(For those wondering why I did not blog this game live, I was attending a convention and talking with a famous manga artist. So this game will be recapped in parts, partly because it's early morning as I start recapping this and I still have 2 days left of the convention. Yes it's life interrupting - until now I've never had so many things coincide at the wrong times...).
After many rain delays, sloppy games, come-from-behind wins, upset victories, and spectacular pitching performances, we finally reach the championship game.
And I must admit, I didn't really see this one coming when the brackets came out.
First of all, there's Kounan. We've known about Kounan for a while, what with their ace Shimabukuro Yousuke mowing batters down, but always wound up being the hard luck boy.
That's changed completely this tournament. Shimabukuro is still showing the opposition a seat, but the offense has finally decided that they have had enough of letting down their ace. In their 4 victories, the team has combined for 26 runs on 50 hits - and up until their semifinal game had only one extra base hit (a double) before exploding for 8 against Oogaki Nichidai. They don't really take walks although they do work the count - unless they see a pitch they really like.
Offensively, one has to look at the 3-4-5-6 batters to see where the success has come from. While not all firing on all cylinders, they still provide the bulk of the offense for the team.
As mentioned before, Shimabukuro had been eliminating the competition left and right, and with the success they had been having, one wondered if his stamina would hold up. All signs so far point to a resounding yes.
In 34 innings of work, he has given up just 3 ER, 27 hits and just 10 walks while striking out 38. He has shown no signs of breaking down so far, and he just has one more game to go.
On the other side is Nichidai-san, an at-large team. But as we are all aware of, this isn't your ordinary at-large team. Perhaps spurned on by their lackluster performance at Natsu Koshien last summer, they have shown the staying power of such stubborn teams as they have progressed through the bracket. The biggest thing is that they've done exactly what they've need to do against weakness, and that is to exploit it for all its worth. They did that against Yamagata Chuo, again versus Tsuruga Kehi, and when Arihara started to lose command in the semifinals, they crushed that too.
But note what I said - they've done it when shown weakness. But now, they're facing Shimabukuro. Sure, he could hit a wall this game much like Arihara. But what if he doesn't? What then? The offense may have to answer that question in the most important game of the tournament.
For pitching, early on it was all about ace Yamazaki. He was putting up similar numbers to Shimabukuro through 3 games, but they were also against perhaps weaker opposition. It was telling then in the semifinal game against Kouryou, that he would be pulled after just 4 innings after giving up 3 runs while showing lack of control.
What's possibly worse is that the bullpen for Nichidai-san isn't much better. None of the relievers after Yamazaki showed good stuff as all suffered from a lack of command. The box score shows that they gave up 8 hits, but walked 14! 14! Certainly they cannot expect to win if the staff puts up those numbers.
The game will probably hinge on whether Shimabukuro can pitch through one more game. Any fatigue and might be all but over.
Kounan (Okinawa) - Kyushu 3/4
2B Kuniyoshi Tairiku (#6)
CF Ketashiro Kai
3B Ganeko Moritsugu
1B Maehira Daiki
RF Mekaru Keisuke
C Yamakawa Daisuke
LF Irei Shinya
P Shimabukuro Yousuke
2B Ooshiro Kouji (#15)
Nichidai-san (Tokyo) - Kanto/Tokyo At-large
CF Kobayashi Ryouji (#16)
1B Ogihara Tatsurou (#4)
RF Hiraiwa Takuji (#8)
3B Yokoo Toshitake
P Yamazaki Sachiya
SS Yoshizawa Shougo
LF Azegami Shou
1B Sano Tomohito
C Suzuki Takahiro (#12)
12:31 - First pitch!
After working both sides of the plate, Yamazaki gets Tairiku to ground to 3rd.
Then works exclusively away on Ketashiro and gets him looking on a fastball away.
Finally, Ganeko grounds out to 1st after being fooled on a change.
Yamazaki is topping out in the high 130's and his slider and change are sitting in the 110's. No worse for wear so far.
Kobayashi leads off for Nichidai-san and tries a safety bunt! But he pops it up and Ganeko runs it down in foul territory for the out. An interesting strategy by Ogura-kantoku to start the game...
