Kounan is looking for the 1st Haru-Natsu victory since 1998 when the famous Matsuzaka Daisuke led Yokohama to the feat.
To see were we got to this point we go back a year to last spring, when a 2nd year pitcher by the name of Shimabukuro Yousuke took the hill against Toyama Shougyou. The team would lose in 10 innings when Toyama would break a 0-0 deadlock in the 10th, but that wasn't the point. In those 10 innings, he struck out 19 batters while walking just 1. Then in the summer, he faced against title contender (and eventual Best 8 participant) Meihou, he struck out 9 while giving up again only 1 walk in a 4-3 loss.
With 11 of 18 players underclassmen, there was certainly a good possibility we would see them again next year. And come the fall tournament, they finished 2nd in the Kyushu Super-Regionals to surprise Kadena.
Of the 11 underclassmen, 8 were put into the starting 9 again headlined by ace Shimabukuro. With a stronger offense behind him they dominated senbatsu outscoring the opposition 26-3 on the road to the finals, defeating teams such as Chiben Wakayama, Teikyou and Oogaki Nichidai.
Their last opponent was to be Nichidai-san. After falling behind 3-1, it was perhaps thought that he had finally run out of steam. But the team picked him up scoring 4 to take the lead, only to see Shimabukuro give it right back. The game would go into extras, and with each inning Shimabukuro continued to pitch, it seemed like he might finally give up. Instead, it was Nichidai reliever Yoshizawa who caved in the 12th no thanks to an error with 2 down and runners on 1st and 2nd. Kounan would win senbatsu with a 10-5 victory.
In 46 IP, Shimabukuro struck out 49, while yielding only 35 hits and walking 15.
With such a performance, we wondered if they would get back to Koushien. Outscoring their opposition 47-3, there was no question that they were back to try for the sweep.
With the same fervor that they attacked the prefecturals, they mowed down team after team at Koushien taking down teams left and right. Shimabukuro was never challenged in the early going, but there were times in each game where he suddenly became hittable. And in those innings he would yield a run or two.
Things all came to a head against Houtoku Gakuen in the semifinals. Already down 1-0, he would give up 4 runs in the 2nd inning, thanks in part to 2 walks and a bases clearing triple. He was throwing primarily fastballs and his offspeed offerings weren't finding the strike zone. Down 5-0, the team seemed all but lost.
But things changed in the 5th when the team finally got itself in order and scored 3 runs thanks to an error. Down just 2 now, the team felt like it was possible to come back. 2 innings later, they had completed the comeback pulling ahead by the final margin of 6-5.
Even with that last game, Shimabukuro's performance has been stellar:
- Round 1 - 8/10 vs. Naruto - 7 IP - 29 Batters Faced (BF), 0 ER, 5 H, 7 K, 3 BB
- Round 2 - 8/15 vs. Meitoku Gijyuku - CG, 2 ER, 38 BF, 2 ER, 8 H, 12 K, 3 BB
- Round 3 - 8/17 vs. Sendai Ikuei - CG, 35 BF, 1 ER, 6 H, 10 K, 3 BB
- Quarterfinals - 8/18 vs. Seikou Gakuin - 8 IP, 33 BF, 3 ER, 9 H, 8 K, 0 BB
- Semifinals - 8/20 vs. Houtoku Gakuen - CG, 40 BF, 5 ER, 10 H, 12 K, 4 BB, HBP
That equates to a 2.35 ERA with a 1.24 WHIP. His 3 ratios are 8.14 H/9, 10.5 K/9 and 3 BB/9.
The biggest questions for Shimabukuro is whether he can have control of his other offerings. We all know that he can throw the fastball hard - what he needs to be able to do is to keep the batters honest with his slider, curve and forkball.
As I noted above, his success isn't dependent just on him, it has a lot to do with the better offense he has backing him up.
