So we're into the Best 8 now, and talking with my friend @RealKenDick, he wasn't too thrilled with the remaining field. I correctly pointed out that he felt that way because all the teams that should have made for the most part did. There are minor surprises, but nothing that you look at and go "Wow!"
In addition, there isn't that truly dominating figure that people buzz over. Last year it was Shimabukuro Yousuke and Hifumi Shinta. The year before that it was Kikuchi Yuusei. You could argue that Nichidai-san's Yoshinaga might qualify or perhaps the pitcher I'll highlight below, but I didn't hear the buzz about them like I did with the others.
While I agree that there isn't that person or team that the people may necessarily rally over, I think that the remaining games will be very enjoyable to watch.
In fact, I wish these two teams that open up the Best 8 did not have to face either other right now.
Kyushu Kokusaidai Fuzoku, or Kyukoku as you've seen me reference them as, I think will be a powerhouse team for years to come (at least for as long as Wakao-kantoku is heading things anyways). When they came to Koushien a couple of years back, they actually won a couple of games before bowing out. Back then I thought if given a couple of years, they'd be a powerhouse not only in a prefecture that had a power vacuum, but in the country as well.
Well, here they are again, and they're here with a chance to play in the semifinals. And this time, they have that dominating pitcher in Miyoshi Takumi. Through 2 games, his line is as follows (my scoring is a bit different than the official scoring):
18 IP, 3 ER, 10 H, 23 K, 4 BB for a 1.50 ERA/0.78 WHIP and a 11.5 K/9 and 2 BB/9 ratio
The offense was already there for Kyukoku and they haven't really missed a step since 2009. The stars so far for the team have been:
Andou Akito - 4-7, HR, R, RBI, BB, K
Takajyou Shuuto - 4-8, HR, R, 3 RBI, K
But that's not to say that the rest of the team can't hit. The team according to official statistics is hitting 0.305 right now. So their opponents will be hard pressed to generate offense of their own.
Hokkai got to this point via 2 pitcher's duels. First, they played unknown Soushi Gakuin who not even 12 months ago didn't really exist. That game they won 2-1 with a late run. Then against Tenri they executed their strategy with excellent precision and Tenri was unable to adapt, losing by the slim margin of 1-0.
Teams from Hokkaido, until Komadai Tomakomai in the mid 2000's, was never seriously considered as a contender to win it all although there were several strong schools in the region iteself, Hokkai being one of them.
Hokkai has another good pitcher in Tamakuma Shouichi, who has put up somewhat similar numbers through his 2 games:
18 IP, ER, 12 H, 13 K, 3 BB for a 0.50 ERA/0.83 WHIP and a 6.5 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9 ratio
Interestingly enough, Hokkai actually has some offense to go with the pitching. The team is actually hitting 0.311 so far led by a couple of guys, one of which is Tamakuma himself hitting 4-7 with a 2B. Kawagoe Seiji is 5-7 with a 2B and a HR.
I still like Kyukoku in this matchup, but Hokkai may have more than just a snowball's chance in, well... you know.
Kyushu Kokusaidai Fuzoku (Fukuoka) - Kyushu Runner-up
2B Hirabaru Yuuta
CF Andou Akito
P Miyoshi Takumi
C Takajyou Shuuto
RF Ryuu Kounosuke
1B Hanada Shun
LF Katou Ryou
3B Tokiyoshi Seiya
SS Ishisako Yuuma
Hokkai (Hokkaido) - Hokkaido Champions
SS Mori Takahiro
3B Tama Taisuke
2B Kawasaki Kazuya
RF Kawagoe Seiji
1B Zeniya Kouki
C Tamaki Kouta
LF Ujiie Ryou
P Tamakuma Shouichi
CF Isoda Kouyou
11:00 - Game start!
Hirabaru starts the game off with a single to center!
Wakou-kantoku goes for the hit-and-run! The ball is hit to short, but Mori's only play is to first.
Miyoshi goes down looking on a fastball that hits the outside corner! 2 down!
Takajyou with a base hit to right! Hirabaru comes around as Isoda tries to get the ball in! Hirabaru scores and it's 1-0!
Tamaki notices Takajyou heading for 2nd! He throws to 2nd and they gun him down! The inning is over but not before Kyukoku gets on the board!
One down and Miyoshi walks Tama. Hirakawa-kantoku goes for the bunt for the one-timer but Kawagoe flies out to right to end the inning.
Tamakuma settling down after the slightly shaky 1st inning. He gets Ryuu to reach out and ground to 2nd, Hanada hits a fly to shallow left, and Katou too grounds out to 2nd.
