Monday, April 18, 2011

2011 Haru Taikai - Shikoku Taikai

The draws aren't out for the Shikoku Taikai yet, but the prefecturals are done.

In Shikoku, any teams that qualified for Senbatsu automatically advance to a challenge match against the winner of the prefecturals. That challenge match determines seeding. So that also means that if you were in a prefecture with a Senbatsu participant, you had to win the tournament to make it to the Shikoku Taikai.

If there ever was more of a predictable field of seeded teams, I'd like to see it. Outside of Kagawa Nishi who automatically advances to the challenge game, there was Sangawa, Takamatsu Shougyou, Kanonji Chuo, Jinsei Gakuen, Marugame Jyousai, Takamatsu Kita, and Eimei.

Sangawa and Takamatsu Shougyou made it to the quarterfinals where they faced off with Sangawa winning 4-1. Takamatsu Kougei upset Jinsei Gakuen and took their place to face Kanonji Chuo, gave them a good fight, but lost 10-8. Shido upset Takamatsu Kita to face Marugame Jyousai, but too would lose 3-1. And Eimei, supposedly with the easier bracket with no other seeded team, wound up being upset in the first round to Sakaide who reached the semifinals.

Kanonji Chuo gave Sangawa a good battle, but a 2-run HR by Yamagoe would be the difference in the game giving Sangawa a 4-2 win. Meanwhile, Sakaide actually got in front of Marugame Jyousai 1-0 in the top of the 2nd, but that was short-lived. Marugame would crush Sakaide right there with 6 runs to win 6-1.

Now the finals mattered as only the winner would advance to the Shikoku Taikai. Marugame would get ahead quickly with a run in the top of the 1st, this time only to see Sangawa score 2 in the bottom of the 1st. Marugame would strike back in the 3rd to take the lead 3-2. It would stay that way for a long time until Sangawa found the equalizer in the bottom of the 8th. The game would continue into extras where Sangawa would get to ace Kawai in the 12th to score the sayonara run.

That game however would take its toll on Sangawa though, and while starter Yoshida had been rested in the "championship" game, Kagawa Nishi would score 6 in the first to apparently remove all suspense from the game. But Sangawa would score 2 in the 3rd to try and start the offense. However, they could just muster a run in the 8th and 9th innings to lose 6-4.

Because of the challenge match, the awards are a bit fuzzy. Sangawa is the prefectural champion which is their 3rd consecutive. I'm not sure what Kagawa Nishi's top seed represents.

With Jyounan advancing to the challenge game, the seeds (in order) not surprisingly went to Tokushima Shougyou, Komatsushima, Tokushima Kita and Kawashima.

Kawashima was the first seeded team to fall, losing in the 2nd round 10-9 to Tomioka Nishi. That paved the way for unseeded Naruto to clear to the Best 4 with an 11-1 win over Tomioka Nishi.

Komatsushima and Tokushima Kita would be the next to go, Komatsushima getting shutout by Seikou Gakuen 4-0 while Jyoutou slipped by Tokushima Kita 5-4.

So only Tokushima Shougyou was able to advance to the semifinals. And against Naruto they scored 5 in the top of the 3rd and seemed poised to advance. Quickly Naruto struck back with a run in the 3rd and 3 in the 4th to cut the deficit to just 1. Tokushou added an insurance run in the 6th, but the 7th was indeed lucky for Naruto as they scored 4 to take an 8-6 lead and that would be the final margin.

In the other semifinal, Jyoutou, who is more known for being a strong academic school than a strong baseball school went toe-to-toe with Seikou Gakuen finally separating themselves with a 3-run 8th inning to win 6-2.

That made then for a Naruto-Jyoutou final where certainly the advantage was with Naruto. And indeed ace Kouura gave up runs early and often, putting his team in a 0-5 hole after 5 innings.

But then suddenly Jyoutou's offense came alive. A run in the 6th, and 3 more in the lucky 7th would pull them within 1. However Naruto would get a run in their half of the 7th and Jyoutou was down 2 with just 2 innings left.

Somehow Jyoutou mounted one last rally in the 9th, and scored 3 to take a 7-6 lead! Kouura would make that slim lead stick in the bottom of the 9th giving Jyoutou a spot in the Shikoku Taikai!

The last matter of business to take care of would be to find the seeding for the Shikoku Taikai. So Jyounan (城南) and Jyoutou (城東) would square off. By the way, their uniforms look very similar and would be very confusing to follow (at least in my opinion).