Leading the way is leadoff batter Kuniyoshi Tairiku. As the leadoff batter, he has hit 12-21 with a 3B and a HR, while walking 3 times and striking out just once! That's a .571/.625/.810 from a leadoff batter!!
In fact, the top of the lineup has been very successful for Kounan. The trio of Kuniyoshi, Ketashiro and Ganeko have combined for the following:
- 28-57, 2B, 3-3B, HR, 13 R, 15 RBI, 7 BB, HBP, 3 K
A key for the team may rest in their cleanup batter Maehira. He has struggled the entire tournament, sporting a terrible line of 4-21, 4 GIDP and 2 K. They've been able to get by without him, but it certainly wouldn't hurt for him to stand and deliver when the batters ahead of him are hitting and getting on base the way they are.
As a team they are 51-143 with 6-2B, 4-3B, 2 HR, 15 K, 10 BB, HBP and a .357/.403/.497 line.
Standing in Kounan's way is by now well known Toukaidai Sagami. They came into senbatsu as one of the most hyped teams of the tournament led by senior Shinta Hifumi. But when it came to playing on the field, the team flopped. In an attempt to reinvent himself he went from an overhand delivery to a sidearm delivery for the summer. It is very odd for such a top prospect to change his delivery this late in his kokoyakyu career. Some had hypothesized that it was to improve his command. Others said that the sidearm delivery allows him to have a natural pitch that can come in or right-handed batters.
While the latter may be true, the former is by far certainly not. If anything he has become more of a jekyll-and-hyde pitcher. Here are his lines from the games here at Koushien:
- Round 2 - 8/11 vs. Suijyou - 8.2 IP - 38 BF, 3 ER, 6 H, 3 K, 6 BB, 2 HBP
- Round 3 - 8/16 vs. Toki Shougyou - CG, 32 BF, 0 ER, 1 H, 6 K, 3 BB, HBP
- Quarterfinals - 8/19 vs. Kyushu Gakuin - CG, 41 BF, 3 ER, 9 H, 9 K, 2 BB, 2 HBP
- Semifinals - 8/20 vs. Narita - CG, 47 BF, 7 ER, 14 H, 4 K, 7 BB, 2 HBP
That equates to a 3.28 ERA, but a WHIP of 1.63, a K/9 of just 5.55, and a ghastly 7.07 BB/9 (including dead balls)!!
I was fortunate enough to take a look at Hifumi in the Kanagawa prefecturals, and it stunned me that his control was so lacking and he was walking a ton of batters.
And throughout the tournament, I wondered why no opponent had taken the strategy of just letting Hifumi hang himself. Make him throw a strike, don't make his job any easier. And if he ever "wised up" and put one right in the zone for a strike, go ahead and punish it to keep him honest, then go back to taking pitches again.
That's what Narita did in their game against Hifumi. Unfortunately for them, their ace was out of gas and couldn't keep the team in the game.
What has saved Toukaidai Sagami has been the offense. They have scored 34 runs in 4 games, and that includes the 3-0 win over Toki Shougyou.
If Hifumi doesn't work out as a pitcher, which may be more and more likely, he'll have a future as a position player, much like Doubayashi Shouta (Chuukyoudai Chuukyou) from last year. His batting lines?
- Round 2 - 8/11 vs. Suijyou - 4-5, 2B, HR, R, 3 RBI
- Round 3 - 8/16 vs. Toki Shougyou - 2-4, 2B, R, 2 K
- Quarterfinals - 8/19 vs. Kyushu Gakuin - 1-4, R, RBI, K
- Semifinals - 8/20 vs. Narita - 4-5, 2B, RBI, K
As a team they are 51-143 with 14-2B, 2-3B, HR, 12 K, 5 BB, 4 HBP and a .357/.395/.503 line.
Two well-deserving teams will take the field here with everything on the line. Only one will be able to call themselves Natsu Koushien champions... who will it be?
