So it looks like I'm doing reviews in reverse order of how I normally do it, probably because the Kyushu region is always the first to start.
Anyways, off to the Chuugoku region!
Chuugoku is much like Kyushu in that the location of the Haru Taikai rotates between the prefectures and the host prefecture gets 4 teams while all other prefectures get 1. This year, Okayama will be hosting at Kurashiki Muscat Stadium.
It amazes me how few schools are in some rural prefectures. Tottori for instance has only 32 high schools, of which 25 are participating.
4 seeded teams plus 3 other unseeded teams received 1st round byes. The 4 seeds went to Tottori Ikuei, Yonago Higashi, Tottori Shougyou, and Yazu.
With only 25 teams, the tournament advanced quickly. Notable teams advancing out of the first round were Tottori Jyouhoku and Sakae.
When the 2nd round came about, all 4 seeds struggled to advance with all 4 only advancing by no more than 2 runs in low scoring affairs. Sakae was one of those casualties losing 3-1 to Yazu.
In fact, Yazu would be the only seeded team advancing out of the quarterfinals defeating Yonago Nishi 8-4. Tottori Ikuei couldn't stop the offensive train of Tottori Jyouhoku and lost 7-1. Yonago Higashi fell in a tight one 6-5 to Kurayoshi Higashi while Tottori Shougyou lost to Tottori Nishi 4-2.
Moving to the semifinals, Tottori Jyouhoku seemed to have the inside track to the finals, but it was actually Kurayoshi Higashi that displayed the offense in the middle innings building a 6-1 lead. Tottori Jyouhoku would stage a late-inning rally, but would fall short 7-5.
The other semi had Yazu and Tottori Nishi in a pitcher's duel. Tottori Nishi actually held a 1-0 lead late before Yazu leveled the score in the 8th. The game would head to enchousen, but only for 1 inning where Tottori Nishi bid sayonara to the last seeded team left in the field.
So it was Tottori Nishi and Kurayoshi Higashi battling for the prefectural title.
The game was close early, with Tottori Nishi holding a slim 1-0 lead. After Kurayoshi Higashi tied the game in the 5th, Tottori Nishi blew the game open with 5 in the 6th, eventually winning 6-2 giving them their 12th spring title and first in 4 years.
Okayama is the only prefecture along with Hiroshima that I can recall using pool play to determine participants in the prefecturals. All other prefectures that do small pools do single-elimination. This year though since they are hosting, all the teams need to do is reach the semifinals and they're in the Chuugoku Taikai.
Seeding for the prefecturals seemed logical enough, newcomer Soushi Gakuen joined Kounan (no not that Kounan - this is why having the kanji helps although with Kounan in particular I think there are two that share the same kanji writing), Kurashiki Kougyou, Okayama Gakugeikan, Kyouei, Sakuyou, Kanzei and Mizushima Kougyou.
All seeded teams received a first round bye, and all advanced to the best 8 save for one team...
And if you know my history with teams, you should know who it was...
Yep, it was Kanzei. But to be fair, they faced an unseeded (!) Kurashiki Shougyou, the same team that has represented Okayama the last 3 Natsu Koushien tournaments.
Now while all the other teams advanced, it was not without some difficulty. Soushi Gakuen, who is a bit offensively challenged, squeaked a 1-0 win over Kasaoka Shougyou. Kounan did the same against a perennial above-average Okayama Ridai Fuzoku. Kyouei was in a barnburner against Tamano, and Mizushima Kougyou edged Okayama Higashi Shougyou.
Soushi Gakuen continued their low-scoring games shutting out Kounan 2-0 for a spot in the semis. Their opponent would be Okayama Gakugeikan who beat a good Kurashiki Kougyou squad 6-3.
On the other side, Kyouei must've spent their energy in their first game, because Sakuyou wound up beating them soundly 7-2. And Kurashiki Shougyou continued to take the snubbing personally by shutting out Mizushima Kougyou 4-0.
In the semis, Soushi Gakuen and Okayama Gakugeikan were deadlocked at 0 until the 7th when the teams got tired of being scoreless and tied, and so decided to exit in the inning tied at 1 instead. Soushi's continued attrition paid off in the top of the 9th as they pushed ahead the winning run to advance to the finals.
Surely their opponent would be Kurashiki Shougyou, as Sakuyou was just another team in the way...
Except that they fought back.
A 4-run 2nd by Kurashiki Shougyou helped put Sakuyou down 5-1 early. Yet they fought back with 3 in the 5th and 1 in the 7th to level the score. And when Kurashiki broke the tie in their half of the lucky 7th, they leveled it again the next half inning.
Then in the 9th, Sakuyou exploded for 5 runs, taking a 11-6 lead! Kurashiki Shougyou would furiously attempt a comeback in the bottom of the 9th, but to no avail. They got only 3 back to fall 11-9.
So it was a Soushi Gakuen-Sakuyou final. While Soushi Gakuen's low-scoring style has proven to be very effective, it also has the drawback of inadvertently keeping opponents in games.
Such was the case in the finals when again the teams were scoreless heading into the middle innings. Sakuyou would be the first to break the deadlock with a run in the bottom of the 5th...
... and that would eventually be the only run scored in the game!
Soushi Gakuen could never get that critical run across against ace Kataoka and the Sakuyou defense, thus giving them their 1st ever spring title!
