouts. Turning to the offense, you need only to look at the corner outfielders, Takahashi Yoshihito and Yoshida Masatoshi.

Samukawa finally delivered on their top seed and made it to Koshien. While Tadashi Naoki wears the ace number and starts games, it's actually #10 2nd year Takahashi Ryouhei that is the ace of the staff. He sports a slider and curveball and is the main innings eater.

My choice: This by far is the easiest bracket out of all 8. However, there isn't a clear favorite. Nihon Bunri certainly has experience, but it hasn't translated to the big stage. Nihon Koukuu Ishikawa certainly seems has the scrappiness I remember from its sister school, and that could help them here. Meiou and Samukawa are both unknowns and thus wild cards. So I'll go with Nihon Koukuu Ishikawa and their experience with rallying to bring them to the Best 8.

Bracket G
Risshoudai Shounan (Shimane) vs. Karyou (Yamaguchi)
This is one of those matchups I don't particularly like. 2 rural schools in the same region facing off. While one automatically advances, one is guaranteed to have it's run ended in the first game.

For Shounan, they're led by Sakita who can hit 90 on the radar gun and has a slider and curve. The team is primarily composed of seniors with the exception of 3 1st-years, one of which - Takagi - mans 2nd base.

Karyou could have just fast-forwarded to Koshien as they faced little opposition on the way. In fact all4 runs the staff gave up were in the championship game, and 3 of those were in the 9th inning when the score was already 12-1. Ace Adachi Hiroshi is mostly responsible for the repeated 0's. A mid 80's fastball, two-seam, slider, and curve is his arsenal. The offensive threat out of the qualifiers is 2B Nishoka Shingo, going 9-19 with 13 RBI's in 5 games.

Tokyo Noudai Dai-ni (Gunma) vs. Aomori Yamada (Aomori)
Noudai Dai-ni isn't a stranger to Koshien, but they haven't been here in 15 years. While they did survive to come out of Gunma-ken, the team is offense-starved. So they'll have to depend on ace Katou to shut the opposition down.

Aomori Yamada... Similar to Chiben Wakayama, this team has dominated the prefectural tournaments once again, attending its 6th consecutive Koshien and 7 out of the last 8. Interestingly enough, while Inoue wears the ace number, it's #10 Saitou Hideo that seems to get the attention. At his best, 90 is possible. He also has a slider and cutter to go with it.

They also have two sluggers manning the foul poles. LF Itogawa Kouhei and RF Magario Mike (of Brazilian descent). Itogawa, for the record has hit 60 HR's in his high school career. Magario made his own statement hitting a homerun during the qualifiers.

My choice: I think this could be another no-brainer. Aomori Yamada has the experience, has the players - an invitation for a spot in the Best 8 awaits them.

Bracket H
Tsuruga Kehi (Fukui) vs. Teikyou (Higashi Tokyo)
Tsuruga Kehi looks to do better than their spring 2008 trip when they lost to Tenri 5-1. Southpaw Yamada Nobuyoshi is back for one last try at it. He's upped his speed to hit 90 and throws a slider and curve as well as developing a changeup.

They also have 3 non-3rd year regulars - 2nd year RF Nishikori Daisuke, and 1st-years LF Nakao Hiroto and 1B Yoshida Masahisa. Of note is Yoshida, who already takes the cleanup spot and was 8-13 during the 4 game qualifiers.

They'll have a heck of a time against it though as their opponent is vaunted Teikyou. Probably as a result of the Chiben Wakayama disaster I witnessed in 2006, they have worked on building their pitching staff. They sport not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 fireballers!
  • Ace #1 Hirahara Youta - He can hit 92 mph, with a two-seam, cutter, slider and curve
  • #11 Suzuki Shouta (2nd year!) - He can touch 90 with a two-seam and slider
  • #15 Yamasaki Yasuaki (2nd year!) - Another upper 80's with a two-seam, cutter, slider and knucleball!
  • #18, Super Rookie Itou Takarou - He can already hit 90 and has a devastating slider in the 80's!
But it wouldn't be Teikyou without the offense, and they can still bring it. 4 different people hit HR's in the qualifiers. One was Hirahara (who hit 2!), 1B Hoshi Hiroshi, CF Kaneko Tatsuya (who also hit 2), and LF Ariga Naville. That last one may sound a little odd, and it does. Naville's father is of Ghana descent! For a look, here he is with his home run against Yukigaya. He may be wearing #17, but he has earned a regular spot. In addition, 1st year Matsumoto Tsuyoshi mans the shortstop position. And finally, they have a bench player, Okabe Michiori, who has a strong arm for the outfield and can wield the bat fairly well.

Shounan (Kagoshima) vs. Jyousou Gakuin (Ibaraki) - Kyushu Kokusaidai Fuzoku (Fukuoka)
I'll be covering all 3 teams here as Shounan will face the winner of the other game.

Shounan earned their bid thanks in part to their ace Sorachi Takuma, a righty who throws in the low to mid 80's with a two-seam, slider and forkball. He does share time with #10 Hara Kazutoshi. RF Sadaoka Toshiki provides some offense going 10-21.

While ace Oguma Youtarou pitched Jyousou Gakuin to their 4th consecutive Koshien, it is his batterymate and team captain Toba Takashi who probably helped them get there. His leadership and vocalness behind the plate probably had a hand in getting his team there.

Of course it probably didn't hurt they have RF Kuroda. He went 11-15 with 4 RBI's.

And finally we have Kyushu Kokusaidai Fuzoku. Ace Noutomi Shuuhei did admirably during the qualifiers, it is their offensive explosion that immediately must be looked at. In their 7 games, Kokusaidai hit a total of 12 home runs. 12!! Here's the tally:
  • RF Amano Hiroshi(?) - 3
  • C Kouno Genki(?) - 2
  • 3B Kunieda Shouhei - 2
  • CF Enomoto Aoi (2nd year!) - 2
  • P Noutomi Shuuhei - 1
  • 2B Wada Atsushi - 1
  • SS Kobayashi Tomohiro - 1
While you could look out for all of them, keep an eye on Kouno as he has a great arm behind the plate, Enomoto because he has had much success so far in other baseball arenas, and Kunieda who has talled over 30 HR's in his career.

One more added benefit? These players are working under Darvish's former HS coach!

My choice: After doing my research on Kyushu Kokusaidai Fuzoku, it has made my decision that much harder. It's probably not hard to think which two teams I envision in the Best 16 matchup - Teikyou and Kyushu Kokusaidai Fuzoku. Both teams have offense for days - and I've never seen a team that has crushed as many HR's as Kyukoku. Teikyou does have the advantage of their pitching, or so it would seem. I wish I could see Kyukoku's game first before deciding, but I have to think that Teikyou's supposed pitching advantage may give them the edge, but Kyukoku's manager has the experience. Advantage Teikyou, but it's like a 51-49 advantage. So yeah, I wouldn't be surprised to see Kyukoku mash their way to the Best 8 either.

So that's it for now! If you expected an overall champion prediction now, you're nuts. But odds are the hand-on favorite by all the pundits would be Hanamaki Higashi. But in looking at the field, there are definitely other teams out there that could foil Kikuchi's plans.

Less than 24 hours to go now!

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