When the draw came out, kokoyakyu writers everywhere probably circled this game immediately. Not just because this was a match between scrappy Hanamaki Higashi and yet another offensive powerhouse in Osaka Touin, but because this game would feature the two tallest pitchers in the field by far - 193 cm (6'4") Ootani Shouhei for Hanamaki Higashi and 197 cm (6'5½") Fujinami Shintarou.
Yet, strangely enough, during the fall tournament, Hanamaki Higashi never turned to Ootani.
Even more strange, Ootani appeared in just 5 of the teams 11 games. I have had no time to research the reason why, but if whatever the reason was continues, this could be a slight problem for the team - especially since they're facing an offensive team right off the bat... again.
That team is Osaka Touin. And this time around it appears they have a #1 truly worthy of the number in Fujinami. Now, he's not one of the fireballers that records a lot of K's (though he does throw pretty darn fast). Instead, he uses the fastball and 12-6 curve to induce weak contact.
However, all Osaka Touin needs is a serviceable pitcher and the team automatically becomes a contender due to the offense. Of the 118 hits, they had 38 doubles, 5 triples and 11 homeruns. That's 46% of their hits going for extra bases for an ISO of 0.269. Now, certainly their true level isn't that high, but even with regression it's still really good.
This should be one heck of a game to close the opening day of the tournament.
Osaka Touin (Osaka)C Mori Tomoya
2B Oonishi Tomoya
RF Mizumoto Gen
1B Tabata Yoshiki
CF Hakusui Kenta
LF Yasui Kouki
SS Mizutani Yukiya (#14)
3B Kasamatsu Yuuya (#15)
P Fujinami Shintarou
Hanamaki Higashi (Iwate)2B Oota Kazumasa
CF Oomukai Yuuji
SS Oosawa Eiki
P Ootani Shouhei
1B Takahashi Shouto
3B Gotou Yuudai (#13)
RF Tanaka Daiki (#7)
C Sasaki Ryuuki
LF Chiba Shuunta (#14)
15:57 - First Pitch!
Not so good of a start for Ootani as he walks Mori to leadoff the game. Nishitani-kantoku puts on the bust-and-run but Oonishi grounds out to 2nd, but at least advances the runner.
Mizumoto with another hard hit to short. Oota keeps it in front of him and makes the play at 1st. 2 down.
Hm.... Tabata gets plunked on an offspeed pitch and that puts a runner in scoring position for Hakusui.
Ootani is not exhibiting good control on the mound so far, walking one, hitting another and not really finding the plate. And already C Sasaki goes to the mound for a conference.
But a passed ball continues to add pressure to the situation.
But a 136 kph slider inside gets Hakusui swinging and the inning ends without any damage.
Fujinami's innings starts much like Ootani's, walking leadoff batter Oota. Unlike Ootani, Fujinami is hitting the high 140's and even 150 on the radar gun.
OH. That's nasty. Going down to a 117 slider for strike 3.
Sasaki-kantoku sends Oota, but he's thrown out at 2nd. Oosawa grounds to short to end the inning.
Well, now we see Ootani throwing hard, hitting the high 140's, but he still has no consistent control. Perhaps that's why he's effective. When the pitch is in the zone, it's good, but neither the batter or the pitcher know necessarily when that is.
And thus, he strikes out the first 2 batters and gets Kasamatsu to fly out to left.
Ootani crushes a pitch right down the middle to right. Mizumoto goes back to the wall, but gives up?!
Oh man, now we know why he's in the middle of the lineup. It's Hanamaki Higashi with the 1-0 lead!
AND WHY ARE YOU SLIDING INTO FIRST???? AUGH!!!!!!!! Gotou dives himself out when he hits a high chopper to 3rd. Tanaka then strikes out to end the inning, but Ootani puts his team ahead with a booming HR!
Ootani's control issues continue as he walks #9 batter Fujinami to lead-off the inning. And now with Mori bunting, Ootani turns up the heat, hitting 148 and 145.
But another fastball is too much as Mori singles through the left side. Runners on 1st and 2nd, no out.
Oonishi tries to bunt again, but pops the first one out foul. And when he tries again, he fails! He has to swing away, or free bunt!
He free bunts, but the pitch is over his head instead of the plate. Another slider is too high(?!) as the count goes to 2-2.
Oonishi lays it down, but Ootani is right there and throws out Fujinami at 3rd! One down, and another failed bunt!
Turning to Ootani's pitches, he has the fastball in the upper 140's, and a slider/fork in the high 120's-low 130's. The fastball he can command, the offspeed... not as well.
Mizumoto grounds to 2nd, Oota's only play is to Ootani at 1st, so 2 runners in scoring position with 2 outs.