Shimane has 38 teams participating in the spring taikais, and they do an abbreviated regional play with groups of 2 or 3 teams to get down to the draw of 16 teams.
There are no seeded teams in the main draw, so it's possible that the better teams in the prefecture wind up in the same draw.
The most notable team (both good and bad in recent years) Kaisei, had no trouble in their first game of the prefecturals against Goutsu Kougyou, winning 10-0. They then had a bit of trouble against Izumo Nishi, but manage to slide through with a 1-0 win.
They then faced off against the Cinderella team of 2 years ago - Risshoudai Shounan, who had wins over Oota and Masuda Higashi. Risshoudai couldn't recreate that magic as Kaisei scored 3 runs in the middle innings for a 3-1 win.
And on the other side of the bracket, Iwamichisuikan (fka Gonokawa) handled Taishi 7-0 in the quarterfinals and looked to easily reach the finals as they were facing unknown Yakami.
In fact, Yakami struck first in the top of the 1st with 2 runs, then after Iwamichisuikan scored 3 in the 2nd, they came back to tie it in the 3rd. However, Iwamichisuikan would take the lead again in the bottom of the 3rd and interestingly that would be the end of the scoring! Iwamichisuikan would escape with a 4-3 win and face Kaisei.
The finals proved to be a hotly contested affair with flurries of punches being thrown on both sides. Iwamichisuikan took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, then after going down 2-1 the next half inning, scored 3 to re-take the lead at 4-2. After trading a run in the 4th, Kaisei scored 3 in the 7th to take a 1-run lead going into the late innings.
Iwamichisuikan would then find the equalizer in the 9th inning to send it into extras, and pushed ahead the winning run in the 10th, giving them their 1st title.
Hiroshima is another prefecture who does pool play to determine their final draw.
The only exception is Hiroshima Sougou Gijyutsu who gets a free pass thanks to their senbatsu appearance.
As expected, the usual suspects advanced out of pool play - Kouryou, Jyousuikan Onomichi, and the lesser known Hiroshima Shougyou.
When the draw came out, the big 3 of Hiroshima Sougou, Kouryou and Jyousuikan all were on the same side, leaving Onomichi and Hiroshima Shougyou an open side of the bracket.
Onomichi's run the last couple of years may have come to an end as evidenced by their 2nd round loss 0-1 to Sanyou. By the way, if you're wondering why I write about Onomichi so much it's because I visited there in 2006 thanks to the anime series Kamichu! and would up liking the place. It's much like my liking of Tenri among other schools.
Sanyou actually came from nowhere on that side on the bracket. But when you slide through against Hiroshima Shinjyou and Hiroshima Kokusai Gakuin, you'd think their run would have to end sometime.
But after outlasting Hiroshima Shougyou 8-3 with 7 runs in the 2nd half, Sanyou found themselves in the finals!
So who would they face?
Well, Hiroshima Sougou Gijyutsu handled their business throughout their games although there was 2-run victories versus Kamo and Onomichi Shougyou.
That left Kouryou and Jyousuikan to battle it out, which they did in the quarterfinals. Kouryou prevailed this time around with a 2-0 shutout to set up a date with Sougyou Gijyutsu in the semi-finals.
And Hiroshima Sougyou Gijyutsu must have something going, because they were in a close affair with Kouryou, and instead of fading in the late innings, they turned it up and defeated Kouryou 5-3!
So it was Hiroshima Sougyou Gijyutsu and Sanyou in the finals.
Sanyou yielded runs in the 1st and 5th to fall behind 2-0 before striking back in the 6th to pull within 1. But an insurance run in the 9th inning proved to be too much despite getting that run back in the bottom of the 9th giving Hiroshima Sougou Gijyutsu their first spring title!
Yamaguchi's 59 teams are divided up into 4 regions of 2 pools each to determine the final 8.
Nanyou Kougyou had no trouble advancing out of their particular pool (防徳 - can someone translate that for me?) along with Sakuragaoka who defeated Iwakuni soundly and edged Iwakuni Kougyou.
Karyou too had no trouble in the Ganryuu region with Yanai Gakuen advancing as well.
In the 山宇萩 region, Ube Koujyou and Saikyou advanced. And finally in the Shimonoseki region, Shimonoseki Kougyou was upset in the pool final against Shimonoseki Shougyou 6-5! The other team to advance was Onoda who had 2 close games before shutting out Shimonoseki Chuo Kougyou to advance.
Interestingly, the draw put the upper-tiered teams on separate sides. And yet, all 4 games were for the most part tightly contested. Nanyou Kougyou and Sakuragaoka edged Saikyou and Onoda respectively. Meanwhile Shimonoseki Shougyou couldn't keep up their early success and fell to Yanai Gakuen 4-1.
And perhaps the surprising result of all, Karyou wound up being shutout by Ube Koujyou!
Ube Koujyou followed that up with getting in a shootout against Sakuragaoka. Flurries of scoring both at the beginning and at the end meant the lead changed hands frequently before settling down into a tie after regulation. However, enchousen lasted just one inning as Ube Koujyou continued their run with a 7-6 win. They'd face Nanyo Kougyou as they schooled Yanai Gakuen in a 2-0 shutout.
Come the final though, it was a bit of a shock as it was Ube Koujyou who jumped out to a lead! And then proceeded to extend it out! A single run in the 7th was the only scoring for Nanyo Kougyou as Ube Koujyou earned their 1st ever spring title!