Perhaps fatigue, or the pressure of the moment got to the team, but suddenly the couldn't hit, and almost all their aces struggled. And for the 3rd time this decade, they're turned away at the Best 8.
Probably viewed as the longshot in the Best 4, and perhaps rightly so, Nihon Bunri has had a relative easy schedule to the Best 4. In bracket play, the defeated Sangawa (Kagawa) 4-3, then exploded against Nihon Koukuu Ishikawa 12-5.
They drew Risshoudai Shounan in the Best 8, a team who had made it to the best 8 winning their bracket final with only 14 players. And when they took the field against Nihon Bunri, they only had 13, and no other pitchers other than their ace number. As a result, Bunri advanced to the Best 4.
It's not to say they haven't earned it though. The team offensively has done really well, with 6 of the starting 9 hitting over .400 led by 3B Nakamura who is 7-9. Itou certainly has pitched well, with a line of 10 ER, 25 H, 30 K and 6 BB in 27 IP. Facing their first real test, how will they do?
For Kenritsu Gifu Shouyou, this is their first Best 4 appearance since 1964. After having no problem with Yamanashi Gakuindai Fuzoku in their first round, played PL Gakuen in the bracket final. And PL, without ace Nakano, were a completely different team. Inoue couldn't hold against the Gifushou offense and Kenritsu Gifu Shougyou advanced to the Best 8.
The draw wasn't nice to them though as they had to play Teikyou - and offensive-minded squad that seemed to have pitchers coming out of the ears! But as mentioned earlier, the offense couldn't get started against ace Yamada, while ace Hirahara was stomped upon by the Gifu offense.
Like Nihon Bunri, ace Yamada is the star - both on the mound and at the plate. He's given up 6 ER and 22 H, all while striking out only 16 and walking 5. Offensively he's 5-10 with 8 RBI's.
The questions for today's game will be:
- Will each pitcher hold up today?
- Can Nihon Bunri continue the hitting of the last 2 games?
Kenritsu Gifu Shougyou (Gifu)
CF Matsuda Tomohiro
P Yamada Tomohiro
Nihon Bunri (Niigata)
SS Takahashi Jyunnosuke
LF Takahashi Yoshihito
11:00 AM - First pitch!
Itou off to a great start, striking out Tomohiro and Fujita to start both swingin on curveballs.
But then Ezaki takes one away into right center all the way to the wall! He's headed for 2, but then dahses for 3rd when the relay throw is muffed by the 2B! Just like that Gifushou has a scoring oppotunity!
But Ikai check swings a grounder to the right side! Kitte goes over and makes the throw to 1st to end the inning.
Yamada also looking good. Location looks good and offspeed pitches are breaking nicely. Perhaps it's playing one less game that's benefited both teams?
Kitte grounds out to 3rd, Jyunnosuke strikes out looking on a 3-2 fastball on the outside corner, and Takeishi flies out to short center.
Small hiccup here in the 2nd. After striking out Yamada looking, he falls behind Kodama and walks him.
After several throws over to 1st, Kodama takes off for 2nd! But it's a pitchout and Wakabayashi throws to 2nd! Nakamura over and they make the out! 2 down.
And Izumida strikes out swinging to end the inning.
Yamada gives Bunri their first runner as he hits Yoshida. Ooi-kantoku elects not to have Yoshihito bunt.
Yoshihito hits one hard at Ikai, and he can't quite stop it! It trickles behind him! Sakaida retrieves it, but all safe!
Itou bunts the runners over for Yumoto, and Bunri has a good chance here!
But Yumoto with a grounder to the left side! Fujita charges in and looks the runners back! Then he goes to 1st for the 2nd out!
Ah~~~ and Wakabayashi hits a grounder up the middle that Sakaida easily fields and throws to 1st for the 3rd out. A great opportunity lost for Bunri!
Sakaida gives Gifushou another base runner as he singles through the infield to left. He's bunted over for the top of the lineup and Tomohiro.
Grounder up the middle! Kitte dives... and makes the stop! Throws from his knees, out! Nice play by Kitte to prevent the run from scoring!
Itou still not out of trouble yet. Still has a runner on 3rd with 2 down. And Fujita is giving him fits as the count goes full. But on the 8th pitch, he pops it up! Nakamura in foul territory makes the catch!
Nakamura with a single back up the middle into center gives Bunri another leadoff runner, After a sac bunt, they have a good chance to score a run.
That is unless Jyunnosuke happens to ground one to short and the lead runner is caught trying to advance to 3rd like what has happened so many times earlier. Oh? That actually happened?
Takeishi then singles to short after the ball takes an irregular bounce right as Sakaida was about to field it. Runners on 1st and 2nd for Yoshida.
But he hits a grounder to 3rd and Ikai goes to the bag for the 3rd out.
Itou looking really good. One groundout and two flyouts later and he has a 1-2-3 inning!
Yoshihito continues his hot hitting with a chopper just over Yamada's glove into center! It's the 3rd consecutive leadoff runner for Bunri.
Ooi-kantoku doesn't ask Itou to bunt, and he swings away - but flies it to right.
But a wild pitch to Yumoto moves Yoshihito into scoring position!
