Friday, May 27, 2011

2011 Haru Taikai - Kanto Taikai

The Kanto Taikai is over, and the results are surprising (and to me, very happy).

So lets go through the recap!

So I'm beginning to get the hint that seeds in general are given to the Best 4 from the last tournament. Makes sense considering there's no leagues during the year and the only real competitions are the seasonal tournaments.

So Suijyou, Kasumigaura, Fujishiro and Shimotsuma Dai-ni were awarded seeds and an automatic bid in the prefecturals. Everyone else had to qualify out of small regional play.

Interestingly, it wasn't the top 2 seeds that advanced to the quarterfinals. Fujishiro reached thanks to close wins against Mito Sakuranomaki (which I'm sure Ken is bummed about) and Akeno. Shimotsuma Dai-ni had an early challenge against Tsuchiura Nichidai winning 1-0. That opened a straight road to the quarterfinals which they easily drove through.

Suijyou, certainly not the team from last year, did win their first 2 games via shutout. But when they faced Jyousou Gakuin, who had previously been a Koushien reprentative, they faltered. Jyousou Gakuin won the slugfest 9-8 earning a spot in the quarterfinals. Kasumigaura only made it through one game before stubbing their toe against Mito Kiryou 4-3. They continued to squeak by, winning 2-1 against Tsuchiura Kohoku.

The surprises continued in the semis. Jyousou Gakuin plastered Shimotsuma Dai-ni 13-0, certainly not helping their image (remember they were passed up for senbatsu a couple of years ago despite finishing 2nd in the Kanto super-regionals), and Mito Kiryou's ace Nagashima blanked Fujishiro 1-0.

Mito Kiryou's run was certainly nice, but in facing Jyousou Gakuin they had their hands full. And after giving up a 4-spot in the top of the 1st, it was probably too much. Jyousou Gakuin would win 6-1 for their 10th title and first in 2 years.

Tochigi too has a "regional" where all teams are paired up (3 in some cases) and winner goes to the prefecturals. Best 4 are not exempt.

A lot of the regulars naturally made it out of the winner-to-prefecturals round. Sano Nichidai, Sakushin Gakuin, Bunsei Geidai Fuzoku and Hakuoudai Ashikaga all advanced.

But to show the relative evenness in the field here in Tochigi, many of them were eliminated early.
  • Yaita Chuo upset Sano Nichidai 4-1 in the first round,
  • Sakushin Gakuin after winning their first game, lost to seeded Kokugakuin Tochigi 3-1.
  • Hakuoudai Ashikaga had the same fate, losing 5-2 to Utsunomiya Minami.
Only Bunsei Geidai Fuzoku had success breezing their way though the brackets, winning its 4 games to the finals by a score of 31-5.

Seeded Ootawara would be their opponent in the finals, and they proved to be a formidable opponent (that day at least). Bunsei Geidai couldn't come back from a 3-run 3rd inning as Ootawara would win just their 2nd spring title - their 1st being 52 years ago!

Gunma extended its seeds to the Best 8 for its spring taikai. So how would the Best 8 fair?

Fall winner Maebashi Ikuei after a strong start, started to falter barely defeating Ooizumi and Isezaki Shougyou before losing to 5-8 seed Kiryuu-shi Shougyou.

Runner-up Takasaki Shougyou seemed to be cruising along until running into Takasaki in the quarterfinals losing 6-4.

3-4 place teams Takasaki Kengoudai Takasaki and Kiryuu Dai-ichi didn't fare much better. Kengoudai after winning their first two games by a combined score of 25-0, lost to Tokyo Noudai-ni (remember them?) 5-2 while Maebashi Shougyou got the best of Kiryuu Dai-ichi 4-3 in the quarterfinals.

In the semifinals, Maebashi Shougyou continued their run defeating Kiryuu-shi Shougyou 2-0 while 5-8 seed Jyuutoku defeated Takasaki 9-3.

Maebashi Shougyou would win their 3rd consecutive spring title (yet only their 5th overall) thanks to 6 runs en route to a 10-5 win.

Saitama is one of the larger prefectures - in terms of population (5th overall as of 2008), and it's a bit surprising that in some ways some of the larger prefectures aren't given 2 bids much like Tokyo and Hokkaido. Back in the 90th Natsu Koushien, there were 55 teams with 2 bids given to Chiba (E/W), Hyogo (E/W), Osaka (N/S), Saitama (N/S), Aichi (E/W), Kanagawa (N/S).

Now, the big problem with this is that the extra days for games easily makes rain postponements more costly not to mention the Hanshin Tigers have to be on the road longer (it IS their stadium after all). Probably biggest of all is that it's already difficult enough for most of the smaller prefectures to compete. Throw in more powerhouses and the dream of winning it all is made that much harder.

Anyways, off to the Saitama prefecturals. The 154 teams are mostly broken into groups of 4 which whittle the field to 40 for the main tournament.

