The draw has been done for the Spring Koshien and oy are there some match-ups to be had...
For the most part, the favored teams have been spread about the bracket.
Tenri (Nara) vs. Tsuruga Kehi (Fukui)
Tenri opens the 82nd Spring Invitational against new perennial team Tsuruga Kehi. Tenri still boasts a strong infield both defensively and offensively which makes up for slightly above-average pitching. Tsuruga Kehi seems to be in somewhat of a rebuliding phase, but was still good enough to earn a bid.
One thing to note is that Tenri changed their manager since Natsu Koshien. I have to admit there were times where I wondered what the manager was thinking sometimes, and I wonder if the school thought the same thing.
Expected winner - Tenri
Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama) vs. Kadena (Okinawa)
Hanasaki Tokuharu did earn their 2nd ever appearance, but the Kanto field seemed a bit weaker compared to prior years. While the lack of a staff ace isn't a "deal-breaker" (see Saga Kita), there's not much indication that Hanasaki Tokuharu is the 2nd coming of that. Hanasaki counters that with a penchant for being aggressive on the basepaths. Expect a bit of running from them.
Now Kadena is a newcomer to Koshien. The Kyushu super-regionals had some strong teams, but they were on the other side of the bracket. They did face Miyazaki Kougyou who defeated Kounan, so that does say something. Ikehara appears to be a dependable ace, but Yamashiro with his interesting sidearm delivery could prove useful as well (being a southpaw helps too).
Expected winner - Kadena
Yamagata Chuo (Yamagata) vs. Nichidai-san (Tokyo)
Yamagata Chuo's gift for receiving a 21st century bid and reaching Koshien for the first time? How about a matchup against Nichidai-san? Not exactly the fine "how-do-you-do". Ace Yokoyama will have to be in top form if he wants to have a shot at an upset because if he doesn't, Nichidai will be all over his pedestrian fastball. And while Nichidai-san is using a converted 1B as their ace, in general teams from the Tohoku region have trouble scoring runs (well, except for Aomori Yamada).
Oh yeah, I think I know another reason why Nichidai-san may have been selected. Certainly we've seen many Nichidai/Nihon teams in any given field, but could you imagine 3 Toukaidai teams (Sagami, Bouyou AND Sugao)? Seriously though, this team can rake. Don't be surprised if this turns out to be a bloodbath...
Expected winner - Nichidai-san
Kaisei (Shimane) vs. Kouyou (Wakayama)
This is Kaisei's 2nd consecutive year at senbatsu, and they have established themselves as one of the strong teams out of the Chuugoku region. While the region as a whole is somewhat weak, Kaisei has shown that they can compete against teams from more metropolitan regions at Koshien. They've were so strong that their 2 closest games were in the super-regional semifinal and finals against Kouryou and Kanzei. If ace Shirane can continue to hit close to 145 with good control, the team could go far in the tournament. Also, watch for C Idei and 3B Itohara - they can hit the ball very hard and very far.
And poor Kouyou. They're another 21st century team and they get no breaks. As I said in the team recap, they appear to be an average team who had a fortunate outing against one of the premier teams in Tenri.
Expected winner - Kaisei
Maebashi Kougyou (Gunma) vs. Miyazaki Kougyou (Miyazaki)
It's the battle of the technical schools to start off the 2nd quadrant. Maebashi certainly benefited from the weaker Kanto field, with notable games being the 8-8 & 4-2 games against Chiba Shougyoudai Fuzoku and the 8-0 loss to Toukaidai Sagami.
Miyazaki Kougyou faced quite stiff competition in the fall tournament from the prefecturals to the super-regionals. It remains to be seen if they can continue their efforts several months later. Ace Hamada isn't a fireballer, but has 4 different pitches in his arsenal (two-seam, slider, curve and change) to throw batters off.
There's one more thing... The manager of Maebashi Kougyou is only 25. He's younger than ME. And another thing... He's totally shaken up the numbers. Many of the people who wore the starting numbers are now wearing the bench number and vice versa... and I have no idea why.
Expected winner - Miyazaki Kougyou
Ritsumeikan Uji (Kyoto) vs. Kouryou (Hiroshima)
Ritsumeikan Uji earns their 2nd appearance, and faces the Chuugoku/Shikoku at-large team Kouryou. They've handed the ball to a 1st year (2nd year by tournament time) and have shown their mettle in the fall tournament - especially given the strong super-regional field.
Kouryou, while receiving the at-large bid and making the super-regional semifinals doesn't appear to be fielding as strong of a team is in years past and didn't have much competition in the fall tournament. Their name means they cannot be dismissed, but certainly we can say their team is unproven... with the exception of ace Arihara
Expected winner - Kouryou (okay, I changed my mind. So sue me.)
