First up is an old-timer to the dance, and what may be an up-and-coming team.
Osaka Touin is no newcomer to this parade. Though founded in 1983, they have been to 10 haru & natsu Koushien tournaments, won 2 natsu Koushiens and have made it to the quarterfinals in 3 senbatsu tournaments. This is however, the furthest they've gone at senbatsu.
This is in part thanks to ace Fujinami. One of the two towers of Koushien this year, he eliminated his counterpart in the first round, then proceeded to beat the Kyushu runner-ups, Kyushu Gakuin. He was given a half-game break as reliever Sawada took the hill, and they still managed to defeat the Kanto champions Urawa Gauin 3-1.
Osaka Touin has largely done this on the back of late inning offense. All of their 17 runs have been scored in after the 5th inning break. To me, that is unheard of. It either speaks to the Osaka Touin offense to adjust, of the opposing pitching tiring, or a combination of both. How long they can continue this is anybody's guess as they survived Urawa Gakuin 3-2.
Takasaki Kenkoudai Fukushi was officially named so in 2001 and became a co-ed school (it was an all-girls school). In that short time, they have build a team that has become a surprise in the kokoyakyu world. This team has advanced as a result of their baserunning. For good or for bad, they have been as aggressive on the bases as any team I've seen. It started in their first game against Tenri and hasn't stopped since for 16 total stolen bases. The only difference was in the last game against Naruto in the quarterfinals. There they may have taken advantage of poor defensive placement to rack up multiple extra base hits.
They've used this strategy to defeat Kinki runner-up Tenri, Kyushu champion Kamimura Gakuen and Shikoku winner Naruto.
The biggest question for Kendai will be whether they can get on base to implement their baserunning strategy. Power needs no prerequisite other than putting the bat on the ball. This could be a close game, or one rather lopsided. Should be interesting!
Takasaki Kenkoudai Fukushi (Gunma)CF Takeuchi Tsukasa
2B Nakayama Keita
C Nagasaka Kenya
3B Uchida Ryouta
1B Oosawa Yoshiyuki
RF Kanbe Kazuki
LF Kobayashi Ryuutarou
SS Akiyama Kousuke
P Miki Keita
Osaka Touin (Osaka)2B Oonishi Tomoya
RF Mizumoto Gen
C Mori Tomoya
1B Koike Yuuya (#5)
3B Kasamatsu Yuuya (#15)
LF Yasui Kouki
CF Hakusui Kenta
P Fujinami Shintarou
SS Mizutani Yukiya (#14)
11:02 - First Pitch!
Oddly, the top batters for Kendai aren't waiting for pitches. They're going after Fujinami!
Takeuchi grounds out to 2nd on a 1-0 pitch, Nakayama swings and misses on a 150 fastball on a 1-2 count for two quick outs.
Nagasaka continues the aggressive play, taking the first pitch to left for a single.
And Uchida does the same, but grounds out to 2nd. An interesting strategy.
And it's the opposite for Osaka Touin. They're taking pitches against Miki and Oonishi leads off with a walk!
No bunt from Mizumoto, but hit ball back up the middle is taken by Nakayama , who touches 2nd for one and throws to 1st for the double play! Mori pops out to Uchida to end the inning.
Kendai continues to swing away. One down, Kanbe single to right center.
And Aoyagi sends Kanbe! But Mori's throw is in time for the out! From the replays, Kanbe may not have gotten a great jump on the pitch.
The bottom of the order seems to be more patient as Kobayashi draws a walk. But on what may have been a hit-and-run, Akiyama pops out to 3rd.
Koike with a grounder past a diving Uchida for a leadoff single! Kasamatsu trying the bunt, but fouls off the first attempt. He successfully lays it down the second time.
Yasui with a grounder to short, Akiyama holds for a second, and his throw is late! All safe!
Hakusui swinging on the first pitch, hits a ball to the right side, and that's through! Kanbe up with the ball, and his throw home is late! Yasui takes the extra base to 3rd as Hakusui plates Osaka Touin's first run in the first 5 innings of any game! 1-0 Osaka Touin!
Fujinami up, and Nishitani-kantoku has him bunting! He fouls one off, and then fouls off another! So the squeeze isn't an option anymore, is it?
Nope. He swings and misses for the 2nd out.
Mizutani flies out to right and the inning is over. But if Osaka Touin is able to score their first run here this early in a game, I'm afraid to think what it might mean for Kendai going forward.
Miki gives a good AB against Fujitani, fouling off a couple of pitches before softly grounding out to 1st.
Back to the top of the order and the strategy hasn't changed. They're still going after Fujinami. Takeuchi gets under one for Kobayashi in left.
Nakayama does gets a base hit lining one to right. He should be going if they're going for it. But he doesn't and Nagasaka grounds out to a fielder's choice at 3rd to end the inning.
For ace Miki, this may be the important test of the game. The 2nd time through the order.
And Oonishi starts it off with a single through the right side on a letter high fastball. Mizumoto appears at least to be bunting, and indeed he lays it down up the 1st base line to advance Oonishi.
