Well, I'm finally getting around to posting the rest of the tournament. It's been 2 months since, but I do remember some things. If you're wondering about the fall tournament, I'll give an overview eventually as well, but I think I would do a better service to focus more on players to watch than tournament brackets. As much as I would like to provide complete coverage - it takes up too much of my time and in reality it's more about the star players or the magical teams.
I have to admit, by this time of the tournament my body was starting to fatigue under the lack of sleep and hot weather. There were times when I was nodding off because I couldn't physically stay awake.
Day 9 was a short 3 game day, which allowed me to at least catch up a little.
First up was Eimei vs. Noshiro Shougyou. While neither team were favored to win the tournament, Eimei had finally broken through to get to Koushien, which I was happy about, although they defeated Itoman - which I was conflicted about. While Noshiro Shougyou had also gotten their first win against a decent Kamimura Gakuen team.
I think I've said it before, when it comes to games between teams of prefectures not generally considered contenders, it's usually either a blowout, or a low scoring game.
Bottom 1, Eimei immediately had a chance. But a lot of self-inflicted wounds cost them as leadoff batter Nishioka drew a walk, failed to get moved over to 2nd on a bunt, advanced to 2nd on a hit on a single by Watanabe, then after a pickoff error advancing the runners got run down on a failed squeeze by cleanup batter Nakauchi.
The advantage seemed to stay with Eimei despite that when #9 batter Hashimoto got a leadoff single in the 3rd. But Nishioka's scorched comebacker was snagged by Hosaka who started the 1-6-3 double play. Undeterred, Iguchi hit one back up the middle that Hosaka couldn't get, and Watanabe seemed to continue the rally with a single up to left center, but Iguchi tried to stretch it out to 3rd and got gunned down by CF Yoshino.
But after that it was Noshiro Shougyou. Back-to-back hits by Yamada Katsuki and Ogawa scored the first run, and added one more in the 6th when an leadoff error scored thanks to a hard hit ball off 1B Kamon.
Eimei had one last opportunity in the 6th, but again the team couldn't execute, failing to lay down a bunt, and failing to score the runners from 2nd and 3rd with just 1 down. Noshiro Shougyou wins 2-0.
Next up was Shirakaba Gakuen versus Chiben Wakayama. I remembered Shirakaba Gakuen from 2006 when I was there last, though I think their uniforms were different. To be honest, with Hokkaido falling back down the baseball ladder, as it were, I expected this to be all Chiben. Yes, they have a weakness in that their pitching is not as strong, but that doesn't usually show up until later rounds.
I was surprised then when leadoff batter Satou hit a triple to the RCF wall on the 2nd pitch of the game. That opportunity though was wasted when the next two batters couldn't get the ball past the outfield and Omote struck out looking after a walk to cleanup batter Okada.
Things seemed to be all right in the world after ace Kobayashi walked two of the first 3 batters, who then later scored when Michibata hit the first pitch from reliever Kawagoe.
Though Shirakaba would get a run back on an uncharacteristic error by the Chiben defense, Chiben would extend the lead to 4 runs after 6 innings.
Then things, much like this entire tournament, went nuts.
After giving up a one out walk to last batter Nakamura, and a single to Satou, Uenoyama yielded to Furuta, who hit Ohara, loading the bases.
Next think I know, Kobayashi hits the first pitch down the left field line for a game-tying manrui home run!
And my jaw hits the floor.
Yet, Takashima-kantoku keeps Furuta in the game, and in the 8th, first batter Sasaki gets into a ball and sends it up the LF bleachers, giving Shirakaba Gakuen a shocking 6-5 lead with just 2 innings left to play! Takashima-kantoku finally sends in ace number Aoki. who was shaky himself, but manages to get out of the inning.
The only thing is, when underdogs are leading against established teams, there is always the propensity for teams to realize the gravity of the moment and struggle to close the game.
I had such a feeling and when Moriya's throw on a Kawasaki's grounder was off, the opportunity presented itself. Nakamura, a defensive replacement in the 7th, took the 1st pitch to left center field and all the way to the wall, scoring Kawasaki and tying the game.
Into extras we went, and Moriya would get a one-out double. Satou hits a blooper to center, and despite Kawasaki being closer to the ball, Nakamura comes running in trying to make the catch, but can't giving Shirakaba the lead!
