The other matchup would be intriguing if there wasn't a cloud hanging over the matchup.
No, not literally, but if you've been following the tournament, you know that Kikuchi Yuusei was injured in their quarterfinal game versus Meihou. So much so that he had to be pulled alltogether.
The overhanging question was, "Will he play today?" We saw what happened to the team after his departure. Sarukawa and the Hanamaki squad lost the 4-1 lead and in fact fell behind 6-4 going into the top of the 9th. But they ralled to tie the game, send it into extras and win it in the 10th.
Well, the lineups are out and #1 for Hanamaki Higashi is not on it. We don't know if this means that he's out altogether, or if Sasaki-kantoku is holding him out as long as possible, only putting him on the mound when he absolutely has to.
Does this perhaps swing the pendulum over to Chuukyou? It's not certain. But it does at least level the playing field.
Both teams have played 4 games. Hanamaki Higashi survived a scare in the first round, advanced out of their bracket by defeating Tohoku, and had that inspiring Best 8 game against Meihou.
For Chuukyou, they survived a scare against Kansei Gakuin, advanced easily out of their bracket against Nagano Nihon and shut down Miyakonojyou Shougyou 6-2.
The questions will be:
- How much will Kikuchi's absence affect the team?
- How much will the team rally around Kikuchi's absence?
Hanamaki Higashi (Iwate)
CF Satou Ryouhei
LF Sasaki Daiki (#15)
P Yoshida (#14)
Chuukyoudai Chuukyou (Aichi)
1:30 PM - First pitch!
Doubayashi not off to a good start here. He walks Kashiwaba to start the inning. Ryouhei immediately bunts him along.
Kawamura swings away, but grounds to 1st. Kashiwaba at 3rd now.
And I can't tell if they're pitching around him or if Doubayashi doesn't have control, but he walks Sarukawa on 4 straight! Runners at the corners!
But Yokokura grounds out to 3rd, and the inning is over.
So 2nd-year #14 Yoshida Ryou takes the mound.
And he's off to a bit of a shaky start. He walks Yamanaka to start it off, and is moved to 2nd.
But Kawai hits a comebacker to Yoshida! He looks Yamanaka off and goes to 1st! 2 down!
The 3rd out though will be tough. It's cleanup batter Doubayashi. The outfield is playing almost all the way back to the wall.
(And Kikuchi Yuusei is throwing in the bullpen??!)
But it backfires! Doubayashi singles through the left side! Daiki has to charge in, and that means that Yamanaka can round 3rd and score! The leadoff walk comes in to score and Chuukyou takes the early lead! 1-0!!
Yoshida does strike out Isomura to retire the side, but now the new question is:
- How long will Sasaki-kantoku wait to bring out Kikuchi, if at all??
Doubayashi after the shaky first, retires the Hanamaki side in order with 3 infield groundouts.
Yamada gets himself into more trouble again. He walks Itou to start the inning, and just like last inning is bunted over to 2nd - looking for someone at the bottom of the lineup to deliver.
#17 Watanabe is warming up in the bullpen...
Yamada strikes out Kaneyama on a ball in the dirt for out number 2!
And Iwatsuki swings on the first pitch and flies out to center! Yamada gets out of the inning!
One down for Hanamaki Higashi when Kashiwaba singles back up the middle.
Ryouhei looking to bunt, but a ball in the dirt by Doubayashi is blocked by Isomura, but gets away from him! Kashiwaba advances to 2nd!
And Ryouhei hits a short chopper, advancing him to 3rd! Now a base hit by Kawamura can tie the game.
Ah... but Kawamura swings at a ball in the dirt for strike 3 to end the inning.
Yamada collects his 3rd K striking out Yamanaka to start the inning.
Then Kunitomo hits a comebacker up the middle! It's off Yamada and goes to the right side! Kashiwaba changes direction, but can't get to it in time.
But Kawai strikes out Kawai on 3 straight! 2 down!
And Doubayashi steps up to the plate again. The LF and CF are playing way back, as in like 5 feet away from the ball back. It's the no doubles defense. But if Doubayashi were to ground a ball through the infield, it may score a run again!
Yoshida doesn't give him the chance! He makes him chase a pitch outside and retires the side! So far, he seems to be holding his own.
Cleanup batter Sarukawa singles past a diving Kunitomo into center!
Yokokura looks to bunt him along, but it's too hard! Doubayashi fields it and goes to 2nd for the force! 1 down!
Chiba with a grounder through to left! Runners on 1st and 2nd for Hanamaki!
Daiki up, and he works the count full!
Daiki lays down the squeeze, but it's right in front of home! Isomura grabs the ball, goes to tag Yokokura! He's out! Throws to 1st.... DOUBLE PLAY!!!
The squeeze turns into an inning ending double play! What a bad break for Hanamaki!
Isomura takes a 1-1 offering to deep left center!!!! Daiki to the wall...
Isomura with a homerun!!! It's now 2-0!!
And with one down, Shibata singles to center!
Kaneyama with a popup to short center! Kashiwaba runs out, and muffs the catch! E4 and the runners are at the corners!
That's it for Yoshida. #12 Saitou comes into the game.