The game continues to go at a quick pace. Miyoshi makes quick work of the Hokkai batters. Zeniya pops out to Hirabaru on the foul line, Tamaki flies out to center and Ujiie grounds out to 2nd.
Tokiyoshi starts the inning off with a walk. Ishisako bunts the runner along as the lineup flips back to the top of the order.
Hirabaru gets his 2nd hit as he singles to center! Tokiyoshi has to hold at 3rd!
Andou pops it up! Ujiie at the left field line makes the catch for the 2nd out!
And Tamakuma gets Miyoshi to pop it up! Ujiie parks under it and makes the catch to retire the side!
One down and Isoda hits a shallow fly to center Andou charging in, dives... but can't get to it! It bounces away from him and Isoda's in with a double!
Back to the top of the order and Mori. He grounds to 2nd, but Hirabaru's only play is to first.
2 down for Tama.
Wild pitch from Miyoshi!! Isoda comes in to score and we're tied at 1-1!
Tama with a shot at Hirabaru, and that goes off of him! Tama is on base.
Miyoshi gets Kawasaki to fly out to center to end the inning, but a costly wild pitch ties the game!
Takajyou with a fly to right! Kawagoe coming in for the catch.
And it bounces in front of him???
What the heck happened there? Takajyou is on at 2nd with a gift double!
Ryuu with a drive to right! Kawagoe running back makes the catch but Takajyou is able to tag up!
One down and a scoring opportunity for Kyukoku! Hirakawa-kantoku calls for a conference...
But Hanada hits a ball back up the middle! Mori dives, but it's out of his reach! Takajyou scores and it's 2-1! Kyukoku retakes the lead!
Tamakuma gets Katou to fly out to right - and then Tokiyoshi hits a sharp liner, but right at Kawasaki to end the inning.
But a fielding misjudgement winds up costing Hokkai the lead! And they can't afford that.
One down for Hokkai when Miyoshi hits Zeniya.
Tamaki hits a fly to center, Andou there for the 2nd out.
And Zeniya takes off for 2nd! Takajyou's throw is late and he's in scoring positon!
Ujiie with a single back up the middle! That's through for a base hit! Zeniya is being sent home! The throw home is late and Hokkai has tied the game!
This time it's Takajyou seeing Ujiie takeoff for 2nd and he guns him down to end the inning! But another timely hit ties the game once again at 2-2!
Tamakuma gets two quick groundout and he looks to get an easy inning.
But Andou works the count full and draws a walk!
Wakou will push the issue and have Andou run! Throw from Tamaki is late and now a runner is in scoring position!
Tamakuma walks his 2nd straight batter in Miyoshi and what seemed like an easy inning isn't anymore!
And it really isn't! Takajyou hits a ball to right, and it falls in! Kawagoe up with the ball as they send Andou home! The throw is late and Kyukoku retakes the lead once again! It's 3-2!!
Things are really scary now as he hits Ryuu and the bases are now loaded!
But Hanada grounds out to 1st. Zeniya takes it to be bag for the out and the side is retired.
Once again, Kyukoku manufactures another run! Hokkai will be hard pressed to keep pace.
Will the trend of trading runs continue?
Tamakuma goes down swinging on a slider down and away.
Isoda pops out to 2nd... and Mori flies out to left! Miyoshi breaks the cycle of trading runs! And as we head to the break Kyukoku hold a very, very slim one-run margin!
Back from the break, will Kyukoku be able to add an insurance run?
Katou takes the first pitch and grounds to 1st.
Tokiyoshi can't hold up an a 2-2 slider, and becomes Tamakuma's 2nd K of the game.
Ishisako with an easy comebacker to Tamakuma and he goes to 1st for the 3rd out. Tamakuma's managed to keep Kyukoku scoreless here, now can the offense make a response of their own?
Sadly no! Miyoshi retires the side in order! Has Hokkai's chance at this game passed?
One down for Kyukoku and Andou goes for a safety bunt! All the fielders decide to wait for the ball to roll foul... but it never does! Andou on with a bunt single!
Miyoshi finally makes solid contact, but it's right at Tama! He goes to 2nd for one, but Kawasaki's throw to 1st is wide! Miyoshi takes 2nd on the error!
Takajyou up, already 3-3 on the day.
And he hits a dribbler in front of home! Tamaki goes to field it, throws to first... not in time!! Runners at the corners now and it's another pinch for Hokkai!
Ryuu with a ball up the middle! Kawasaki running over, dives... and has it! He touches the bag with the ball to retire the side and Tamakuma is out of the jam!
Hirakawa-kantoku will go to his bench and call on #15 Matsumoto. He delivered the timely hit last game. Can he do it again?