But I've learned never to count Chiben Wakayama out, and they immediately went to work in the bottom of the 10th.
Nakamura opened with a single to center. After a popup to short by cleanup hitter Michibata, Miyakawa doubled down the left field line tying the game up.
After an intentional pass to Hiraoka to create a double play opportunity it felt like Shirakaba was trying to survive now.
And when Ogasawara laid down the bunt, Omote's throw to 1st is low and gets away from Okada, allowing Miyakawa to score the sayonara run.
It's certainly painful to see a team fight hard not once, but twice only to lose, but Shirakaba didn't give up and I hoped then and still do that Hokkaido will rise up the ranks again.
Last up was the blockbuster with Kaisei's towering duo of Shirane and Mori versus the juggernaut that was Nichidai-san. I expected a pitching duel.
Instead, I got an offensive explosion.
And in the beginning, it was all Nichidai-san. Shirane did not look good on the mound right from the get-go and Sanko took advantage, sending their entire lineup to the plate in the 1st inning, scoring 3 and immediately putting the Shimane representatives in a hole. And when back-to-back doubles by Takayama and Suganuma both came in to score in the 3rd making the deficit 5, I figured it would be all but over.
I apparently figured wrong.
5th inning now, and Kurosaki reaches on an error by Suganuma. Innocent enough as Oohata singles to left, and Akikuni bunts the runners along. At this point, they hope to get a one-shot timely from their big bat Shirane.
Instead he hits a soft liner to center, scoring both runs and making it 5-2, which was still fairly comfortable.
That was until Mori drove a pitch from Yoshinaga to deep center for a 2-run home run! Now it was just a 1-run affair and we had a ballgame!
Now, by this time I had figured that the main key to defeating Sanko was to let Yoshinaga hang himself. What I meant was that as good as he was, he had his moments when he lost his control. Yet no other team had realized it to try and take walks when he was offering them.
Move onto the 6th and Kanayama draws a leadoff walk. Yasuhara pops a safety bunt and lands in behind the defense for a base hit!
I'm also always one to call for the bust-and-run because most teams are expecting bunt. And Yasuda must've been thinking the same thing! He slaps one hard to LCF! Azegami dives, but can't get to it! It goes all the way to the wall as Kanayama and Yasuhara score!
But then they wave Yasuda home! The relay from Yokoo nails him at the plate! With no down, I didn't know about that decision.
Regardless, Kaisei erased a 5-run deficit and now held a 6-5 lead! Here was the game I was looking for!
And then the bottom of the 6th came...
Mori, who had come in for Shirane in the 3rd, suddenly fell apart. After a leadoff single to Shimizu, Yasuda flubs a bunt from Kaneko. Mori then walked Azegami to load the bases, and Yokoo would single back up the middle, giving Sanko the lead right back. Eventually 12 batters would come to the plate, scoring 6 runs and placing Kaisei back in the 5-run hole they dug themselves out of.
You might be able to manage one comeback against Sanko, but 2 is almost impossible.
Yet in the 8th, there was hope. 3 consecutive hits leading off the inning from their 7-8-9 batters made it a 11-8 game. And when Akikuni singled through the left side, putting runners at the corners with just one down, you had the feeling that Shirane or Mori would be able to tie the game, or at least pull within 1.
While I didn't have a good view of the pitch sequence to Shirane, I would have had them be patient at the plate as I would be certain that Yoshinaga would try to pitch around the duo as much as possible.
Shirane though got himself in defensive mode after reaching a 2-2 count and going down swinging. Akikuni took the opportunity to take 2nd on the K putting both runners in scoring position.
2 down and Mori was up, but with 1st base open. Certainly at this point Yoshinaga would pitch around him. Instead, Mori tried to attack the pitches thrown when it was obvious that Yoshinaga was indeed giving him nothing to hit. Mori grounds out to short, and that was that. Unable to pull within a reasonable amount, the game was all but over for Kaisei.
Indeed they fell 11-8.
Now perhaps Mori rightly assumed that if he was walked, their chances
of scoring would be diminished. But down 3 with 4 outs remaining in the
game, you have to keep the inning going at all costs, no matter what.
Even if it means you hand the baton off to someone else.
Nonetheless, Sanko survives the scare from Kaisei and moves on, one step closer to the title.