Iwatsuki with the bunt, but he pops it up! Chiba secures it and there's 2 outs!
Yamanaka up... grounder through the left side! Shibata comes around and he scores! 3-0 Chuukyou!
AHHH!!!!!! Saitou hits Kunitomo to load the bases!!!
OH? What's this?? Kikuchi Yuusei is entering the game!
But he still doesn't look to be 100%....
And Kawai drives a 1-0 pitch down the left field line! Yamada runs over, dives.... and it just gets past him! All 3 runners will score! Kawai with the bases clearing triple and it's 6-0...
Doubayashi grounds out to 1st, but certainly the damage has been done and perhaps fatally...
Yuusei up to bat to start the inning and flies out to right. Still seems to be in pain running around the bases.
And Doubayashi retires the side in order here in the 5th. Could they be done already??
Yuusei strikes out Isomura to start the inning. Perhaps he can hold them back...
Itou pulls a ball to right center!!!
It's 7-0 and that may put an end to it... Itou's homerun could mean the end of Hanamaki Higashi's run...
Indeed, with the game probably out of reach, Yuusei is pulled from the mound. Sarukawa takes the mound, Yuusei goes to left, and Daiki goes to 3rd.
Shibata lines one to center. He's sent to 2nd after Sarukawa is called for a balk. Kaneyama walks. Runners on 1st and 2nd for Chuukyou.
Iwatsuki moves the runners to 2nd and 3rd.
But Yanamaka grounds out to 3rd and that ends the inning.
With Yuusei out through, It seems all but a formality now.
Ryouhei tries a safety bunt down the 1st base line... Doubayashi tosses to Shibata as Ryouhei dives and crashes over 1st - perhaps as a show of the frustration, but the drive they they want to have, but just can't without their ace... But the bench applauds the effort.
Kawamura grounds out to 2nd for the 2nd out.
And Sarukawa lines one past a diving Kawai down the left field line! He breaks for 2nd! Itou with the throw to 2nd and... OUT!!!
Sarukawa perhaps pressing, gets thrown out trying to stretch out the hit...
And Yuusei has been pulled out of the game.
#9 Satou Ryuujirou comes in for Yuusei and takes right. Yamada moves to left.
Kunitomo draws a leadoff walk.
Kawai singles to left, but Yamada muffs the ball and it goes behind him.
Kunitomo scores all the way from 1st and Kawai heads to 3rd. 8-0.
Doubayashi walks, and there's runners at the corners...
Isomura lays down the squeeze and is successful. Kawai scores and it's 9-0.
Itou strikes out, and Shibata hits a high pop up to Chiba to end the inning...
Yokokura with a single through the left side. Chiba singles to right! Perhaps they can score a run with the runners at the corners?
Daiki grounds to 3rd, and Chuukyou elects for the 5-4-3 double play and Yokokura does score. Hanamaki Higashi avoids the shutout, 9-1.
Ryuujirou grounds out to 2nd to end the inning.
Kaneyama takes a 0-1 offering to deep right, and that leaves the yard. 10-1.
Sarukawa retires the next 3 batters, including 2 K's.
Hanamaki goes down in order. Certainly they haven't really given up, but I think they know that perhaps this wasn't their year.
Kawai equals Kaneyama's feat in the 7th, hitting a leadoff homerun to right. 11-1. Doubayashi singles to right, and after being bunted over, Sarukawa retires the next two batters and Hanamaki is down to their final AB's.
#11 Morimoto come in for Itou and takes the hill. Doubayashi moves to left.
Kawamura fights off a couple of pitches, but pops out to 3rd in foul territory.
Sarukawa, always the fighter, singles to center.
But the game ends when Yokokura grounds to 1st. Shibata tags the bag, then goes to Yamanaka at 2nd who then runs down Sarukawa to end the game.
And then it finally all comes out. Kikuchi is being pulled from the bench as he starts crying. His dream of winning the Natsu Koshien wasn't defeated by another team, it was defeated by his own body.
And that's probably the hardest thing from him to take. That he couldn't finish what he started, that he couldn't be there as the ace leading his team on the field. That perhaps he feels he let his team down.
And that couldn't be further from the truth.
We saw him doing everything possible to help his team, even when he wasn't on the mound. Cheering people on, coming out himself when Sasaki-kantoku wanted a conference. There's nothing more that he could have done save for going out there and possibly injuring himself irreparably that he could have done.
Sure, some may have been bristled a bit seeing his demeanor on the mound - but I think it's there as a way to show his support to his teammates - to keep their spirits up no matter what.
Wherever his travels take him next, I'm sure the media will follow, but so will a lot more people who he may have endeared themselves to from this tournament.
I will certainly let him and the team know, and I hope you do the same.
So. We've finally reached our final 2 teams. And it's an all central final. Chuukyoudai Chuukyou will look to win the title for Aichi since they last won it in 1966. Their opponent will be Nihon Bunri out of Niigata - looking for the prefecture's first ever Natsu Koshien championship!
Certainly Chuukyoudai Chuukyou will be the heavy favorites, but Nihon Bunri has showed everyone wrong time and time again. Will they prove everyone wrong?
Natsu Koshien no kesshou! Otanoshimini!