Thursday, June 2, 2011

2011 Haru Taikai - Tohoku Prefecturals

As everyone is well aware, the Great East Japan Earthquake devastated the Tohoku region, destroying many seaside cities and killing thousands and displacing many more.

As a result, it was decided that the Tohoku Taikai would not be held. Furthermore, for Miyagi-ken and Fukushima-ken, their spring tournaments would be cancelled. However, the Natsu Koushien qualifying will go on not too long from now.

All the other prefectures though managed to get their tournaments done, so we'll take a tour of those areas.

Aomori has regional brackets where a certain number of teams qualify for the prefecturals. Those teams plus the fall winner, Kousei Gakuin, make up the full field. The elephant in the room, Aomori Yamada qualified, as well as pet favorite Hachinohe Koudai Dai-ichi.

Unfortunately for Hachinohe Koudai Dai-ichi, they would have to play Kousei Gakuin in the 2nd round, and was shutout 8-0. But then, facing Hachinohe in the next round, they found a team who wanted to take revenge on the team that eliminated an area school. Well, not really, but nevertheless Hachinohe pulls off the upset 5-2.

With the only major competition to Aomori Yamada gone, the path was clear to the title. But while facing what seemed like no-name competition, showed some cracks defeating Touou Gijyuku 5-0, then Towada Kougyou 2-0 to reach the finals.

Their opponent in the finals would not be Hachinohe though. They faced Misawa in the semifinals and fell behind immediately and could never recover, losing 9-4.

So it would be the David's Misawa versus the Goliath's Aomori Yamada. And early on, Misawa's ace Kikuchi held his own, yielding just one run through the first 6 innings. However, the offense could never get started and the stress of holding that one run lead was too much. Aomori Yamada put up two 3-spots in the next 2 innings to win 7-0 taking their 8th title and first in 3 years.

Hachinohe would salvage a 3rd place finish with a 9-8 win over Towada Kougyou.

Much like Aomori, Iwate had regional bracket play to determine the prefectural participants.

Here, we find teams from cities and towns that suffered severe damage from the tsunami. Teams from Kamaishi, Kuji and Miyako participated in the tournament, even though for some schools like Miyako Kougyou and Miyako Shougyou, their schools were flooded themselves and students displaced to other schools in the meantime. Now those two schools didn't advance, but in a way it's helping them move on after the disaster.

The winner from the fall, Morioka Chuo, couldn't advance out of regional play, losing first to Morioka Kougyou, then Morioka Dai-san in the loser's bracket. Meanwhile, the other Best 4 participants, Hanamaki Higashi, Moriokadai Fuzoku and Ichinoseki Gakuin all managed to advance.

Unfortunately for one of these schools, their exit would be early as Hanamaki Higashi and Moriokadai Fuzoku drew each other in the first round. Hanamaki Higashi prevailed 3-1 and had a clear road to the finals, though they almost stubbed their foot against Iwaizumi eking out an 8-7 win.

On the other side Ichinoseki Gakuin was also making their way to the finals, but then they faced Mizusawa and the woes for the school continue as they fall 2-1.

In the finals, Hanamaki Higashi held a hold on the game right from the get-go trailing 1-0 only because Mizusawa was at-bat first. A 10-4 win gives Hanamaki Higashi their 5th title and first in 2 years.

Akita's regionals saw a lot of the regulars make it. Akita Shougyou of course, as well as my hard-luck team from this prefecture Honjyou, not to mention the other hard-luck team Meiou. Haru Koushien participant Oodate Houmei also advanced.

The bad luck continued Meiou as they were paired up with Honjyou in the 2nd round. Honjyou advanced with a 3-0 win. They continued on a collision course with Oodate Houmei unto which they fared the collision much better with an 8-1 win to the finals.

On the other side Akita Shougyou looked to be on the easy road to the finals. In the semis though they face Oomagari Kougyou and found themselves in a battle. They fired the opening salvo with a run in the 2nd, only to see Oomagari fire one right back in the 3rd. The teams then were locked in a stalemate, neither team able to break through. Meanwhile the game continued on, through the 7th, through the 8th, past the 9th and into extras. And it continued yet still through the 11th, 12th innings. At this point it becomes the team who has something left that wins. In the 14th inning, that would be Oomagari Kougyou where Takahashi would get the sayonara hit to finally end the game 2-1.

So Oomagari Kougyou would face Honjyou. And after a 14 inning affair, would they have anything left? Well, they sent out RP Katou to start the game, which meant that while they didn't have their ace, they at least had depth at the position. In fact, Oomagari Kougyou opened the scoring in the 3rd with a run. 2 innings later though, Honjyou tied it up.

1-1 again, heading towards extras. For Oomagari Kougyou this couldn't look any worse - outside of outright losing of course. 2 extra inning games in as many days?

Well, they came together and decided that they had had enough. Bottom 9, Oomagari Kougyou rejects the notion of extra innings and scores the sayonara run to give them just their 2nd title (their first being 5 years ago).

In looking at the recent history of Yamagata, the team that has primarily dominated the prefecture has been Sakata Minami. This despite the fact that Nihon Yamagata appeared for a 2-year stint and went all the way to the Best 8 in 2006. That and my irrational hope for Haguro to come back to prominence despite realizing that they've only been to Koushien twice and I happened to see the one appearance where they came from nowhere to reach the semifinals of the 77th Haru Koushien.

So of those teams whom all advanced to prefectural play, Haguro was the first to fall losing to Nihon Yamagata 4-0. Perhaps it's about time I let them go off into the sunset.

After that game, Nihon Yamagata marched right on to the finals with dominating wins over rival university school Toukaidai Yamagata and Yamagata Kougyou.

Sakata Minami and last year's summer participant Yamagata Chuo meanwhile were on their own march towards a semifinal matchup. In that semifinal, Yamagata Chuo made a statement that their summer title wasn't just a fluke, building a 6-0 lead.

And then something happened. I don't know if the Yamagata Chuo players realized they were 3 innings away from defeating the most dominating team in the prefecture, or if ace Yokoyama was just worn out, but in the 7th Sakata Minami scored 5. With the lead just 1 run and 2 innings left to go, the momentum immediately shifted towards the favorites. Eventually they would score a total of 8 unanswered runs and stun Yamagata Chuo 8-6.

So it was that the two stalwarts in the prefecture would square off yet again, this time for the spring title. Once again, Sakata Minami would fall behind as Nihon Yamagata put up a pair in the 2nd inning. They wasted no time though this time around, coming back with 3 runs to take a 3-2 lead. Nihon Yamagata could never find that equalizer, instead merely pulling back within 1 after Sakata Minami added an insurance run. Yet this was just Sakata Minami's 4th spring title and 1st in 3 years.

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