What I didn't realize was that the haru taikais actually go to the super-regional level. So those senbatsu teams actually get a free pass to the super-regionals having missed the prefecturals. All prefectures receive one invite except for Fukuoka who gets 3 and Kagoshima who is hosting this year (they get 4).
Right now, all but Nagasaki and Kumamoto had actually completed their tournaments.
With Kyushu Kokusaidai Fuzoku out of the picture, the tournament was up for grabs.
Turns out the major players in the prefecture were separated in the brackets.
The first main casualty of the tournament was Nishi Nippon Tankidai Fuzoku who lost in the 4th round on the Nanbu regionals to Fukuoka Koudai Jyoutou 9-1.
In fact, Fukuoka Koudai Jyoutou didn't have any trouble save for a 3-1 win over Fukuoka Kougyou in the following round. Even Yanagawa didn't pose too much trouble losing 8-2.
In the Nanbu finals, they faced off against Higashi-Fukuoka where they shut them out 5-0. Higashi-Fukuoka by the way had a 5-3 game against Toukai Dai-go who is certainly above average, but not quite top tier.
In the Hokubu regionals, seeded Touchiku was the first to fall, tying Kita-Kyushu Shiritsu 0-0 in 15 before losing 4-0 the next game. At the finals though, we had two familiar friends in Iidzuka and Jiyuugaoka. Iidzuka would win going away 7-2.
So in the format Fukuoka uses, the champions and runner ups would play for respective placing. Jiyuugaoka led 1-0, then rallied for 3 runs in the 3rd when Higashi-Fukuoka scored 3 of their own in the bottom of the 2nd. Jiyuugaoka would win 5-3 to get the last spot.
The championship game had the teams scoring a run back and forth until the bottom of the 3rd. There, Iidzuka stopped the flow of runs and it would stay that way as the game progressed. However Motomura couldn't hold off Fukuoka Koudai Jyoutou as they would score 4 runs in the bottom of the 8th to win 6-2.
With no Koushien teams the established guard remained to challenge for the title.
Saga Kita and Saga Shougyou faced off in Round 3, where Saga Kita would win 3-2.
However, Saga Kita and Imari Nourin would both fall to Karatsu Shougyou, 7-1 and 1-0 respectively in the quarterfinals and 3rd rounds.
Their opponent in the semifinals was Saga Gakuen, who had eked out several games prior. They wouldn't have the same luck though as they lost 3-0.
Saga Kougyou made it to the semis, although their performance was a bit uneven, easily handling Takeo and Tosu Kougyou, but having trouble against Imari in between.
Their opponent would be the surprising Shiota Kougyou, who had the benefit of seeing seeded Ryuukoku losing to Imari Shougyou in the 3rd round. Shiota Kougyou throughout the entire tournament had 1-run ballgames. Against Saga Kougyou, they would have their 2nd consecutive 2-1 win to send them against Karatsu Shougyou.
And in those finals, Shiota Kougyou would actually win in a blowout, 3-1. Hey, it's a blowout considering they won 4-3, 4-3, 2-1 and 2-1! This is just their 2nd ever title, their first being in 1933!
Nagasaki is in their Best 4 right now. Hasami was gone at Koushien, so they couldn't participate.
Former senbatsu winner Seihou was a seeded team, but was actually upset in the semifinals against fellow seed Kaisei.
Nagasaki Nanzan and Sasebo Kougyou faced off in another quarterfinal with Sasebo Kougyou winning 6-1. Sasebo will play Kaisei for a spot in the finals.
On the other side sat Nagasaki Nichidai, the team that has represented Nagasaki in recent years, and pushed Kikuchi Yuusei a couple of years ago.
Something funny happened on the way to the finals though...
Obama (please don't insert joke here, although the Obama in Fukui appears to have somewhat embraced it), in the 2nd round had surprised seeded Keihou 6-4. Then after handling Nagasaki Kougyou, squared off against Nagasaki Nichidai...
...and WON 2-1!
They should have faced Souseikan, but they too were upset by Seiryou 5-4. Instead, they'll play Oomura Kougyou who defeated Seiryou 3-1.
Oita recently has been notable when it was represented by Meihou and adorable SS/P Imamiya Kenta.
Of course, he's since moved on to the hometown Softbank Hawks, but Meihou is still going. They were a #2 seed along with Tsurusaki Kougyou. Tsurusaki Kougyou was shocked by Oita Shougyou 12-2. Meihou and Oita Shougyou both made it to the semifinals with relative ease.
If all went as planned, they'd face top seeds Touin and Nihon Bunridai Fuzoku. Of course things rarely go as planned. Touin got involved in a slugfest against Oita Toumei, and lost. Oita Toumei then met fellow surprise Oita Houfu, and lost that game 3-0. So it would be Meihou and Oita Houfu in one semi.