Kochi (Kochi) vs. Shinkou Gakuen (Hyogo)
Kochi is back for yet another go-around at Koshien. There is little information about the team other than their extra inning loss to Imabari Nishi in the super-regional final. Shinkou Gakuen had an bad loss to Ikuei in the prefectural semi-finals, but then turned around and beat Toyoudai Himeji in the 3rd place game, then Oumi and Fukuchiyama Seibi in the super-regionals before falling apart to Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku in the 8th inning of the semifinals. The question for Shinkou is which team will show up - the team that lost to Ikuei, or the team that played afterwards?
Expected winner - Kochi
Moriokadai Fuzoku (Iwate) vs. Chuukyoudai Chuukyou (Aichi)
Moriokadai Fuzoku reaches the Spring Koshien for the 2nd time in school history, but get to face summer champions Chuukyoudai Chuukyou in the first round. Not only that, you get to face the pitcher who kept the team in the game when the ace floundered. It's certainly an uphill climb. Remember that one-and-done talk I mentioned about Moriokadai? It certainly applies here...
Expected winner - Chuukyoudai Chuukyou
Takaoka Shougyou (Toyama) vs. Chiben Wakayama (Wakayama)
Takaoka Shougyou will look to deny Takashima-kantoku his record-breaking win. But any Chiben team that makes it to Koshien is generally a strong team. And with another non-fireball on the mound for Takaoka, it will make their task that much harder.
Expected winner - Chiben Wakayama
Kounan (Okinawa) vs. Kanzei (Okayama)
Shimabukuro is making is final rounds at Koshien, and his senior campaign begins against Kanzei - who makes their first appearance since Dass Romash was their ace. And he's looking to break their bad luck as they've been ousted in the first round in both the spring and summer Koshien tournaments, and both in the final inning.
Kanzei won't necessarily make it easy. They're back with hard throwing ace Kenta Yuuta, and did defeat Iwamichisuikan (fka Gonokawa) and took Kaisei to the wire. But will that be enough to send Kounan home early yet again?
Expected winner - Kounan (finally??!)
Teikyou (Tokyo) vs. Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku (Hyogo)
Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku won a tough Kinki super-regional but will immediately be thrown into the fire against potential favorite Teikou and ace Itou Takurou. Okamoto Ken will have to keep them in the game early, or risk having their run at Koshien ending before it even starting. Because as we all know, Teikyou has offense to spare.
Expected winner - Teikyou
Imabari Nishi (Ehime) vs. Mie (Mie)
Mie has had recent success as of late, reaching their 2nd Koshien tournament in a row (summer Koshien being the first). They'll look to build upon last year and defeat Shikoku super-regional champion Imabari Nishi. Even with no true ace, Imabari Nishi was able to defeat many of the powerhouse teams on the island in the super-regionals which is a testament to how these teams can just reload year after year.
Expected winner - Imabari Nishi (although I would like to see Mie give a good fight, if not upset)
Toukaidai Bouyou (Chiba) vs. Osaka Touin (Osaka)
Sadly, Toukaidai Bouyou isn't as strong as their sister Sagami. And ace Nagatomo suffers from control issues. Not something you want to have against Osaka Touin who can hit doubles for days. Certainly Osaka Touin's pitching isn't spectacular, but it certainly is a bit more serviceable. Bouyou will have a hard time carrying the Toukai University flag past the first round.
Expected winner - Osaka Touin
Oogaki Nichidai (Gifu) vs. Kawashima (Tokushima)
Kawashima is the last 21st century team to be covered, and they get another tough matchup against Oogaki Nichidai. Oogaki though depends primarily on speed to pressure the opposition, although some players do have some power. If they can limit Oogaki's speed they may have a chance. However, their offense appear to be less than average, so unless they can keep the score low, Kawashima has little chance.
Expected winner - Oogaki Nichidai
Jiyuugaoka (Fukuoka) vs. Toukaidai Sagami (Kanagawa)
Jiyuugaoka is the next team in line to come out of Fukuoka. Certainly their pitching staff is something to look out for (they did strike out a batter/inning). However, their 1st matchup is against the team that might have the #1 player in this year's upcoming draft... Hifumi Shinta. What's worse, he can kill you on either side, as he is by far the power hitter on the team. Barring a miracle, Jiyuugaoka will sadly be packing the Koshien infield and heading home...
Expected winner - Toukaidai Sagami
Hokushou (Hokkaido) vs. Akita Shougyou (Akita)
The final 1st round matchup is a bit sad for me. It's a battle of nearby teams in rural areas. It would have been nice to see both teams have a chance to advance. Sadly, only one can move on.
Akita Shougyou is the Tohoku Super-Regional winner, but it was predominantly on the back of ace Kataoka who gave up less than 1.5 BB/9. They'll have to depend on him heavily considering that their offense is merely average.
Hokushou certainly has ace Matano, who may not have as good of control as Kataoka, but also misses more bats, and has the benefit of a stronger offense who can find the gaps. And it always helps to have multiple ways to win the game.
Expected winner - Hokushou