Yumoto can't get the timely as he grounds out to 1st. It does however, move Yoshihito to 3rd.
But Yamada goes off and walks Wakabayashi! Runners at the corners now for last batter Nakamura.
However, he grounds out to 2nd to end the inning.
We have a really good pitcher's duel on our hands! Neither pitcher has shown any real weaknesses so far, so we may be in for a really good game!
One down for Gifushou and Izumida singles to left. Fujita-kantoku has Sakaida bunt the runner over for a one-shot with Hirabayashi.
But Hirabayashi grounds back to Itou to end the inning.
Kitte drives one to center! That's by Tomohiro and to the wall! Kitte is pushing for 3! Thow from Sakaida... SAFE!!!
Wow! The ball got there before him, but he manages to sneak into 3rd! Runner on 3rd, no down for Jynnosuke!
Lines one! It's through to right! Jyunnosuke scores and Nihon Bunri breakes the scoreless tie here in the 5th. 1-0!!!
Yamada finally gets his first out of the inning as he strikes out Takeishi on a fastball on the outside corner.
Then he gets Yoshida to ground one to short. But Sakaida boots the ball! Fujita tries to get the ball to at least get the force - but to no avail! All safe!
Runners on 1st and 2nd for Yoshihito!
It a shot to 3rd! But Ikai gets it! Steps on 3rd for 1, goes to 1st for the inning ending double play!
So we hit the break with the aces dueling it out. But Bunri breaks through and now leads 1-0!
Itou continues to be efficient with his pitching, although helped a little by Gifushou swinging away early in counts. He's getting ahead of hitters, and as a result retires the side in just 9 pitches, including 2 K's!
Itou with a grounder past a diving Ikai! That goes down the line and Itou's in with a stand up double!
Yumoto is swinging away, but he strikes out! One down.
Wakabayashi swings at the first pitch, but hits it back to Yamada. He looks the runner back and makes the play at 1st. 2 down.
Nakamura now needing a base hit to score Itou.
And he singles to right! Itou rounding 3rd, and the throw is cutoff! He scores and Bunri is up 2-0!!
Kitte grounds out to 3rd, but Bunri has extended the lead!
Gifushou isn't going to make this easy though. Ikai draws a walk after Itou falls behind. He comes right back to strike out Yamada for the first out.
Kodama with a grounder to 3rd. Nakamura with a diving stop... The ball slighly gets away. Quickly gets it and fires to 1st - and they get him!
Whoo.. that was a bit close there.
And then Itou walks Izumida on 4 straight!
Ooi-kantoku calls a conference after Fujita-kantoku decides to pinch hit #13 Yokoyama for Sakaida. Count goes full and...
Itou strikes out Yokoyama to end the inning!
#16 Fujita comes in for PH Yokoyama to play short.
Yamada still isn't really getting ahead of the hitters, but he is inducing contact.
Jyunnosuke flies out to 2nd, Takeishi grounds out to 1st.
And after a chopper by Yoshida up the middle, Yoshihito grounds out to 2nd to end the inning.
2 innings left for Gifushou, but they're only down 2.
One down and Tomohiro drives one to deep left center! Yumoto has to play it off the wall! Tomohiro is on with a one out double!
Liner by Fujita! But it's right at Jyunnosuke! He goes to 2nd for the double play!!! A bad break for Gifushou!! Now they'll be down to their final 3 outs.
Yamada does what he can. He gives up a one-out single to Yumoto, but holds them scoreless. Now all he can do is leave it to his offense.
#17 Asatsuma takes over duties in center after #14 Murayama came in to PR for Yumoto in the 8th
Ezaki up. Drives the 1-2 pitch deep to left!!! Yoshihito running to the wall, jumps on the padding....
Again with the 1-2...
Ezaki chases a ball high in the zone for strike 3!! One down!
Ikai up. Count goes to 2-2...
Single through the right side!!!
Now the tying runner comes up to the plate in Yamada. The count once again goes to 2-2 and...
Itou strikes out Yamada and now Gifushou is down to their final out!
First pitch driven to left center!!!! That's all the way to the wall! Ikai rounding 3rd, being sent home! He scores! Furukawa with the pinch hit RBI double and Gifushou is within 1!!!!! It's 2-1!!
Izumida now needing only a timely hit to tie the game! First pitch is fouled off! Next pitch...
grounder to short! Jyunnosuke up with the ball! Throw to 1st...
Nihon Bunri has done it! They've pulled off the win and have advanced to the finals!! This is the first time a team from Niigata has gone to the Best 4 and now to the finals!!!
As for Kenritsu Gifu Shougyou, they certainly played a strong tournament, beating the likes of PL Gakuen and Teikyou. But their run falls short at the hands of Itou and Nihon Bunri.
Sure, they could ask what might have happened. After all, defeating those 2 formidable opponents would certainly mean that you have a good shot of getting to the finals. And it hurts losing to a squad that certainly seemed beatable. But perhaps the Nihon Bunri squad just isn't getting the credit it deserves, and that their amazing run just could not encompass one more such win. However, they certainly had a wonderful tournament, and they'll be able to take that with them back to Gifu.