Shimabukuro seems to be throwing slower to start. In his sequence to Ogihara his sliders are in the low 110's and his fastball is sitting in the upper 120's. I can't imagine that holding up throughout the game.
Oh... ok... NOW he decides to blow a 135 kph high fastball by him. That's better.
There's got to be something to it now Now against Hiraiwa he's starting at 133 kph, then hitting 140 and the upper 130's in this AB. But unfortunately I can't tell if he's varying speeds, or highlighting another pitch such as a cutter...
Oh, and he walks Hiraiwa after an 8-pitch AB.
Going after Yokoo now. Gets ahead 0-2. Count 1-2 and Ogura puts on the hit-and-run, but Yokoo can only foul the pitch off.
And Yokoo goes down swinging on a high slider. Shimabukuro seems to have just been warming up in the 1st.
Yamazaki being careful with Maehira, throwing predominantly offspeed pitches - and all away. Gets him looking on a slider away.
And now against Mekaru he's going to the fastball and going all over.
But Mekaru makes contact and hits a grounder past Yokoo and down the left field line! Azegami quickly runs it down and limits him to a long single!
And Yamakawa swings on the first pitch and hits a grounder to Yokoo! He fires to Ogihara for one, relay to Sano completes the double play to end the inning!
Shimabukuro uncharacteristically walks leadoff batter Yamazaki after an 8-pitch AB, his 2nd already this game.
Yoshizawa looks to bunt him along, but fouls off the first pitch instead. He bunts the 1-1 pitch towards the 3rd base line. Ganeko throws to 1st... and throws it away!! Mekaru runs it down, but not before Yamazaki advances to 3rd!
Gakiya-kantoku with a conference. Nichidai-san with a rare opportunity against Shimabukuro with no one out!!
Shimabukuro continuing to pay a lot of attention to the runner at 1st, and it seems to be affecting his pitching. He pitches away to Azegami and walks him on 5 pitches!
Manrui for Nichidai-san!!
Shimabukuro turning up the heat! He's throwing 138/139 kph fastballs at Sano! Gets ahead 0-2 and gets a pop up to Maehira for the 1st out!
Double play on Suzuki would end the inning. Suzuki isn't shying away either, he's swinging away. But he's having a hard time catching up to Shimabukuro's fastballs which are now in the low 140's!
But Suzuki works the count full! Will Shimabukuro give up a run on no hits?
Suzuki pops it up to 3rd! Infield fly rule is called as Ganeko secures it!! 2 down!
Shimabukuro makes a throw to 1st, but Maehira can't field it! It gets past him and into foul territory! Yamazaki scores! Yoshizawa coming around 3rd... and he comes in to score!!!
It's an error that opens the scoring as Shimabukuro throws it away! It's 2-0 Nichidai-san!
And on the first pitch to Kobayashi, Yamakawa throws to 2nd, only to have Azegami bolt for 3rd and beat the throw! What is going on with Kounan?
Now Shimabukuro hits Kobayashi! Is he really rattled?
Ogihara stepping up, possibly to extend the lead against Shimabukuro!!
1-2 pitch to Ogihara and Kobayashi takes off! No throw from Yamakawa! Now a base hit could make it a 4-run game!
Ogihara though pops it up to short. Kouji is under it and makes the catch for the 3rd out. But in an uncharacteristic inning for Shimabukuro, he gives up 2 runs without the benefit of a single hit!
Irei hitting a weak comebacker to Yamazaki to start the inning.
Shimabukuro with another comebacker, and this time it gets past Yamazaki. But he managed to get a piece of it with his glove slowing it down. Yoshizawa runs over, picks up the ball and makes a fine throw to 1st.
And Kouji hits a fly to right, but Hiraiwa is there near the line to make the catch.
Hiraiwa leads off the inning with a fly to center. Ketashiro under it right at the wall. EH? He starts scrambling around and looks up!
Hiraiwa with a surprise homerun to center! The wind is blowing out to center, but it certainly had everyone fooled - including me!
