Our final game of the 1st round has some special meaning. Oogaki Nichidai, the Tokai Super-Regional champions will face off against Tohoku, who two weeks ago was more concerned with their own family's safety and well being more than the upcoming senbatsu.
I haven't been able to determine how the players were directly affected other than the one press release stating that they had just gotten power restored to their dorms.
In respect to the difficulties the team was facing, the JHBF made the extraordinary (but logical) step in automatically placing Tohoku on the last game of the 1st round (today). The team was able to travel down, and was given a greater than usual sendoff - perhaps because the team represents now an entire region.
In the earthquake, towns were lost, families lost loved ones, people were displaced from the place they called home, and questions loom about what can they do now. A whole region's way of life has been disrupted if not destroyed.
Perhaps that's why they allowed the tournament to continue, and Tohoku the chance to play. In some small way maybe they can help people forget momentarily about the troubles that lie ahead of them. For a couple of hours, maybe people will be watching the TV or listening to the radio cheering on a team that knows in some ways what they're going through.
Unfortunately, logistics-wise the team was not able to get practice in at all before the tournament, their last practice game against Osaka Touin canceled due to weather. So from a practical point of view, they may not be game ready.
In a way too, this isn't fair for Oogaki Nichidai. Surely they're well aware of Tohoku's team struggles (they couldn't even get a practice game in before the tournament), and the burden that they are under. Playing this game could be viewed as losing either way. Lose, and you're out of the tournament. Win, and you've defeated a team that perhaps in a part of each person's mind they want to go as far as they can.
However, when you look at it, I think it's fine. Even though Tohoku probably has the majority of people supporting them, it would be a disservice to not give it their all. Should Tohoku really be in the mindset to really give it 110%, I think this will be the best game we've seen yet.
Oogaki Nichidai (Gifu) - Tokai Champions
LF Hata Kazuki
RF Gotou Kenta
SS Hoshino Shinichirou
1B Takada Naohiro
C Tokimoto Ryou
P Kassai Yukiya
2B Nonobe Satoshi
3B Ueki Takeharu
CF Andou Yoshirou
Tohoku (Miyagi) - Tohoku Champions
RF Nakagawa Takafumi
LF Takarada Shintarou
SS Ogawa Yuuto
P Kamimura Kento
3B Chatani Ryouta
1B Saitou Keigo
CF Sakai Shouya
C Kikkawa Shinpei
2B Ezotsuka Keita
9:00 - Game start!
Perhaps as feared, first pitch from Kamimura is driven to right. Nakagawa over to the foul pole, and it's over for a home run. Oogaki Nichidai up 1-0 just like that.
Kenta then takes a pitch to deep right center, and that's off the glove of Sakai. He's in with a double.
Hoshino bunts the runner along. Takada up next singles to center, bringing in another run to make it 2-0.
Tokimoto then draws a walk, and it doesn't look all too good.
Kassai with a short liner to left. Takarada charging in, dives and makes a great catch for the 2nd out!
But Nonobe hits a drive to center! Sakai runs back to the wall, but can't get to it. Both runners come in to score on the triple, and it's 4-0 Oogaki. You have to wonder how much heart the Tohoku players have in this game as Igarashi-kantoku calls a conference...
Ueki with a grounder through the left side scores yet another run, and it's 5-0.
Yoshirou strikes out looking for the 3rd out, but 5-0 Oogaki Nichidai, and it'll be an uphill climb for Tohoku.
Tohoku retired in order to start the game. Nakagawa and Takarada with groundouts to 2nd, and Ogawa striking out looking.
Hata with his 2nd hit of the day, a single through the left side. He's bunted along for Hoshino. He hits a grounder to short. Ogawa there to field it, but stumbles and has no play.
Kamimura gets Takada to fly out to left for the 2nd out. And Tokimoto grounds into a fielder's choice at short to end the inning. Nice way to settle down after the rough 1st inning.
One down, and Chatani hits a hard grounder to 3rd that Ueki lets through to left! Tohoku with their 1st baserunner.
Saitou with a grounder to the left side that sneaks by Takada and a diving Nonobe into right! Chatani to 3rd, and there's runners at the corners!
But Saki goes down swinging and there's 2 down for Kikkawa.
Saitou takes off on the 0-1 pitch and there's now throw from Tokimoto!
But Kikkawa grounds to 2nd to end the inning Good chance for Tohoku lost.
Kamimura is a righty who throws in the high 120s, a slider in the 110s and the a fork in the 100s.
One down for Oogaki, and Nonobe singles to right. Ueki follows that up with another single to right. It's another developing situation for Tohoku.
That is until Yoshirou grounds into the 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
2 quick outs for Touhoku when Takarada is hit by Kassai.
Ogawa with a blast to right! Kenta running to right field foul pole...
Ball bounces back into play, but the umpires call it a home run! Tohoku gets on the board with a home run from Ogawa!
Oh, wait. The umpires are conferring. The head umpires head to the microphone...
And announces a ground rule double instead. Man, that's just crushing. I couldnt' tell from the video because my screens are a bit small, but it feels in a way like it's another kick in the gut. Kamimura grounds out to 2nd to end the inning and Touhoku is denied.
