Onto the Hokushinetsu Region, another rural region, but perhaps one that I wish did better. I loved being in Nagano, wished Nihon Bunri really did finish that comeback, and secretly wish that Ishikawa, Fukui and Toyama went just a little further.
The draws for the super-regionals are out, but first the prefecturals:
With games being held in Niigata this year, they earn 4 bids.
They have one big qualification, like the rest of the year. The final 4 from the fall (Nihon Bunri, Hokuetsu, Tookamachi and Sado) earned top seeds.
As usual, Nihon Bunri quickly ran through the field to the semifinals with their closest game being a 10-3 win over Sekine Gakuen in the quarterfinals.
Hokuetsu too was able to get through their quadrant, though not as easily with a notable win against Teikyou Nagaoka 7-5.
Meanwhile Nagaoka Oote, who had actually given Hokuetsu a run in the fall, finally got the better of a good team, defeating Tookamachi 8-1!
Chuuetsu, who had the unfortunate early draw with Hokuetsu, finally got a draw to themselves, and faced off with Sado in the quarterfinals. They broke through with a 2-0 win to earn a bid.
So at this point all 4 teams that will advance have been determined, but now it was a matter of who would receive the first round bye.
Nagaoka Oote couldn't stop the Nihon Bunri express, losing 7-0 in 7 innings. Chuuetsu lost to their neighbors to the north 9-0.
So it would be a rematch of the fall semifinal. And once again, Nihon Bunri showed their dominance throwing their 4th shutout of the tournament winning 7-0 for the 2nd consecutive title and 15th overall.
And in the consolation game, Nagaoka Oote defeated Chuuetsu 3-2.
Again, like Niigata, the top 4 from the fall - Shin-Minato, Sakurai, Toyama Dai-ichi, and Fukuoka all earned seeds in the spring taikai.
However. the teams here were not as able to defend their ranking. Sakurai immediately got into a 2-2 draw against Takaoka Minami, and won the replay 3-1. But that result immediately did not bode well as they lost to Kosugi 4-2 in the next round.
Fukuoka started off well with a 14-2 win over Toyama Kousenmon Hongou, but then was routed 7-0 by Namerikawa.
Shin-Minato got the quarterfinal stage, but then was upset by Toyama Kokusaidai Fuzoku 3-1.
Only Toyama Dai-ichi made it to the semifinals, and that was despite a 12-11 win over Toyama Shougyou. Even then though, they were eliminated by the aforementioned Toyama Kokusaidai Fuzoku 12-0 in 6 thanks to 2 6-run innings.
On the other side, the teams who upset the seeded teams were not able advance any further. Kosugi lost 6-1 to Toyama Higashi, while Namerikawa lost to Takaoka Shougyou 5-3. Those two teams faced off in the semis where Takaoka Shougyou won 6-1.
That setup an interesting final which wound up being a pitchers duel. The teams were scoreless through 7 with Toyama Kokusaidai breaking through in the top of the 8th. With little time left, Takashou managed a 9th inning rally to tie it and send into extras. When Kokusaidai scored in the 11th, ace Gotou couldn't slam the door again as Takashou was able to find an equalizer. But when Kokusaidai scored yet another run in the 12, Gotou wouldn't let them extend the game any further. Toyama Kokusaidai Fuzoku wins 3-2 in 12 innings for their 1st ever spring title!
There are no seeds in the Ishikawa spring taikai, however the Best 4 in the fall did find themselves in separate quadrants.
More notably though, the 2 powerhouse schools in Ishikawa (although they don't have a death grip) in Kanazawa and Yuugakukan were placed in opposite sides of the bracket.
So in all likelihood it would be those two in the finals, although last year's spring winner Seiryou wanted to have a say in it. They squared off against Yuugakukan and used a trio of pitchers - Oono, Moriyama and Nishikawa. Combined, they held Yuugakukan to just 2 runs.
Unfortunately, they only managed to score 1. So in fact it was Kanazawa and Yuugakukan in the finals.
In the championship game, Yuugakukan got to ace Kamata early taking a 2-0 lead. However Kanazawa would take the lead in the middle innings thanks in part to a HR by Kamata himself. Leading 3-2 in the bottom of the 9th, Kanazawa looked to close it out...
... except leadoff batter Kobayashi had other plans. He hits a ball off the right field pole to tie the game at 3 sending it into extras. But neither team could score a run thereafter meaning that the teams would have to replay the game.