Ootani thinks he has Tabata on a 2-2 change, but doesn't get the call. Instead, he throws the forkball and gets the call then to end the inning!
For Osaka Touin, Fujinami has all the pitches that were covered earlier, and a two-seamer that is slightly slower than the fastball. And his control is definitely above average.
He strikes out the first two batters, though it's entertaining watching #9 batter Chiba crouching and moving around in the box.
But then the lineup turns over, and both Oota and Oomukai reach on slow grounders to the left side. Man, they are fast.
However, Oosawa grounds out to 1st to end the inning.
Hakusui finally gets hold of a ball, but gets under it as Oomukai is able to run it down in left center.
Yasui hits a pitch that Ootani leaves up and singles to left.
Also, Osaka Touin's band is kinda slow and too metered. Needs more pace.
Ootani looks a bit better on the mound now. He gets Mizutani to ground into the 6-4-3 inning ending double play!
Ootani leads off the 4th, and Fujinami is giving him NOTHING over the plate. It's all away. He gives up a walk, but probably considers that a win. It'll be up to the rest of the offense to deliver for the rest of the game probably.
Shouto showed bunt and fouled it off, but swung away after that. Fujinami is still throwing away but then crosses him up on a slider inside for his 6th K.
Gotou shows bunt, but quickly falls behind 0-2. And on a bizarre play, Tabata backing up to 1st is called for missing the bag after taking the toss from Fujinami and everyone's safe! Runners at 1st and 2nd with 1 out for Tanaka!
And he chops a two-seamer past a diving Oonishi into right! Ootani is being waved home! The throw is late and Hanamaki Higashi takes a 2-0 lead!!!
Now, #10 Sawada is warming up for Osaka Touin! What's going on?
Ryuuki from the get-go is showing squeeze, but has yet to offer on a pitch until 3-1! But he fouls it off. Full count, what will Sasaki-kantoku have him do?
He free bunts, but doesn't recognize the slider in time and fouls out! Now it's busy Chiba at the plate. He really chokes up on the bat.
But Hanamaki Higashi makes a running mistake! Tanaka takes off for 2nd, but there's no throw! It may have been supposed to be a delayed steal, but because Mori didn't throw it, Gotou is caught in between and run down! Big mistake!
Still though, Hanamaki Higashi hold the 2-0 lead.
What I think I have to ask is where is the high-powered offense that was in the fall tournament? Are they playing more conservatively at Koushien with the bunting? Is the Osaka region THAT weak? Are they just at a quandary because Ootani's pitches are so inconsistent?
Because as we enter the 5th, Kasamatsu and Fujinami both K on terrible (or great I guess depending on how you look at them) pitches from Ootani. Another not-so-good pitch hits Mori. But Oonishi flies out to right to end the inning.
So the question regarding Ootani is - is he effectively wild so that the batters don't know what to expect while he doesn't make a mistake over the plate?
Chiba tries a slap hit up the left side, but it's just a shade too hard and Kasamatsu throws him out. Oota goes on the first pitch too and grounds out to 2nd.
Loks like the 9-1-2 batters are more of Ichiro-type infield hit players.
Oomukai goes down looking and we hit the break with the Osaka Touin offense nowhere to be seen, Hanamaki Higashi with the one with the HR!
The problem with Ootani's pitching is that while you aren't depending on the fastball to throw a strike because enough of his off-speed pitches catch the strike zone, there's has to be a limit to how effective that can be, especially in single elimination settings.
Post-break, Oonishi walks yet another batter in Mizumoto. Then on a short fly to left by Tabata, Tanaka, Oomukai and Oosawa all converge, but no one catches the ball! A rare fielding mistake gives Osaka Touin a chance to tie the game!
And Sakaki-kantoku calls time after Hakusui bunts the runners along. Yasui, who's 1-2 on the day is the first one to try and level the score.
And boy does Ootani catch a break. A ball in the dirt hits the umpire and stays near home. But now #11 Sasaki is warming up in the bullpen as the count goes 3-1. A rising 2-seamer gets the count full.
Yasui gets one run back as he hits a grounder to 2nd. Oota makes the play at first and it's 2-1.
Mizutani looks to extend the inning at least, and works the count full. But a ball outside (and perhaps poorly framed) means the inning continues.
Kasamatsu up now, but Ootani gets ahead 1-2 with a couple of fastballs.
But he makes his first mistake at the worst time!! He hangs a slider over the outside part of the plate and Kasamatsu drives it to left-center! Tanaka tries to run it down, but it falls in front of the wall! Tabata scores! Mizutani rounds 3rd and he scores! Gyakuten for Osaka Touin as they take a 3-2 lead!
Fujinami K's to end the inning, but a walk and a uncharacteristic defensive gaffe cost Hanamaki Higashi the lead!