Toukaidai Sagami (Kanagawa)
RF Watanabe Masaru
LF Ijyuuin Jyun
2B Tanaka Shinta
C Ooshiro Takumi
P Hifumi Shinta
3B Fukuyama Ryou
SS Someya Ryuutarou
1B Ooshiro Kenji
CF Idzichi Akira (#18)
2B Kuniyoshi Tairiku
CF Ketashiro Kai
3B Ganeko Moritsugu
1B Maehira Daiki
RF Mekaru Keisuke
C Yamakawa Daisuke
LF Irei Shinya
P Shimabukuro Yousuke
SS Ooshiro Kouji
13:00 - First Pitch!
Shimabukuro doesn't look too bad to start. The pitches don't seem as wild as before.
But Watanabe takes a 96 kph slow curve and singles back up the middle. Monma will play for the run early on.
The battery is determined to establish the offspeed pitches early on, but Shimabukuro is missing. Tanaka walks on 5 pitches.
Sink or swim, Shimabukuro will not throw the fastball. Two forkballs and Takumi swings on both.
He hits a grounder to 2nd! Tairiku to Ooshiro for one! Relay to Maehira... double play!!!
Shimabukuro gets through the 1st thanks to his defense!
Tairiku trying to get a walk from Hifumi, but he won't give in. Hifumi prevails in round 1 by getting him to ground to short.
Ketashiro picks him up with a single past the outstretched glove of a diving Someya!
And on the 1-0 count he takes off for 2nd! Takumi with the throw, AH!!
Takumi throws it away!! Ketashiro goes to 3rd and Kounan has an opportunity!
Ganeko lays down the squeeze! Hifumi over and looking to let it roll foul... and at the last minute it does!! Count goes to 2-2 and Hifumi gets another chance.
But a waste pitch and another that misses outside give Ganeko the walk.
It's not a bad thing as Maehira steps in. Gakiya-kantoku, whether trying to show confidence, being superstitious, or just being plain stubborn bats him at cleanup.
Maehira showing bunt, but taking pitches.
Hit and run!!! Ganeko is sent in motion, but Maehira fouls it off!
And Maehira pops the ball up! Someya behind 2nd makes the catch. At least it isn't a double play...
Mekaru grounds to 3rd and a チャンスー situation for Kounan goes begging...
Hifumi showing off the bat again as he singles through the left side! Sagami plays for the single run again.
Someya with a hard hit ball to center! But it's hit right at Ketashiro for the 2nd out.
Shimabukuro catches Hifumi off the bag! Snap throw to 2nd and they nail him for the 3rd out! Sagami doesn't get their 2nd chance to get the run in!
Kounan is not giving Hifumi time to throw a ball!
Yamakawa swings on the first pitch and it a grounder just to the left of 2nd. Someya right there to make the play.
Irei swinging away and goes down swinging on 3 straight!
And Shimabukuro swings on the 1-0 pitch and hits a grounder wide of 1st. Kenji fields it, makes a very high toss to Hifumi, but he snags it and tags the bag just before Shimabukuro gets there.
Shimabukuro still throwing everything but a fastball it seems.
One down and Kenji is hit by such a ball.
Watanabe singles on a fastball (2 seam maybe?) and singles to left! Runners on 1st and 2nd with one down!
Ijyuuin takes 2 strikes and has to swing away. He hits a fly ball right to Irei for the 2nd out.
And Shimabukuro gets ahead of Tanaka 0-2 and he gets him to ground out to 1st!
That 140+ fastball is nowhere to be found, and surprising yet, he's throwing his offspeed pitches for strikes!!!!
I have to wonder if there was some strategy in last game. I believed he was tiring and couldn't throw anything but fastballs for strikes, and now here is is throwing almost exclusively offspeed and hitting!
Perhaps Kounan was letting us all, and more importantly Toukaidai Sagami on?
One down and Tairiku is hit on the foot by Hifumi! Gakiya-kantoku will play for the run as well.
But the bunt leaves an interesting question. Walk Ganeko to get to Maehira?