IT'S 3-0 Nichidai-san!!
And now Yokoo with a drive to deep left!!! Irei back to get it, camps in front of the wall and makes the AHHHHHHHHH!
He drops the ball!!! He flat out drops the ball!! He throws it back in, but Yokoo comes in at 2nd on the error!
WHAT IN THE WORLD IS HAPPENING TO KOUNAN??!!
Yamazaki with a base hit through to left! They're sending Yokoo home! Irei running in makes the throw home! It's on line and Yamakawa makes the tag for the out!! Nice play by Irei after the error!
Yoshizawa with a fly to fairly deep right center, and Mekaru makes the catch after some adjustment.
Shimabukuro then strikes out Azegami to end the inning, but Shimabukuro doesn't seem like himself so far this game...
Kounan continues to struggle at the plate. Tairiku grounds out to 2nd to start the inning.
Ketashiro finally breaks the drought with a single down the left field line.
Ganeko goes down swinging on a hit-and-run, but Tairiku gets to 2nd.
But Yamazaki gets Maehira to go down looking for his 4th K! If you didn't know any better, you'd think Yamazaki was the better pitcher!!
Interesting move here. #2 Ootsuka is pinch hitting for Sano. Not sure why though. Shimabukuro gets him to fly out to Mekaru.
Suzuki pops up to Ganeko in foul territory.
And after getting ahead 0-2, Shimabukuro gets Kobayashi to hit a short chopper back to him.
A quick inning finally for Shimabukuro. But his team still trails 3-0.
Ootsuka stays in the game for Nichidai-san and takes over at 1B.
Mekaru first pitch lines one to left for a leadoff single.
Yamakawa looking to bunt the runner along. Lays it down and advances the runner.
But Irei can't catch up to a fastball down and there's 2 down!
Shimabukuro up desperately needing a hit to chip away at the lead - but he falls behind 0-2!
And Yamazaki thinks he has him on a fastball outside, but the umpire won't give it to him! Shimabukuro works the count full... and earns a walk!
Suzuki out to the mound to talk to Yamazaki.
Bottom of the order and Kouji up to bat.
And he hits a dribbler up the 3rd base line. Yokoo over to get it, but he stumbles as he fields it! By the time he recovers, everyone's safe!! Manrui for Kounan!
Tairiku witha single through to left! Everyone advances a base and Kounan is on the board! 3-1!
Ketashiro looking to tie the game with a base hit.
But he hits a grounder to Yoshizawa! he flips to 2nd for the out and Yamazaki gets out with only 1 run!
Ogihara leads off the inning with a first-pitch single to left.
Hiraiwa swinging away, then tries to lay down the bunt on the 0-1 pitch! Shimabukuro dispatches him with a fastball inside.
Yokoo with another first pitch single to left. Runners on 1st and 2nd with only one out, and Nichidai-san is threatening again! And it's Yamazaki who's at the plate.
And he spins him around on a 142 kph fastball!
Runners take off on the full count pitch to Yoshizawa, but he pops it up behind 2nd base. Tairiku battling the wind a little makes the catch.
We're at the break with Kounan trailing 3-1. Kounan has looked uncharacteristically bad on the field and that is what has led to the runs. There's still time though...
Out of the break and Ganeko bloops one just past Ogihara into right!
And he teaks off for 2nd! Pitch outside and Suzuki's throw isn't in time!
Maehira can't do anything to move Ganeko though, and grounds to short.
Mekaru, 2-2 on they day so far can't do anything either. He flies out to left and there's 2 down now...
Yamakawa looking for the timely hit. Sends one back up the middle! Ganeko being sent home! Kobayashi with a laser home! Ganeko slides... SAFE! He may have slid a little early, but he just beats the tag and it's 3-2 Kounan! Yamakawa advances to 2nd on the throw.
AH! Now Yamazaki hits Irei! Runners on 1st and 2nd!
Ogura-kantoku calling a conference! Their lead has been cut to 1 and the tying run is in scoring position!