The Best 4 from the fall all made it out of group play but as a whole did not fare as well in the prefecturals. Fall winner Urawa Gakuin lost 9-7 to Shiritsu Kawaguchi in the 3rd round. Washinomiya lost to Okegawa 1-0 in the same round. Kasukabe Kyouei went one round further but lost 8-5 to Hanasaki Tokuharu. Only Urawa Jitsugyou made it to the semifinals.

Ageo, who had been a seeded team in the fall and subsequently was upset in the first round, fared much better this time reaching the semis before defeating the last vestiges of the seeded teams in Urawa Jitsugyou 5-0. They'd square up against Hanasaki Tokuharu who had no trouble with Okegawa winning 10-1 in 7 innings.

In the finals, Hanasaki Tokuharu would win their 2nd consecutive spring title (3rd overall) shutting out Ageo 2-0.

So I'm biased. When it comes to Chiba, I root for one team and one team only. Well, almost (there was Narita and Nakagawa Ryou).

That team is Narashino.

Yes, a good chunk of it is their band. Their award winning band. And their cheers.

But after their poor performance in the fall (losing to seeded Senshuudai Matsudo 1-0 in the 3rd round), they weren't going to get any favors. They'd have to advance out of pool play instead of getting a free pass to the prefecturals. They did so with two mercy rule games against Kamagaya Nishi and the new Funabashi Keimei*.

*8 schools merged into 4, and one was moved
  • Funabashi Asahi and Funabashi Nishi merged into Funabashi Keimei
  • Fusa and Kohoku merged into Abiko Higashi
  • Nisshodai Shounan became Nisshodai Kashiwa
  • Ichikawa Kita and Ichikawa Nishi merged into Ichikawa Subaru
  • and Matsudo Akiyama and Matsudo Yakiri merged into Matsudo Kouyou
Sadly, none of those new teams were able to advance out of pool play.

But a lot of the good schools did and received seeded placement - Chiba Keizaidai Fuzoku, Kisaradzu Sougou, Senshuudai Matsudo and Toukaidai Urayasu.

Chiba Keizaidai and Senshuudai Matsudo were in the same quadrant and clashed in the quarterfinals, with the latter gaining the win 5-1.

Toukaidai Urayasu struggled in their first two games, but handled Shigakukan to reach the semis.

Neither seeded Seibudai Chiba or Narita Kokusai advanced out of their quadrant as Ryuutsuudai Kashiwa played 4 close games to join the Best 4.

The last team to qualify? Why, Narashino of course. After almost getting upset 3-2 in their first game against Narutou, they cleaned house to get to the semis (which included a 6-1 win over Kisaradzu Sougou).

With the super-regionals held in Chiba this year, all 4 teams qualified. But who would take top honors?

Narashino continued its run with a 7-0 mercy win over Toukaidai Urayasu. Ryuukeidai Kashiwa (as they're nicknamed) built a shocking 5-0 lead over Senmatsu before they struck back with 10 unanswered runs. Kashiwa would get 3 in the 9th, but the math shows that wasn't enough.

Senmatsu and Narashino in the final...

Senmatsu showed their strength early putting numbers up in 3 of the first 4 innings for a 3-0 lead. Narashino erased all of it in the 4th. The game remained a tenuous draw until the bottom of the 8th where ace Kitazawa couldn't hold on anymore. Narashino exploded for 5 runs from which Senmatsu couldn't recover. Narashino would win their 8th spring title and 2nd consecutive.

In the consolation game, Ryuukeidai Kashiwa outlasted Toukaidai Urayasu 10-7 to take 3rd.

Tokyo is where we see the first effects of the Greater Tohoku Earthquake. Because of the rolling blackouts required there apparently wasn't a way to get all the qualifying in as usual. So instead of holding block play, the teams that made it to the main prefecturals in the fall were called back for the spring. Only one school - Toritsu Chitosegaoka was unable to play because of suspensions handed down earlier in the year.

And almost immediately, many of the major teams fell by the wayside. Teikyou, Kanto Gakuin, and Waseda Gakuin both lost right off the bat. Souka and Nichidai-ni were next to go.

Shuutoku, who was mimicked as Shuuhoku in the series Moshidora, was shocked by Hachiouji 4-0 in the quarterfinals. Senbatsu participant Kokugakuin Kugayama got railroaded by Kousei Gakuen (not to be mistaken with Kousei Gakuin) 12-4.

So who does that leave?

Well, that's obvious. Nichidai-san. They reached the finals in a combined score of 44-4. They faced the aforementioned Kousei Gakuen who made a spectacular run to the finals. Kousei would rally from down 2 early to actually take the lead in the 7th. But Nichidai would obviously not let that stand and level the score in the 8th. The game went into extras briefly when Suzuki sends everyone home in spectacular fashion in the 10th with a manrui home run to left!