No! They're going after him and Ganeko fouls off a pitch down the 1st base side.
Ganeko with a good shot at 3rd, but Fukuyama is there for the play, 3 out!
Shimabukuro is doing a great job at keeping the batters off balance. He's barely throwing the 4-seamer and mixing in all his other pitches. As a result, Takumi hits a lazy fly to center, Hifumi grounds out to 3rd, and Fukuyama flies out to left to end the inning.
Maehira very patient at the plate, works the count full and draws a walk!
Mekaru with the bunt. Hifumi a bit slow to get to it, but he throws at 2nd! Maehira is out by a good margin. Man, I didn't think he had time, but instead he had plenty!
Hit and run!!!
Mekaru takes off and Yamakawa hits a grounder up the middle! Tanaka can't get to it and Mekaru bolts to 3rd! Runners at the corners!
Irei up, no bunt!
And now he lines one up the middle! It's past Hifumi's glove and into center!! Mekaru scores and Kounan is on the board! 1-0!!!
Shimabukuro up to help his own cause!
But it's a pitchout!!! Takumi with it, throws to 3rd! AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Takumi throws it away!!!!!!!!!!!
Yamakawa scores and it's 2-0 Kounan!
Shimabukuro with a grounder to 2nd. Tanaka fumbles with it, but makes the out at 1st.
First pitch from Hifumi to Ooshiro goes behind him!!!
And now Ooshiro with a grounder through to left! Irei scores! It's 3-0 Kounan!!!
Tairiku with a grounder up the middle! Ooshiro advances to 3rd!
Ketashiro with a drive to right center!!! Watanabe running back to it... dives...
OFF THE GLOVE!!!!!
It goes off the glove and everyone will score! Ooshiro scores! Tairiku comes all the way around from 1st, and it's 5-0 Kounan!!!!
The replay shows that that pitch from Hifumi was hung out to dry like the laundry.
Ganeko hits a grounder to short... and Tanaka can't find the handle on the ball again! He gets it, but it's too late!! He bends over in frustration as Ketashiro scores, making it 6-0 Kounan!!
MAEHIRA WITH A LASER TO RIGHT!!!!!
Watanabe plays it off the fence!!
Ganeko comes in to score on Maehira's triple and it's 7-0!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Mekaru strikes out swinging to end the inning, but Kounan sends 11 people to the mound and completely undressed Hifumi to the tone of 7 runs!!!
Toukaidai Sagami's offense continues to be silent.
One down, and Kenji gets Sagami's 4th hit of the day as he hits a grounder to right.
Idzichi flies out to left and Kenji takes the bold tag up to 2nd and gets there!
But Watanabe goes down swinging on a slider to end the inning.
And that's Shimabukuro's 1st K of the day!!!!!
One down and the hit parade continues! Irei with a drive to center! Idzichi has to play it off the wall and Irei's in with a double!
Shimabukuro grounds out to short, but advances to 3rd.
Ooshiro hits a hard grounder to short! Someya backhands it, but it's off the glove! The momentum takes him away from the ball and everyone's safe! It's 8-0 Kounan!!!!!
Ooshiro tries to steal 2nd on the first pitch, but Yamakawa makes an accurate throw and guns him down.
But that's another run that Sagami has to make up as we head to the break!!
One down and Tanaka hits a grounder up the middle! Tairiku with the diving stop! Throw to 1st... not in time!
AH!!! First pitch to Takumi is lost by Yamakawa and Tanaka advances to 2nd.
He tags up to 3rd on a flyout to deep left center.
Hifumi goes down swinging on a forkball to end the inning!
Tairiku with his 2nd hit! He singles to left! Ketashir follows that with a grounder past the glove of Tanaka into right!
GANEKO WITH A DRIVE TO LEFT!!!! IJYUUIN RUNNING TO THE WALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ganeko with a 3-run homerun on another hanging pitch from Hifumi and it's 11-0!!!!!!!!!!