At least Kamimura is doing his job. He retires the side in just 7 pitches and Tohoku is back on the bats again.
But Kassai shows no mercy. He strikes out the side in order not allowing Tohoku to get another scoring opportunity.
One down for Oogaki and Tokimoto singles to left. Kassai gets one past a diving Ezotsuka and there's runners at 1st and 2nd.
Kamimura Ks Nonobe looking on a slider away for the 2nd out. And Ueki grounds to 3rd! Chatani takes it to the bag for the out to retire the side!
To talk about Oogaki's ace Kassai, he's a lefty sidewinder who throws in the low 130s and a slider in the 110s.
After racking up yet 2 more Ks, he hits Nakagawa.
Then, already up 0-2 on Takarada, Tokimoto tries to pick off Nakagawa except the throw goes high! The ball winds up down the right field line, and Nakagawa actually advances to 3rd! How fortunate!
But Takarada pops it up! Kassai runs into foul territory on the 1st base side and makes the catch to retire the side!
We head into the break with Oogaki leading by those 5 runs from the first inning. Nerves, rustiness, not sure it was, but as a result the team will have to dig deep to get to the Oogaki ace.
Yoshirou drills a 3-2 offering from Kamimura to right. That goes down the line and all the way to the wall. Nakagawa retrieves it but not before Yoshirou has a leadoff triple.
Hata hits a ball to short, and Ogawa makes a great stop! Saitou has to make a swipe tag, but he gets the out!
Kenta with a liner to the left side, and Ogawa makes a great diving catch! 2 down!
Ah, but Hoshino singles to center! Yoshirou comes home and it's 6-0.
Now Hoshino takes off for 2nd! Throw from Kikkawa is late and another runner is in scoring position!
Takada with a base hit to right, and that brings in another run to make it 7-0.
Igarashi-kantoku will make a pitching change now. #10 Natsui comes in for Takarada and takes over on the mound, while Kamimura goes to LF.
Natsui gets Tokimoto to line to center to end the inning.
Well, unfortunately for Tohoku, they can't make good contact on the ball. Kassai just need 7 pitches to retire the side.
Natsui walks Kassai to start the inning. Kassai takes off for 2nd, but is thrown out.
Nonobe K's for the 2nd out and it looks like Natsui will another easy inning.
But not quite. Ueki singles to right. Yoshirou follows that up with a grounder to right for another base hit. Yoshirou takes off for 2nd and the throw is cut off.
Hata though is fooled by a fastball outside and the inning is over.
Tohoku's bats continue to be silent. Saitou grounds out to 2nd, Sakai strikes out looking, and Sakai hits a high fly, but right to Hata for the 3rd out.
Kenta tests Ogawa again with a grounder into the gap at short. But Ogawa goes over, makes the snag, and a great throw to 1st for the out.
Takada does get a 2-out single, but Tokimoto is quickly retired thereafter to end the inning.
#12 Toba in to hit for Ezotsuka. Ueki and Hoshino almost collide. Hoshino with the ball, throws to 1st. It's high, but Takada makes the swipe tag for the out.
After Nakagawa grounds back to Kassai, #17 Ueda comes in to hit for Natsui, so his day is done. He flies out to 2nd, and the inning is over.
#11 Katagai comes in for PH Ueda and takes the hill. #14 Kurata comes in for PH Toba and takes over at 2B.
Katagai is a righty sidearmer who has a fastball in the mid 130s with a slider in the 110s and a change in the 100s.
He gets two quick groundouts to 2nd, but when Ueki hits another one to Kurata, he boots it to keep the inning going.
Yoshirou ends the inning by ground out to, yep... 2nd.
It'll be last up for Tohoku as barring a miraculous comeback they will be heading home to their families to deal with more important things than baseball.
Perhaps though, they'll try to avoid the shutout. Ogawa takes a 3-2 pitch to right for a base hit.
Kamimura though goes down swinging for the 1st out.
Chatani with a pop to shallow right! Kenta charging in catches it on the tip of his glove, but he can't hang on! Ogawa thinking that it was going to be caught dashes for 2nd and just slides in safely!
Saitou goes down swinging and there's 2 outs for Tohoku.
#18 Yamada to hit for Sakai. But he grounds out to 1st. Takada takes it to the bag to end the game.
For Tohoku to be playing in these tough circumstances, you can forgive them for perhaps not playing to their potential. And while I'm sure the players would say they would want to continue, at the same time it might be better that they're able to go home now to their families.
Oogaki Nichidai will advance to play Toukaidai Sagami, and with this game and perhaps the attention that went with it done, they can focus on baseball without the distractions.
Kassai Yukiya - W, CG, 0 ER, 3 H, 10 K, 2 HBP
Hata Kazuki - 2-5, HR, R, RBI
Ueki Takeharu - 3-5, RBI
Andou Yoshirou - 2-5, R, RBI, K
Ogawa Yuuto - 2-4, 2B, K
Saitou Keigo - 1-4, 2K
Natsui Koukichi - 2.1 IP, 3 H, 2 K, BB