No! Miyoshi induces a grounder to 2nd! Hirabaru running in makes the nice pick and he tosses to 1st for the out!
Tamaki with a grounder up the 3rd base line, and it gets by Tokiyoshi! Tamaki hustles in with a double!
And now Hirakawa-kantoku sends in #16 Ishikawa to hit for Ujiie.
Ishikawa with another scorcher down the 3rd base line! THAT'S BY TOKIYOSHI!!!
Katou runs the ball down at the wall, but Tamaki scores on the double tying it once again at 3-3!!
There's only one down, can Hokkai take the lead?
Sanshin! Tamakuma strikes out on a slider away and there's 2 down!
It's up to Isoda who had a double earlier. But he hits a fly to center! Andou there to make the catch and the side is retired! Hokkai ties the game yet again, but cannot pull ahead!
Ishikawa stays in the game and goes to LF. Matsumoto stays as well and goes to 3B, and Tama goes to 1B.
Hanada drives a fastball down the heart of the plate to right! Kawagoe to the wall....
Hanada just like that unties the game with one swing of the bat! Kyukoku once again takes the lead! It's 4-3!!!!!
After a groundout by Katou, Tokiyoshi singles to center! Kyukoku pushing for an insurance run!
Ishisako bunts him along to 2nd and they'll look to Hirabaru at the top of the order for the timely hit.
Hirakawa-kantoku calls for a conference. Hokkai cannot afford to give up a 2nd run.
But Hirabaru delivers! He hits a sharp grounder to short that eats up Mori! Tokiyoshi comes around 3rd to score and Kyukoku has the largest lead of the game here in the 8th at 5-3!
Andou grounds out to short to end the inning, but now Hokkai will have to find 2 runs somewhere in the next 6 outs!
Top of the order for Hokkai.
One down and Tama gets the offense started with a base hit through the left side.
But Kawaski hits one right to Hirabaru! He goes to 2nd for one, relay to 1st... double play!
Now Hokkai will be down to their last 3 outs!
One down for Kyukoku, and Takajyou gets his 5th(!) base hit of the day! He slices one over Tama's head into right!
But much like last inning, Ryuu hits one to Kawasaki! He starts the 4-6 3 double play to end the inning!
Hokkai with one last chance here.
Kawagoe with a fly to shallow left! Ishisako and Katou converge... and collide!!
Ishisako can't hold onto the ball and Kawagoe is in at 2nd!
More importantly though, both players are slow to get up. The medical staff comes out to look at the players. Katou is the first to get up, but Ishisako needs Kouchou to come out with that "itai spray" to put on his ankle. Eventually he gets up heads back to the infield and both players are ready to go.
Matsumoto first pitch swinging grounds out to 2nd. Kawagoe advances to 3rd on the play.
Tamaki works a walk, and now the douten run is on base!
Ishikawa up for Hokkai, does he have another hit in him?
He rips one through the left side! Kawagoe comes home and Hokkai is within one at 5-4!!!!!!!!!!
Tamakuma with an opportunity to tie the game!
But Miyoshi won't let him!! He gets Tamakuma to swing on another outside slider for the 2nd out!
Isoda is their last chance.
He hits a comebacker to Miyoshi! Miyoshi gathers it in and tosses to 1st to end the game!!!
That crooked score in the 8th proves to be the difference as Hokkai could only manage to get one of those runs back! Kyukoku gives Fukuoka a team in the Best 4 for the first time in 42 years!
The game wound up being as advertised and more! Kyukoku held the lead early, but then as the game approached the midpoint the teams started trading runs back and forth as each had a response for the other. At the time Kyukoku still held a 1-run margin.
And when Hokkai tied the game up once more, Kyukoku put up an extra run on the board thanks to a leadoff homerun and a timely hit for Hirabaru extended the lead to 2.
Hokkai would only be able to get back one run, which was all that they could do the entire game, and fell short losing 5-4.
Given Hokkai's performance today, they shouldn't be totally disappointed in the loss. Having shown down a team of this calibur, I expect big things from them come the summertime.
Kyushu Kokusaidai Fuzoku
Miyoshi Takumi - W, CG, 4 ER, 8 H, 4 K, 3 BB, HBP
Takajyou Shuuto - 5-5, 2B, R, 2 RBI
Hanada Shun - 2-4, HR, R, RBI
Tamakuma Shouichi - L, CG, 4 ER, 11 H, 2 K, 2 BB, HBP
Ishikawa Keita - 2-2, 2B, 2 RBI
Tamaki Kouta - 1-3, 2B, R, BB