On a somewhat related thought, there's a Jyousei (城西) and Jyouhoku (城北) and I wonder if all the uniforms look alike.

Anyways, onto to the challenge game. Jyoutou, drawing the visiting team struck first with a run right from the outset. Jyounan would then come and take the lead right back with a 2-run bottom 1st.

Jyoutou would keep the deficit at 1 after trading runs in the 4th/5th inning and then find the equalizer one inning later. But it was right at that time that Jyounan would turn on the after burners scoring a total of 6 runs in the next 2 innings and taking a commanding 9-3 lead. Jyoutou would manage to get 2 in the 9th, but that would be far from enough.

Tokushima's awards follow Kagawa's lead, so Jyoutou is actually the official prefectural winner - which is their first ever.

Fun fact for the day - Did you know that the best winning percentage for a prefecture in the Natsu Koushien belongs to Ehime (114-59-1 for a 0.659 percentage!).

Ehime has a 2-tiered system for the spring taikai with small blocks in regions determining the field of 16. Regional powerhouse Imabari Nishi didn't even make it out of the 1st level of play, losing 11-9 to Mishima in the block final.

Even without Imabari Nishi, there were still some good schools that advanced including Saijyou, Teikyou Dai-go and Saibi.

Saijyou though struggled out of the gate against Matsuyama Kita 1-0, and would eventually fall hard against Mishima losing 14-3. Teikyou Dai-go and Saibi would meet in the quarterfinals with Teikyou prevailing 8-6.

On the other side, it was fairly open. Yawatahama had little trouble with their first two games, while Kawanoe had the same experience defeating last year's Natsu participant Uwajima Highashi 5-1.

Teikyou Dai-go looked to finally have broken the curse of good, but not good enough as they worked their way to a 2-0 lead early. However Mishima would strike hard in the 3rd, scoring 3 to take the lead. Undaunted, Teikyou managed to score the equalizer in the 7th, and the game would go into extras where sadly they would fall yet again 4-3.

In the other semifinal, Kawanoe jumped out in front with a 1-0 lead in the first. Yawatahama would then tie then take the lead in the 5th 3-1. Kawanoe countered with 3 in the bottom of the frame retaking the lead at 4-3. An insurance run in the 8th made it a 2-run ballgame and perhaps made it out of reach.

Of course, no one told Yawatahama that as they proceeded to tie the game. This game would also go into extras, and once again the home team would bid their opponents sayonara in the 10th inning as Kawanoe pushed in the winning run.

Kawanoe started off building a 2-0 lead over Mishima. Mishima would struggle to score runs until the latter stages, but tied the game in the 7th with a pair of runs, then took the lead 3-2 the next inning. But ace Okusada for Mishima couldn't hold that lead. In fact Kawanoe scored 5 runs in the bottom of the 8th to take a commanding 7-3 lead and would win by that margin.

Surprisingly, despite the numerous times Kawanoe has been to Koushien, this is their 1st ever spring prefectural title.

With Meitoku Gijyuku in the challenge game, it left the other two schools, Kochi and Kochi Shougyou would fight for the right to be in the challenge game.

No, really. You'd have to go back to 1994 to find a team not any of the aforementioned schools that went to Natsu Koushien. And in that same time period, only Muroto in 2007 was a different school other than those 3 to go to Senbatsu.

Funny thing was that Kochi and Kochi Shougyou would have to meet in the semis. And with Kochi winning 5-3, we pretty much had the challenge match set.

Tosa, who had performed well last year, couldn't keep up with Kochi, getting mercy ruled 10-0 in 8 innings.

On the other side, the aforementioned Muroto made it to the semis to face unknown Ootemae. The game ended up being rather exciting as the teams would stay tied throughout most of the game with the teams trading a run in the 3rd. In the end, Ootemae actually prevailed in the top of the 9th to win 2-1.

The championship game started off a shocker as Ootemae scored 2 in the 1st, and then a run in the 5th and 6th to take a 4-0 lead on Kochi! But then either they got nervous or Kochi woke up because 1 run in the 6th and 3 in the 7th quickly tied the game up! Ootemae managed to stop the bleeding and kept the score level, but having lost the lead it would only be a matter of time before Kochi would prevail. And sure enough in the 10th they did to make things all right in the world (joking) winning 5-4 for their 3rd consecutive title and 22nd overall.

As for the challenge match, it would be a predicable low scoring affair. Kochi would break the deadlock in the 7th with 2 runs. Meitoku Gijyuku would mount a last minute rally in the 9th, but fall just short losing 2-1.

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