Yuugakukan's ace Kurohagi would take the hill again, while Kamata who had thrown over 180 pitches in the draw would not come out. With both staffs short or fatigued, there was bound to be more scoring.
In fact there was, with the lead changing several times. After Yuugakukan took a 1-0 lead in the top of the 2nd, Kanazawa sniped right back with 2 in the bottom half. When Yuugakukan scored 2 in the 4th to retake it, 2 from Kanazawa in the 5th took it right back... and then 2 more from Yuugakukan in the 6th gave them the lead once again at 5-4. Got that?
Kanazawa would again score, this time finding an equalizer in the bottom of the 6th. And right back, Yuugakukan scored one in the 7th to re-take that slim 1-run margin.
And that's how it would end. Kurohagi would pitch a complete game to give Yuugakukan their 8th title and first in 3 years.
Fukui too is primarily dominated by 3 schools - Fukui Shougyou, Tsuruga Kehi, and Fukui Koudai Fukui. Joining them for this go-around is Nyuu.
All 4 were given seeds for the spring taikai, and all 4 made it to the semifinals with ease - except for Nyuu who won 1-0, 2-0 and 2-1.
Sadly Nyuu's pretender status was confirmed as they lost 9-0 in 7 innings to Tsuruga Kehi. Fukui Koudai Fukui used a flurry of runs in the middle innings for a 6-2 win over Fukushou.
So it was Tsuruga Kehi and Fukui Koudai Fukui in the finals. After scoring 4 runs in the 3rd, Koudai Fukui would rally to with 1. But after an insurance run in the 6th, things looked a bit bleak.
Instead, the pitching for Tsuruga Kehi would collapse in a big way. Koudai Fukui would put up a 6 spot in the bottom of the 8th to take a 10-6 lead. That deficit that late would be too much for Tsuruga Kehi as Fukui Koudai Fukui would win their 11th title and 1st in 2 years.
Nagano is the only prefecture in the region that uses regional play to determine their final participants.
Notably missing from the final 16 was Matsushou Gakuen, who actually lost in their 1st game inthe Chuushin regionals 4-1 to Matsumoto Arigasaki!
All the other regulars however did make it - Matsumoto Dai-ichi, Saku Chousei and Nagano Nichidai.
A local team that I root for, Ueda Chikuma, also made it but wound up paired against Matsumoto Dai-ichi and lost 10-4. :(
Nagano Nichidai was the first of the three teams to fall, losing to Tokyo-to Shidai Shiojiri 6-2. They would get involved in a shootout against Ina Yayoigaoka for a spot in the finals rallying with 6 runs late for a 10-8 win.
Their opponent would either be Matsumoto Dai-ichi or Saku Chousei. While Matsumoto Dai-ichi scored 3 runs to take a lead, Saku Chousei's bookended pairs of runs proved to be enough for a 4-3 win and more importantly a spot in the Hokushinetsu super-regionals.
Tokyo-to Shidai Shiojiri tried its best to stay with the Nagano powerhouse, but to no avail. They fell behind 2-0 in the first and was eventually shutout 4-0 giving Saku Chousei their 11th title and 1st in 4 years.
So onto the draw. With 5 prefectures, one representative would get the short end of the stick and have to play an extra game. That would go to Saku Chousei.
Yuugakukan (Ishikawa 1) vs. Chuuetsu (Niigata 4)-Saku Chousei (Nagano 1) winner
Yuugakukan will have their hands full with Saku Chousei. As much as I like Nagano, Yuugakukan may advance.
Toyama Kokusaidai Fuzoku (Toyama 1) vs. Hokuetsu (Niigata 2)-Tsuruga Kehi (Fukui 2) winner
Toyama Kokusaidai Fuzoku is probably not the favorite here. Rather it may be Tsuruga Kehi.
Nihon Bunri (Niigata 1) vs. Tokyo-to Shidai Shiojiri (Nagano 2)-Takaoka Shougyou (Toyama 2) winner
Nihon Bunri shouldn't have too much trouble, though I'd like see how the transplanted Tokyo school does.
Fukui Koudai Fukui (Fukui 1) vs. Nagaoka Oote (Niigata 4)-Kanazawa (Ishikawa 2) winner
Fukui Koudai Fukui, while a powerhouse in its own prefecture, will not be the favorite. Instead it will be Kamata and Kanazawa that will be expected to advance.