Hokushinetsu Super-Regionals (2 bids)
This year, the Hokushinetsu Super-Regionals were held in Nagano, so they received the extra bid as the host prefecture. So once again, let's begin with the hosts!
The regional qualifiers saw Matsushiro and Nagano Nichidai advance from the north... but in the 3rd and 4th positions, Ueda Nishi taking the eastern region in a close game against Chikyuu Kankyou, Matsumoto Dai-ichi and Matsushou Gakuen take the central region as expected while last year's representative Tokyo Shidai Shiojiri just making it, and Toukai Dai-san heading up the weaker southern region.
The prefectural draw saw 3 quadrants with pairs of known teams - Ueda Nishi and Tokyo Shidai Shiojiri in the upper left (they drew each other), Matsushou Gakuen and Nagano Nichidai in the lower left (they also draw each other), and Matsushiro and Matsumoto Dai-ichi in the upper right (yes, they too drew each other). Only the lower left quadrant had no real notable names outside of Chikyuu Kankyou, but while they've been above average in the prefecture as of late, they still haven't proven anything.
And almost as expected, the winners of each of the pairs would advance to the semifinals. Ueda Nishi outlasted Tokyo Shidai 8-6, then Nagano 8-5. Matsushou Gakuen just beat out Nagano Nichidai 6-5 before handling Toukai Dai-san 6-1. Matsushiro continues to fade into the background with a 10-0 loss to Matsumoto Dai-ichi who in turn handled Komoro Shougyou. And in the final quadrant, Chikyuu Kankyou at least did perhaps what was expected with two wins over Tagawa and Iiyama Kita.
What happened next was shocking. In looking at the recent history of the prefecture, one would have expected an all-Matsumoto final.
You would be dead wrong.
Ueda Nishi was up first, taking the game to Matsushou Gakuen as ace Shiba would pitch a complete game shutout winning 3-0!
Next was Chikyuu Kankyou. Having been unable to break the ceiling the last couple of years, they finally put their stamp on the prefecture as their ace Shitsudo pitches his own shutout against Matsumoto Dai-ichi!
So both Matsumoto schools go down (though they both qualify this year) and 2 teams desperate for a title get a chance at it!
In the final, both go to their bullpens. Chikyuu Kankyou to Sakai, and Ueda Nishi to Urano. Turns out that perhaps Ueda had the deeper bullpen. Chikyuu Kankyou gives up 10 runs in the 2nd-4th innings and that was all she wrote. Ueda Nishi clinched their 3rd title and 1st in 11 years. Meanwhile, Chikyuu Kankyou (a secret pet favorite of mine) earns their 1st ever birth to the super-regionals! And in a bit of formality, Matsumoto Dai-ichi bests Matsushou Gakuen in their re-match (they played in the regional final) 5-4.
In the large draw for the Niigata prefecturals, Hokuetsu, Chuuetsu, and Nihon Bunri occupied one quadrant setting the "directional schools" up for a quarterfinal match, Niigata Meikun had a quadrant to themselves, and Niigata Kenou Kougyou having a full half to themselves save for maybe Jyouetsu.
It would indeed be Nihon Bunri and Hokuetsu in the quarterfinals. Despite mowing down the previous competition Hokuetsu would fight back, and hard. Nihon Bunri would score 8 runs, but it wasn't enough as they would be eliminated 9-8.
Niigata Meikun and Niigata Kenou Kougyou also had no trouble reaching the semis. The final team to round out the quartet was Takada.
Hokuetsu looked to make a run for their 1st Koushien bid and this put Niigata Meikun away 8-4 in the semifinals. Takada indeed was the odd man out in the foursome, falling 7-1.
In the finals, Hokuetsu would not be stopped. They defeat Niigata Kenou Kougyou 3-1 for their 3rd title, and 1st in 61 years!
Joining the twosome would be Niigata Meikun. They dispatched Takada 7-0.
Toyama has been a muddy mess as of late. Toyama Shougyou has been the regular entrant from the prefecture, but you had to love the story of Shin-Minato this past summer. I'm not sure I'll ever see such a large contingent dressed up in the school's colors ever again at Koushien.
Both teams could be found on the same half of the bracket.
That left the other half up for grabs. Toyama Dai-ichi and Fujikoshi Kougyou reached the semifinals, and thanks to a 4-run 3rd, Fujikoshi advanced to the finals.
Meanwhile, Shin-Minato looked good in it's first two games, but then had to face Tonami Kougyou. Unfortunately, their offense suffered a power outage at the wrong time as they lost 2-1. While strong, they posed a lesser threat to Toyama Shougyou as they were mercy ruled 7-0 in 7 innings. Toyama Shougyou would take their 18th title (1st in 3 years) with ease demolishing Fujikoshi Kougyou 15-3. Tonami Kougyou defeated Toyama Dai-ichi 10-6 in the 3rd place match to advance.