Shimabukuro with a grounder through to left center! Azegami coming in misreads the ball! It's by him!! Kobayashi running it down, throw goes into 2nd, but not before Yamakawa and Irei score!!! Kounan has just taken the lead 4-3!!!!!
Kouji with a grounder back up the middle! They're sending Shimabukuro home!!!! Kobayashi with another laser home! Azegami with it up the line, goes for the sweep tag, Shimabukuro goes to avoid! Scramble back to the plate, and... SAFE!!! Shimabukuro somehow avoids the tag and just gets his foot on the plate! It's now 5-3 Kounan!!! Kouji also advances to 2nd on the throw.
Tairiku pops up to short to end the inning, but Kounan has come back from the break with 4 runs and now they have the 2-run lead!!
And with the lead Shimabukuro appears to be back to form striking out Azegami.
AHHHHHHH!!! Ootsuka with a drive to right center! Ketashiro running back to the wall and he looks up!
Shimabukuro gives up his 2nd homerun of the day, this time to captain Ootsuka and it's a one run ball game! 5-4!
Suzuki with a bloop to right. Tairiku running it down, but it bounces off of him and gets away from both him and Mekaru!! Suzuki flies around the bases and ends up at 3rd!! An unlucky break means they tying run is just 90 feet away!!
Gakiya-kantoku calls a conference. Are they really going to give up the lead right after they get it?
Kobayashi shows squeeze at the last minute! Shimabukuro over to get it, but he can't even throw to 1st as everyone was running in! All safe and Nichidai-san has indeed come back to tie the game! It's 5-5!!!
Ogihara up and now Nichidai-san is looking to take the lead! But Shimabukuro has Kobayashi caught off the bag! He breaks for 2nd, throw is dropped by Tairiku! But Kobayashi breaks contact with the bag and Tairiku tags him for the out! 2 down!
Grounder to 3rd by Ogihara, throw to 1st... offline!! Another error by Kounan!!
Shimabukuro gets Hiraiwa on a high fastball to end the inning, but once again Shimabukuro looks more than human here in the 6th and we're all square!
Ketashiro with a liner over Yoshizawa and into left center for a leadoff double! Kounan looking to strike right back!
Gakiya not bunting here. He's having Ganeko swing away! Oooo... That was a big cut there at 2-1. Hits one down the left field line... goes foul!
And Yamazaki gets a flyout to left! One down.
Maehira with a shot downt he 1st base line! But Ootsuka is there to get it and make the 2nd out. Ketashiro advances to 3rd, but they'll need a hit for Mekaru.
But he grounds back to Yamazaki! He makes the toss to 1st and Yamazaki is out of the inning!
Yokoo with a comebacker right at Shimabukuro. He gets out of the way as Kouji runs over to get it! Throw to 1st is in time!
Yamazaki with a slow grounder to short! Kouji running in, barehands, makes the throw but it's high! Maehira leaping to get it, but gets down just in time to beat the runner. 2 down!
Yoshizawa with a grounder to the right side. Tairiku with a diving stop and makes the throw to 1st to end the inning. Some hard work being turned in by the infield here in the 7th.
Yamazaki finally gets the 1st batter out as Yamakawa goes down swinging. Then Irei flies out to right. And Shimabukuro flies out to left on the first pitch.
The teams may be grinding to a halt as we enter the late innings... Each team will want to push in the go-ahead run, but will either of them be able to?
Shimabukuro racks up his 8th K as Azegami waves at a pitch outside. Ootsuka hits a lazy fly to center for the 2nd out. And Suzuki flies out to the same spot.
We head to the 9th inning with the score tied at 5. Can anyone break through in regulation?
Kouji with a chopper to left. Yokoo reaches down and snags it! Throw to first for out number 1! Nice play by Kouji!
Tairiku with another grounder to Yokoo. He gets this one as well and makes the 2nd out!
Ketashiro with a grounder to short. Yoshizawa with the play and Kounan is quickly down here in the top of the 9th!
Kobayashi bunting! But he pops it up! Ganeko next to Shimabukuro makes the catch - then telling him that I'll take those ones, you just go pitch. Well, maybe not exactly that, but close.