Nichidai-san wins their 12th title and 1st in 2 years.

But with Nichidai-san and Toukaidai Sagami receiving recommendation bids Tokyo would get one extra bid since Nichidai-san won the title. That would go to Hachiouji who defeated Nisho Gakushadai Fuzoku 6-3.

Yokohama being so big went into group play way back in March which meant that eventual winner Toukaidai Sagami would get a free pass to the prefecturals. Winning senbatsu would get even more perks to be stated later.

The Best 4 - Toukaidai Sagami, Yokohama, Tourei Fujisawa and Yokohama Shoudai all made it to the prefecturals. Quickly though, the teams would fall.

Yokohama Shoudai lost in the 3rd round to Kamakura Gakuen 8-6. One round later, Tourei Fujisawa would be upended by unseeded Keiou 9-2. Joining them would be... Toukaidai Sagami! They were upset by Totsuka 3-2! But because of their senbatsu title, they'd receive an invitational bid. How fortunate!

That left only Yokohama as the remaining last Best 4 team. But the road to the finals would have to go through Keiou. And I don't know what's happened to Yokohama in recent years, but they've just struggled. Keiou shuts out Yokohama 4-0 to go to the finals!

With Toukaidai Sagami out of the way in the other bracket, it was wide open. Atsugi Kita and Koujyou jumped on the opportunity (with a couple of close calls along the way) and faced off in the quarterfinals. But it was a one-sided affair as Koujyou routed Atsugi Kita 10-0 for a spot in the finals.

Now Koujyou against Keiou would seem like a one-sided matchup, but Koujyou instead surprised Keiou by taking a 4-0 lead after 1½ innings!

Sadly though, the surprise was short lived. 7 in the 2nd and 4 more in the 3rd meant that Keiou was up 11-4. The final score would be 13-5 as Keiou takes just their 4th title (!) and first in 4 years.

Even with just 38 teams, Yamanashi awards the Best 8 from the fall a seed in the spring taikai.

Only two of the 8 teams failed to make the quarterfinals (which requires winning 2 games really). Interestingly, both teams were in the same quadrant. Best 4 seed Teikyou Dai-san lost to Minobu 8-1, and Best 8 seed Koufu Shougyou lost to Koufu Jyousai 4-1. By the way, it would be Koufu Jyousai who would advance to the Best 4 with a 5-2 win over Minobu.

Things further went to script when the Best 4 teams got the best of the Best 8 teams. That setup Koufu Kougyou-Koufu Jyousai semi on one side, and Nihon Koukuu-Toukaidai Koufu in the other.

Koufu Jyousai couldn't break the status quo yet again, as they gave up the lead in the late innings losing 5-3. And nuts to Nihon Koukuu, the pitching coughs it up in the middle innings, losing 6-2.

So the rise of the Toukai schools seems to be happening (although it'll take a while to rival the Nichidai schools). And it was completed as ace Honda shuts out Koufu Kougyou 4-0 to give the team their 11th spring title and first in 3 years!

So it was off to the Kanto Taikai. And the draw was brutal for some teams. I mean, how in the world does Keiou and Narashino face off... in their opening game??!! Meanwhile, Hanasaki Tokuharu had the unfortunate draw to be with Nichidai-san in a quadrant, while Toukaidai Sagami got their own quadrant, while the last was up for grabs (although perhaps Jyousou Gakuin had the inside track).

Narashino would get the better of the match against Keiou, winning 3-2. But they needed 2 runs in the bottom of the 8th to pull off that victory. With that tough test out of the way, they easily reached the semis with an 8-4 win over Toukaidai Koufu. Nichidai-san would join them, having no trouble in their part of the bracket. Now, I don't know what the heck happened to Narashino in the fall, because they were on a mission it seemed. They scored 7 runs in the first 2 innings en route to a 9-1 mercy win!

On the other side, all hell broke loose when Toukaidai Sagami was upset yet again, this time by Koufu Kougyou 8-6 in their 1st game! Koufu ralled from an early 5-0 deficit to win that game too!

Well, that just opened things right up. But it was Koufu Kougyou who barged through the door to the semis. Joining them would be Jyousou Gakuin after all, but they had to survive a 13-inning affair against Tokyo's Kousei Gakuen. And their ace Mizoguchi wasn't even pitching! Kousei Gakuen actually rallied from down 3-0 to force extras, only to see it slip away 2 innings from a draw.

In the semifinal, Jyousou Gakuin would be unable to get the better of Koufu Kougyou, continuously finding the douten run only to see Koukou pull away again. The backbreaker was a pair of runs in the 7th which gave Koukou a 5-3 lead. They would win 8-4 to get to the finals.

The finals though would be over before it started. Narashino put up a 4-spot in the bottom of the 1st and never looked back as ace Oono pitched a shutout winning 7-0 giving Narashino their first ever spring title!

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