Oosawa staring the inning for Hanamaki and he cannot afford to be out. Because if he doesn't reach, expect Ootani to be given 1st base.
The count runs full and he fouls off a one, then another, and yet one more. But he hits it to short and Mizutani makes the play.
And as expected, the first pitch is away.
Ootani decides to swing away, but lines out right to Kasamatsu. (The question here is do you take the walk, or do you swing away? I think more than anything else you need base-runners, so you have to take the walk. The only exception is if you think the rest of your offense is that inept.)
Anyways, Shouto grounds to 2nd to end the inning, and now Hanamaki Higashi is on their heels.
Now Osaka Touin can go for the single run. Against Hanamaki's offense, despite their scrappiness, another run is a lot to overcome.
Mori starts it off by (a) not being hit, and (b) hitting a double down the left field line. And with a bunt to 3rd, they're that close to that insurance run I was talking about.
Mizumoto tries the squeeze on the 1-1 pitch, but fouls it off!
Ootani freezes him on a shuuto on the outside corner! One more and he gets out of the jam!
Tabata is a little early on one pitch and drives it hard foul.
Ootani makes his 2nd mistake, and this may be the nail in the coffin. He hangs another shuuto and Tabata drives that to left. Tanaka goes a bit towards the wall, but he knows...
...that's a goner.
And so Osaka Touin takes the 5-2 lead here in the 7th. Looks like Ootani's luck finally ran out.
Yasui strikes out looking to end the inning, but they may have all the runs they need now.
Fujinami seems to have settled down nicely, retiring the side in order for the 3rd straight inning. Despite my thoughts on Hanamaki Higashi's grittiness, they don't look like a team which can come back like previous years.
Kasamatsu collects his 2nd hit of the game with a soft liner to right. Fujinami tries to lay down the bunt but gets Kasamatsu thrown out at 2nd instead.
A wild pitch by Ootani gets that runner to 2nd, but Mori is finally retired 4-3.
Ootani will get one more AB, but he needs runners in front of him first. And even then he may not get a chance to swing the bat.
And it appears that Fujinami is taking advantage of the fact Hanamaki Higashi is trying to get runners by getting ahead with first pitch strikes. That way they have to play a bit more defensively. Oota for example weakly grounded back to Fujinami after falling behind.
Oomukai goes for the drag bunt up the 1st base line, and his dive just beats out Fujinami for an infield single! Now Oosawa has to get on, but I wonder if they'll walk Ootani anyways if it gets to that point.
Ooh. Fujinami gets the call on an outside fastball and gets ahead 1-2. And with Oosawa swinging away, he hits a comebacker to Fujinami to end the inning.
After a first pitch out, Ootani gets into trouble, walking Mizumoto on 4 straight then hitting Tabata on the first pitch.
And a poor pickoff throw by Ryuuki goes into right and scores Mizumoto, making it 6-2.
A 4-pitch walk to Hakusui may be the end for Ootani, but Sasaki-kantoku just calls for time. Perhaps Sasaki wants to see if Ootani has the mental toughness to finish it out.
Well, that's a good sign, Yasui goes down on 3 straight, though Hakusui steals 2nd in the process.
But yet another wild pitch scores another run for 7-2.
A ball gets away from Ootani, and hits Mizutani's helmet.
And with 170 pitches thrown, Sasaki-kantoku I think wants to be safe rather than see mental toughness. #11 Sasaki comes in for Chiba and takes the mound as Ootani goes to left and Tanaka goes to right.
They seem to get out of the inning when Ryuuki has Mizutani picked off 1st, but when Hakusui dekes home Takahashi throws to 3rd, but it's high and sails into foul ground. Both runners score and it's 9-2.
Finally, Sasaki strikes out Kasamatsu to end the inning. The resignation showed here, as Osaka Touin scored 4 runs on no hits.
After a popout by Ootani, Hanamki Higashi starts a mini rally with Shouto and PH Kosui (#7) getting 2 singles.
But soon the inevitable happens. PH Takahashi Hisashi (#16), and Obara (#12) strike out to end the game.
This looked like a different Hanamaki Higashi team than in past years. The pitching wasn't as dominant, and the talent to be scrappy enough offensively seemed lacking. As a result, they fell to Osaka Touin here today. Was it a disappointing game? Yeah, in some ways. But like the saying goes, things don't always go as expected.
Tabata Yoshiki (Osaka Touin) - 2-3, HR, 3 R, 2 RBI, K, 2 HBP
Mori Tomoya (Osaka Touin) - 2-3, 2B, R, 2 BB
Ootani Kazuya (Hanamaki Higashi) - 1-3, HR, 2 R, BB