Shimabukuro turning on the jets once again on Ogihara, hitting 139 then 140.
Liner by Ogihara! Ganeko leaps and makes the catch! 2 down!!
And after going 3 straight offspeed pitches on Hiraiwa, he blows by him with a 140 kph fastball!
How is it that the championship game is almost always either a blowout or a nailbiter?
Ganeko weakly grounds out to 2nd to start off the extra frame.
But then Maehira earns a walk! What will Gakiya-kantoku do now?
Mekaru squares to bunt. Lays it down and advances Maehira into scoring position for Yamakawa. Suzuki out to the mound to talk strategy.
Swinging away and pops it up! Ootsuka running to the fence, but can't make a play on it. And Yamazaki hits 140 for strike 2! One pitch away from getting out of the inning, but suddenly the count goes full!
And he loses him! That brings up Irei to try and break the deadlock!
Suzuki back out to the mound to talk with Yamazaki - and Gakiya calls back Irei! #16 Agena is once again in to pinch hit!
But he hits a short chopper back to Yamazaki! He tosses to 1st and that's the inning!
Agena stays in the game to play LF.
Shimabukuro records his 10th K in Yokoo here to start the bottom half of the 10th.
And he continues to keep the heat on, throwing fastballs in the low 140's - and getting a popup by Yamazaki to Ganeko in foul territory.
Oy. Shimabukuro is already at 160 pitches for the game! And he's still hitting 140!
Pop up to shallow right. Tairiku under it, then struggles with looking at the ball, and it's off his glove! Yoshizawa winds up at 2nd on the 5th error by Kounan!
Gakiya calling for a conference on the mound, and this time Ogura-kantoku calls for a pinch hitter! #17 Shimizu comes in for Azegami looking for the sayonara hit.
Shimabukuro starts him off with 2 sliders the 2nd fouled off. Then hits 141 for strike 2. Now he's pounding him with fastballs, but misses! Count goes full! Now Shimabukuro hits 143 and 142!!
And Shimizu hits a grounder back to Shimabukuro! Underhands to 1st and the inning is over! Both teams with opportunities here in the 10th but neither can bring them home! To the 11th!
#9 Takayama comes in for PH Shimizu and takes over in RF. Hiraiwa moves to LF.
Shimabukuro works the count full against Yamazaki, but can only hit a chopper to Yokoo who once again makes a good play for the 1st out.
Kouji first pitch swinging pops up to Ogihara for the 2nd out.
Tairiku gets a two-out base hit to right. But Ganeko flies out to Hiraiwa and Kounan is held scoreless.
Uh oh. Shimabukuro walks Ootsuka to start the inning. Suzuki will surely be bunting here.
Does, but it's too hard! Shimabukuro fires to 2nd. Kouji is there for one, his throw to 1st is high and pulls Maehira off the bag. But they get the lead runner - one down.
Kobayashi bunting as well! Again it's too hard! Shimabukuro firing to 2nd and they get the lead runner again!
Shimabukuro minding Kobayashi a LOT as he throws over repeatedly. Meanwhile he's firing gas to the plate (well his version anyways) hitting 139-140 and getting ahead 0-2. Starts to nibble and the count goes even.
Runner goes! Ogihara fouls the 142 kph pitch off. Again! And Ogihara fouls it off again.
SANSHIN! Ogihara slams the bat down after he swings at a pitch on the outside part of the plate for strike 3! Through 11 and we are still tied at 5!
We're approaching the part of the game where the teams either get desperate or just run out of gas and move towards a draw at 15.
Ganeko gets good contact, but flies out to right.
Maehira with a grounder to 1st. Stopped by Ootsuka! Flip to Yamazaki... and he drops it!! Maehira slides in safely! E1!
AH!! And a wild pitch to Mekaru lets Maehira go to 2nd!
And now Ogura-kantoku is calling time and waving his arms! He's calling for a pitching change!
Eh?? Everyone's moving around!
Okay, I think I have it now.