Monma-kantoku calls time, but it's way past too late...
Maehira connects with a ball, but flies out to center.
Mekaru connects with a ball and drives one to left! Ijyuuin plays that off the wall for a double!
Yamakawa grounds out to short for the 2nd out. Mekaru holds.
Irei with a drive to right!!! Watanabe running back... IT'S OFF THE END OF HIS GLOVE AGAIN!!!!
Mekaru scores as Irei slides into 3rd!!! 12-0!!!
Shimabukuro with a grounder to the right side! Tanaka tries to run it down but can't! Irei scores and it's 13-0!!
With that single, everyone on Kounan now has a hit!
Ooshiro grounds out to 3rd to end the inning. But Kounan sends 9 more batters to the plate and has completely blown it wide open!
Fukuyama makes good contact with a Shimabukuro pitch but lines one right to Maehira.
Someya with a weak grounder to 1st. And there's quickly 2 down.
Kenji with a single to center. Ketashiro to field it, but loses the handle on the ball! Kenji takes 2nd on the error!
Idzichi with a single to left! Kenji rounds third and the throw is cut off! Sagami on the board at 13-1.
Watanabe hits a weak chopper to Shimabukuro for the 3rd out, but Toukaidai Sagami has avoided the shutout.
And Hifumi has finally been relieved of his misery. #10 Egawa Kyousuke replaces him and takes the hill.
Tairiku with a hard liner, but right at Tanaka.
Ketashiro with a chopper past Egawa's glove! Tanaka dives but can't get it! Goes into center for a base hit!
Ganeko with a single to left, and it seems like the hit parade will keep on going!
Maehira strikes out swinging for the 2nd out. The runners were taking off and Takumi makes a good throw to 3rd to get the lead runner for the 3rd out.
Shimabukuro continues to induce contact from the Sagami batters!
Ijyuuin and Tanaka both ground out to 3rd before Takumi sinlges to center.
Egawa, behind 1-2, fouls a couple of pitches off before hitting a single to right!
Shimabukuro records just his 3rd K in Fukuyama with a rare fastball up and away!
One down and Yamakawa singles through to left.
#16 Agena Shun comes in to PH for Irei.
He strikes out swinging and Yamakawa is thrown out easily stealing 2nd.
#15 Kiyota Riku comes in to PH for Someya.
Kenji first pinch grounds to 1st... Maehira takes it to the bag for the out! 2 down!!
#14 Miyazaki Daisuke the last chance for Toukaidai Sagami as he comes in for Idzichi.
As befitting an end, Shimabukro strikes out Miyazaki swinging on a 142 kph fastball to end the game!!!
興南！ 春夏連覇！！！！！！ (Kounan! Haru-Natsu renpa!!!!)
THEY'VE DONE IT! KOUNAN HAS COMPLETED THE 6TH HARU-NATSU KOUSHIEN SWEEP AND GIVEN OKINAWA THEIR FIRST EVER NATSU KOUSHIEN CHAMPIONSHIP!!!!!!!!!!!
(And while I'm happy, I wonder to think that I could have been there to see it all.... *sighs*)
And understandably, while Kounan celebrates, Toukaidai Sagami is understandably sad. Many of them are crying because they lost, and perhaps in some ways the manner in which they lost. For as much as they succeeded in getting to this point, to lose here in this way is bittersweet. For Hifumi Shinta, he will certainly still get drafted into NPB should he decide to do so, but to finish his kokoyakyu career in this manner must be frustrating.
And as the awards are given out, the teams march around the field and the flags are lowered, we close the door on another year of baseball. It certainly has been a memorable one as we have been treated to the 6th haru-natsu championship, led by an amazing ace in Shimabukuro Yousuke.
But while this door ends, the door opens on the 2011 season as the Fall tournament in some places are underway which will determine the 2011 senbatsu participants.
So... who will next year's heroes be?