Meanwhile, Nihon Bunridai Fuzoku had a slight bump against Kunisaki, but then beat former 21st century invite Oita Uenogaoka to land a spot in the semis against Oita Shougyou.
Meihou's experience was too much for Oita Houfu as they fell down early 3-0 and never recovered, falling 9-3. Meanwhile Oita Shougyou surprised top seed Nihon Bunridai Fuzoku, jumping to a 2-1 lead in the 1st - which would be the closest Bunri would ever get, losing 7-5.
So Meihou and Oita Shougyou met in the finals...
And Oita Shougyou won 2-1! And although this is their 19th title, it was their first in 24 years.
Entering into the Haru Taikais, the 4 teams given seeding were Nobeoka Gakuen and Miyazaki Kita on one side, and Miyakonojyou Izumigaoka and Saitou Shougyou on the other.
That left other well known teams to fight through the brackets such as Nichinan Gakuen, St. Ursula, Miyazaki Shougyou and Miyazaki Nichidai.
Nichinan Gakuen and St. Ursula would lose right off the bat. Surprisingly, Saitou Shougyou had to face Miyazaki Shougyou in the 1st round! And they got annihilated 13-0! So much for being seeded...
If that matchup that early was unexpected, Miyazaki Shougyou then had to face Miyazaki Nichidai! Nichidai would win that one 5-4.
Meanwhile Miyakonojyou Izumigaoka imposed their offensive will winning their first 3 games 35-13 setting up an interesting semifinal. Miyazaki Nichidai would actually put up a good fight against Miyakonojyou, but when they took a 1-0 lead in the 5th Miyakonojyou would strike back with 2 runs of their own and eventually win 3-1.
Nobeoka Gakuen had a couple of slow games to start the tournament, but then had to pick it up against Miyazaki Gakuen. They held on to win 11-10 to meet Nobeoka Seiun who earlier had upset Miyazaki Kita 2-1.
Sadly for Seiun, a 5-run 5th did them in as they were mercy ruled 8-1 in the semis.
In the end then, two favorites would meet in the finals. And as expected, the teams were at a standoff for the first 6 innings. But Miyakonojyou Izumigaoka would finally break through with runs in the 7th and 8th innings giving Nobeoka Gakuen their 2nd consecutive haru taikai title. Let's see if that translates into their 2nd consecutive Natsu Koushien appearance too.
Kumamoto is the only other prefecture who has not completed play - but is about to determine the Best 4. Kyushu Gakuin is absent because they were at senbatsu.
On one quadrant, seeded Senshuudai Tamana and Yashiro Higashi made it to the quarterfinals without any issue, and in yet another strong run by Senshuudai they make it to the Best 4 with a 3-1 win.
In the other quadrant, Hitsuyuukan was upended by Kumamoto Kougyou who surprisingly didn't get a seed. They couldn't make it 2 "upsets" as Kumamoto Kokufu dispatched them 8-2.
The other side has seeded Kumamoto Kita facing Toukai Dai-ni in one quarterfinal, and Chiharadai who has blown through their game so far versus Amakusa Kougyou who earlier upset Shuugakukan 7-6.
Even with super-regional champ Kagoshima Jitsugyou receiving an automatic bid, there still remained many good teams that received seeds such as Kagoshima Shougyou, Kagoshima Kougyou, Shounan and Kamimura Gakuen.
But of those 4 teams, only Kamimura Gakuen advanced out of the 4th round.
- Kagoshima Shougyou lost in their 1st game to Kanoya 5-3. In fact Kanoya actually made it to the semifinals before losing to Kamimura Gakuen 7-1 with most of those runs coming in the 6th inning.
- Kagoshima Kougyou managed just one round better, but losing to Reimei 8-5.
- And Shounan, who made it to the 4th round, was surprised by Takeodai 3-1.
Of course, with 4 teams qualifying, Kanoya and Kagoshima Chuo already qualified for the super-regional. But bragging rights are still important. Kanoya would win in the 3rd place game 2-1.
And in the championship, Kamimura Gakuen dispatched Kagoshima Jyousai 10-0 to take their 5th title.
As is the case in Okinawa, the torch is being passed again now that Kounan has won it all and their ace has moved on to Chuo Daigaku. It isn't more evident than losing in the 3rd round to fellow top tier team Maebara.
So who would rise to fill in the void left by Kounan?
Kadena who played 2nd fiddle to Kounan? Maybe. They beat powerhouse Okinawa Shokagu 6-2 in the 3rd round and advanced all the way to the finals.
Okinawa Suisan? Not this year. They lost 6-5 to Naha Kokusai in the 2nd round.
Urasoe Shougyou and Miyako both have good teams, but also both lost to Itoman, who advanced to the finals.
In that final, Itoman took a 1-0 lead early, only to have Kadena tie the game in the top of the 8th. However, Itoman would have the last laugh, scoring a sayonara run in the bottom of the 9th to win their 2nd consecutive spring title.