So Yoshizawa goes from SS to the mound. Ogihara moves from 2B to SS. #15 Negishi comes in for Kobayashi and takes over at 2B. Hiraiwa goes from LF to CF. Takayama goes from RF to LF. Ootsuka goes from 1B to RF. And finally Yamazaki goes from the mound to 1B.
Got it? Well, that seems like a lot of movement for a pitching change.
And it doesn't start well. After a strike, Yoshizawa walks him.
Ogura calls time and calls for a conference.
Yoshizawa is easily hitting the low 140's but he can't find the plate! #11 Yoshinaga gets up and starts throwing. And Yoshizawa walks Yamakawa on 4 straight! It's manrui for Kounan!!
Running change at 3rd. #17 Koura comes in for Maehira.
Agena up... shows squeeze!! Pulls it back. Again! Infield in for Nichidai.
SQUEEZE!!!!!!!!! The pitch is low but he fouls it off! It's 1-2. Now what??
Agena slaps one to 3rd. Yokoo up with it, throw home...
Yokoo throws it short and it gets past Suzuki! Koura scores! Mekaru rounding 3rd going for home! Suzuki's throw back... not in time! Ironically enough it's an error between the only two players who didn't move that allows Kounan to take the lead! It's 7-5!!
あれ? Are they intentionally walking Shimabukuro? Two pitchouts and it's 2-0. But then he throws one in for a strike. Fastball up though and Shimabukuro swings. Looks like they were looking for the squeeze earlier.
Shimabukuro with a drive to center!! Hiraiwa running to the wall and that falls in! Yamakawa scores! Agena all the way from 1st, he comes in to score! Shimabukuro with another big hit and it's 9-5 Kounan!!
Kouji with a grounder through to right! Ootuska with the throw home and Shimabukuro has to hold at 3rd.
あら? Another change by Ogura? #13 Nomura comes in for Ootsuka and takes over in RF.
Kouji takes off on the 1st pitch and takes 2nd easily.
Tairiku attempts the squeeze, but the ball goes off the bat and hits him! Count goes to 1-1.
Hard shot to 1st! Yamazaki with it, but can only go to 1st. Shimabukuro scores and it's now 10-5!
Ketashiro the 9th batter to come to the plate here in the 12th.
And he grounds out to short to end the inning.
But in an inning where a lack of focus for one play and 2 bad pitches lead to a pitching and major fielding change, the flood gates open for a 5 run inning. It's hard to see Nichidai-san coming back from this.
Defensive changes for Kounan. #4 Yamashiro comes in for Tairiku and takes over at 2B. #18 Ooshiro Satoshi comes in for PR Koura and takes over in RF while Mekaru moves to 1B.
Hiraiwa grounds out to short to start the inning.
Yokoo with a drive to right center! Ketashiro running to the wall leaps, but it bounces above him! Yokoo in with a stand up double!
Shimabukuro not messing around anymore. He's firing at 140 and 141 once again at Yamazaki. Nothing but fastballs... He's jammed by fastball down and in and grounds out to short!
One more for Shimabukuro and Kounan!
And perhaps to get the seniors out on the field, #14 Oowan comes in for Ganeko and takes over at 3B. Only #10 Sunagawa has not entered the game, and I doubt Gakiya-kantoku will pull Shimabukuro now.
Yoshizawa the last chance for Nichidai-san.
Pop fly to left! Agena running to the line... Makes the catch!!
And that does it!! Shimabukuro not only has broken the 1st round curse, he has gone on to win it all!!! The players rush to Shimabukuro on the mound!
This makes the 2nd spring championship for Okinawa in the last 3 years! (Okinawa Shogaku - Higashihama-kun)
It's certainly heartbreak for Nichidai-san, who jumped out to a lead against Shimabukuro but was unable to hold it. And perhaps were an error away from having a chance of holding the game. Yamazaki had pitched a great game until he was pulled, and perhaps the huge change put undue pressure on the team. Hopefully this won't discourage Yamazaki come the summer.
For Shimabukuro, his status as a dominating pitcher is confirmed here at senbatsu. He may cement his spot as the #1 draft pick next year if his team can come back this summer and repeat the performance. But for now, he and his team will enjoy the school's first championship!