Ishikawa perhaps has a void now that Kamata has left Kanazawa. Yuugakukan had challenged for a couple of years so it's possible they may fill the gap. Or perhaps it's finally the time of the cycle where Matsui's alma mater Seiryou to rise to the top again.
Or, it's quite possible the prefecture becomes up for grabs.
Of the three, Yuugakukan is the first to fall losing 2-0 to Kanazawa Shougyou. Next to go was Seiryou who lost in a barn-burner 8-7 to Kanazawa Gakuin Higashi.
That left Kanazawa as the last remaining team. But they too would fall. In a disastrous 6-run inning, the aforementioned Kanazawa Gakuin Higashi forced Kanazawa to fight for their bid as they fell 9-3.
Who would be KG Higashi's opponent? Turns out it would be Kanazawa Nishi. After almost stumbling in the first 2 games, they managed to right the ship culminating in a 13 inning nailbiter against Kanazawa Shougyou which included a swap of runs in the 10th and both aces going all 13 innings!
You'd think then that Kanazawa Gakuin Higashi would have the upper hand, especially since Kanzawa Nishi sent out ace Tsuji once again. And in fact, KG Higashi built a 5-0 lead and the title seemed all but secure.
But perhaps in a twist of irony, KG Higashi suffers their own 6-run disaster in the 7th inning. Trailing 6-5, KG Higashi couldn't find a reply. One more insurance run in the 8th sealed the deal. Kanazawa Nishi would win just their 2nd title (their first was in 2004).
Kanazawa would eventually get their ticket to the super-regional with a 5-1 win over Kanazawa Shougyou.
For as long as the schools can remember, 3 teams dominate the small ~30 school prefecutre. Fukui Koudai Fukui (fka Fukui), Fukui Shougyou, and Tsuruga Kehi.
Not surprisingly, the trio along with Hokuriku were the 4 seeded teams. Also not surprisingly, all 4 made the semifinals.
Now unfortunately I don't have information on the games, but if the scores are an indication, perhaps the other schools are finally catching up. All 4 teams experienced at least 1 close game en route to the semis. Schools like Usui or Nyuu had been seeded teams in years past, so perhaps there's some parity coming along in the future.
But that's for the future. For now, it would seem that the usual trio would make yet another appearance in the super-regional. It would just be a matter of order.
For Tsuruga Kehi, their time to reign over the prefecture doesn't seem to be over yet. Though in their semifinal game, they fell behind Fukui Koudai, managed to rally with 2 in the lucky 7 to tie the game at 4, and eventually win it in 10 on a sayonara walkoff.
Their opponent however would not be Fukui Shougyou. No, Hokuriku schocked Fukushou by replying to a 1st inning 2-run deficit with 4 runs of their own. And when Fukushou pulled within 2, Hokuriku re-extended the lead to 5. Fukushou would mount one last comeback in the last 2 innings, but fall 1 run short at 10-9! That meant that one of the powerhouses wouldn't receive an invite to the super-regionals!
That odd team out would be Fukui Shougyou. Perhaps as a punishment for failing to keep the trio together, Fukui Koudai Fukui embarrassed them to the tune of 23-3!
As for the final, Hokuriku actually struck first, going out to a 2-0 lead after 5. But a 3 spot in the 6th for Tsuruga Kehi left Hokuriku playing catch-up to which they could never recover. Tsuruga Kehi wins 8-3 to claim their 3rd consecutive fall title and 24th overall.
Now that we had our representatives, the draw would come out and well, it looked odd.
- Tsuruga Kehi (Fukui 1) oddly would get a first round match against Matsumoto Dai-ichi, but only because they were Nagano 3.
- Fukui Koudai Fukui would actually get a easy draw despite being Fukui 3, with only Niigata Meikun (Niigata 3) perhaps a challenger.
- Even stranger, Matsushou Gakuen, Nagano's 4-seed, was put in a draw with Kanazawa, who was Ishikawa's 3-seed!
- And Tonami Kougyou, despite being Toyama's 3-seed seemed to get an easy draw, with perhaps the breakthrough team of the super-regionals Chikyuu Kankyou (Nagano 2) in the way.
On the other half, Matsushou Gakuen had no trouble with Hokuetsu, and then proceeded to blank the rebuilding Kanazawa team 3-0 for their spot in the semis. And finally, Tonami Kougyou would actually be embarassed with a 15-5, 5-inning mercy rule game to Kanazawa Nishi. That opened the door for Chikyuu Kankyou who beat Hokuriku 8-1, then turned around and mercy-ruled Kanazawa Nishi in the minimum 5 innings.
Onto the semis then, and a rematch of the Fukui prefectural semifinals between Tsuruga Kehi and Fukui Koudai Fukui. This time around, this would not be a close match. Instead, ace Yamamoto for Tsuruga Kehi pitches a complete game shutout against their rivals, slotting them into a probable automatic bid.
The other semi had Chikyuu Kankyou facing another demon in Matsushou Gakuen. They didn't meet in the prefecturals, but it was like they were being tested once again to prove that they belonged. A loss now meant that they would fall short yet again, despite advancing to the super-regionals for the first time.
Instead, Shitsudo goes out and limits Matsushou's offense to just 7 hits in a 4-0 shutout!
So the finals would be Tsuruga Kehi and Chikyuu Kankyou. Pretty much a no-brainer here.
But once again, Chikyuu Kankyou rose to the occasion. Shitsudo takes the hill once again, and throws blanks onto the scoreboard! He continues to keep his team in it as the innings turn to the 8th, 9th, and onto the 10th! Would it be possible that a first time qualifier to the super-regionals actually wins the title?
Sadly no. Bottom 13, 2 outs for Tsuruga Kehi and runners at the corners. Chikyuu elects to walk reliever Yamamoto Shou to get to Yamamoto Ryuu. But in that AB, Shitsudo hits Ryuu, forcing in the sayonara run.
Shitsudo would set records for the longest scoreless innings streak in the super-regional (32), and longest scoreless innings streak in a championship game (12), but in the end his team would fall short as Tsuruga Kehi claims their 1st title in 24 years (5th overall). However, I think despite Chikyuu Kankyou's loss, they will receive their 1st ever bid to Koushien in their 1st ever opportunity.
Automatic Bid - Tsuruga Kehi (Fukui) - 4th appearance, 1st in 2 years
Projected Bid - Chikyuu Kankyou (Nagano) - 1st appearance
By the way, if you were to translate Chikyuu Kankyou's name (地球環境), you'd get "Global Environment". Yep, it's an environmental school. You gotta dig their uniforms, and they even have the word Earth on their hats! And now you know why I root for them.
Toukai Super-Regional (2 bids)
Now to one of the more all-around competitive regions. Of course, there's only 4 prefectures in this region (yes, I know Shikoku has 4 as well) but the teams are generally competitive.
No additional bids are awarded to host teams (prefectural winners got a 1st round bye).
Shizuoka too has a form of pool play with repechages that get us to our 25 prefectural qualifiers.
Included in the teams that qualified were both Tokoha Tachibana and Tokoha Kikugawa (though we haven't really heard from them recently), Shizuoka (who's come on as of late), and yet another Toukai school - Toukaidai Shouyou.
The teams were almost separated into different parts of the bracket, but Tokoha Kikugawa and Shizuoka drew the same region.
Of the 4 teams, only 2 advanced to the semifinals. Tokoha Tachibana advanced with little problem, and Shizuoka blanked Tokoha Kikugawa 6-0 to reach the semis. Toukaidai Shouyou lost in their first game to Kakegawa Higashi who in turn lost to semifinalist Fuji Shiritsu while Shizuoka Shougyou advanced from the final quadrant.
Fuji Shiritsu continued to play the role of spoiler in the semifinals, using a 2-spot in the lucky 7 and a great performance by ace Tsukamoto on the mound to send Shizuoka to the 3rd place match. The other semi was not as close. Shizuoka Shougyou put up their own 2-run inning in the 1st and never looked back against Tokoha Tachibana, winning 4-1!
In the final, experience would win out as Shizuoka Shougyou would score in 3 of the first 4 innings as ace Nakamoto gives up just one run in a CG effort. The 3-1 victory would give Shizuoka Shougyou their 12th fall title and first in 2 years. Fuji Shiritsu should still be happy about their efforts as they earned their first trip to the super-regionals, and the Tokoha schools are shutout again as Shizuoka eliminates them in the 3rd place game 3-1.
When you talk Aichi, there's really only 2 schools you talk about - and they're about 20 minutes trip from each other - Aikoudai Meiden and Chuukyoudai Chuukyou. Touhou and Shigakukan can be inluded in the conversation in recent years, but they still play second fiddle.
All 4 teams advanced out of round-robin play though, and drew 3 parts of the bracket (Meiden had the upper left, Shigakukan and Chuukyoudai the lower left, and Touhou had the entire right half to themselves).
Fast-forward to the quarterfinal matches, and Aikoudai Meiden pitches yet another shutout, but only in a 2-0 win over Sakuragaoka. Shigakukan continues to try and establish a foothold with an 11-3 win over Chuukyoudai Chuukyou, who perhaps doesn't look the same after the retirement of Oofuji-kantoku. And Touhou does indeed own their half of the bracket, defeating semifinalist Aichi Sangyoudai Kougyou 6-3.
Touhou would face Aikoudai Meiden as they force Shigakukan into a loser-out match with a 6-0 shutout. Meiden would then win their 2nd consecutive title, and 5th overall(!) with a handy 9-6 win. Shigakukan would join them with a 7-0 shutout in the 3rd place game.
Gifu has their own triumvirate of Kenritsu Gifu Shougyou, Shiritsu Gifu Shougyou and Oogaki Nichidai. All 3 advanced out of round-robin play, however Ken Gifushou and Oogaki Nichidai wound up drawing the same quadrant. Shi Gifushou were on the other half.
Ken Gifushou and Oogaki Nichidai would meet in the quarterfinals with Nichidai being blanked 3-0. They then perhaps relaxed a bit against Oogaki Nishi because they needed a run in both the bottom of the 8th and 9th innings to reach the finals 2-1!
Shi Gifushou didn't have such trouble, with an average margin of victory of a little over 7 runs, advanced to the finals with a 12-0 win over Oogaki Shougyou.
So it was a battle of business schools in the finals. And in a pitcher's duel, the city school (Shiritsu Gifu Shougyou) outlasted the prefectural school 1-0 for just their 2nd ever fall title! (Their 1st was back in 1974)
And despite being blown out in the semis, Oogaki Shougyou is the 3rd team to advance with a 7-4 win in the 3rd place game.
Mie also has a soft spot for me, not sure why, perhaps it's because I visited Ise back in 2006 and loved it. And perhaps they're not any different than other rural prefectures, but there was a clip I watched with Mie's 3rd base coach emphatically waving around a runner that seemed to connect with me. So I root for Mie, both the team and the prefecture, though they've only won 1 Haru and Natsu title, and that was almost 50 years ago.
Nowadays, Mie has had to share the spotlight with teams like Komono, Inabe Sougou Gakuen (love their hats) and Uji-Yamada Shougyou.
Uji-Yamada and Komono wound up drawing the same quadrant setting up a quarterfinal match that would in all likelihood determine a qualifier, while Mie and ISG should guarantee themselves a bid should they both reach the semis.
And indeed, after Komono defeated Uji-Yamada Shougyou 8-4, they dispatched Kinkidai Tousen 7-0 in 7 innings. Flipping to the other half, Mie and ISG were in a dogfight of a semifinal with the teams exchanging blows. In the end though, Mie would be victorious 4-3.
Despite having not been to Natsu Koushien in several years, Mie continues to make the super-regionals, winning their 5th straight fall title (and 17th overall) with a 3-1 win over Komono. Joining the pair would be ISG with a 3-2 heart-stopper against Kinkidai Tousen.
So the nice thing about being in a 4-prefecture super-regional is that as a prefectural champion, you get a first-round bye, and you only need to win 3 games to get an automatic bid to Haru Koushien. So it behooves teams to get a first-round bye.
Mie got perhaps the easiest possible 2nd round opponent before possibly facing Shiritsu Gifu Shougyou (though Touhou or Inabe Sougou Gakuen might have something to say about it).
On the other side, the winner of the Kenritsu Gifu Shougyou-Shigakukan match might advance to the semis because that's where Shizuoka winner Shizuoka Shougyou resides. Finally, Aikoudai Meiden might have the hardest 2nd round matchup as they will either face Komono or Shizuoka.
The first upset occurred when Shigakukan usurped Ken Gifushou 3-1. After that, 3 of the 4 top seeds advanced to the semis with the only exception being the aforementioned Shizuoka Shougyou who put up a good fight, but fell 4-3 to Shigakukan.
In the semis, Shiritsu Gifu Shougyou couldn't hit Mie's ace Miura. He would scatter 5-hits in a complete game 5-0 shutout. Aikoudai Meiden found themselves in a rematch against Shigakukan, and the results were about the same. Meiden advances to the final with a 4-1 win over their in-prefecture rival.
And in the super-regional championship, Mie's Hamada would spot the Aichi champions 3 runs in the opening innings. Despite making a furious late-inning rally, Mie would come up just a run short losing 4-3 and giving Ichiro's alma mater just their 5th ever super-regional title (their first in 7 years)
Automatic Bid - Aikoudai Meiden (Aichi) - 9th appearance, 1st in 7 years
Projected Bid - Mie (Mie) - 11th appearance, 1st in 2 years