But Miki gets out of the inning getting both Mori and Koike to hit harmless flies to left. Seems like he's doing ok, but we'll have to see in the later innings.
Uchida makes some good contact on foul balls, but succumbs to the forkball. Oosawa goes up 3-1 but gets under one and flies out to left.
Kanbe arches his back as he just misses getting plunked by a fastball. Then after working the count full, he sticks the bat out and the contact is good enough to get over Oonishi for a single! Go figure.
Kobayashi then attacks the first pitch and singles through to right! Now they need a one-timer from Akiyama. But while he swings at the first pitch too, he flies out to center for the out to retire the side.
Kasamatsu becomes just Miki's 2nd K as he misses on a slider. Yasui can't check his swing on one too, and the 3rd base ump rings him up.
Hakusui avoids being the 3rd straight K victim, but he flies out to left.
Miki goes down swinging for the first out. Takeuchi after falling behind 1-2, works the count full, then thinks he has ball 4, but the plate umpire rings him up! That fastball looked rather low there, and Takeuchi thought so too, but not to the one person that really matters.
And Nakayama chases a fastball away for Fujinami's 6th K as he strikes out the side!
Fujinami gets caught looking on a slider at the corner for the first out. But Mizutani singles through to left putting a man on.
Oonishi with a ball to the gap in right center! Takeuchi running it down, picks turns and throws back in! Mizutani is being waved around 3rd! Nakayama throws home and...
Nagasaka makes the catch and swipe... OUT! Takeuchi makes a great quick throw in, and Nakayama with a great relay home to prevent Osaka Touin from extending the lead!
And Mizumoto hits a fly to right! Kanbe there for the catch and Kendai is out of the inning! Some great defense keeps the deficit at 1 as we head into the break!
Perhaps a reason why Kendai has been aggressive is that because they figured Fujinami wouldn't be issuing walks so they'd have to hit to get on base. But I'm not sure that doesn't mean you can still be patient.
One down for Kendai and Uchida earns a walk. But that is erased when Oosawa swings on a 2-0 pitch and grounds into the 4-6-3 double play.
Mori with a ball to the left side. Akiyama makes the diving stop, but can't make a clean grab! Mori is in with a leadoff single!
Cleanup hitter Koike up and he's showing bunt.
They try for the bust-and-run! But Koike pops it up! Oosawa with the catch for the first out.
Kasamatsu up 3-1, but he hits a comebacker to Miki! He goes to 2nd for one, but Nakayama can't get the ball out of his glove to throw to 1st. 2 down.
And so the inning continues as Yasui singles to right! Will this be the beginning of the end for Kendai?
Sanshin! Hakusui chases a slider out of the zone and they survive one inning.
Kanbe gets on base safely for the 3rd time with a leadoff walk! Will Aoyagi-kantoku have Kobayashi bunt?
No! He swings away on the 0-1 pitch and lines one to left! Yasui charging in, dives... and makes the catch! Kanbe has to scurry back to 1st on the great play!
Now Aoyagi-kantoku is having Akiyama bunt?! He lays it down, but it'll be up to Miki to get the run home.
I suppose if you look at it from the standpoint that a base hit = a run, and an out - top of the order, you can't complain. But you're also running out of... outs.
Miki gets ahead though 3-1. I can't imagine him swinging on this one.
But he does and fouls it off. Again perhaps thinking he's going to throw a strike, might as well see if I can get a hit.
Fujitani puts an end to that, getting Miki to swing on a ball outside for the 3rd out.
Fujinami getting one good rip in, but just scorching one foul down the left field line. Instead, he strikes out for the 3rd time this game.
Interesting call by Nakatani-kantoku sending in #13 Takai to hit for Mizutani. He though harmlessly grounds out to 2nd.
Oonishi gets on base safely again with a single past a diving Akiyama. He's 3-3 now with a walk.
Mizumoto though flies out to right again to end the inning. Both lucky 7's go quietly.
#6 Mega comes in defensively at SS.
Takeuchi hits one to left. Yasui running back, running back????????!!!!!!!!
The umpire signals the home run as I, the announcers, and even his own teammates are in disbelief! That ball didn't seem well struck, had no carry from the wind (it's currently dead to a slight breeze out to center), and yet it carried out by a large margin!
We're douten at 1-1!!!!!
Fujinami at least not still in shock as he retires the next 2 batters. But Uchida gets his first hit on a base hit to center.
Oosawa grounds out to Mega to end the inning. But! A solo HR by top batter Takeuchi ties the game here in the 8th!
Mori with a blast to left center! Kobayashi and Takeuchi running to the wall!!
NO WAY! NO FREAKING WAY!!!!
Osaka Touin wastes no time in responding to Kendai's home run with one of their own! Mori gives Osaka Touin back the lead at 2-1!!!
Miki retires Koike for the 1st out. NOW KASAMATSU WITH A BLAST!!! Kobayashi desperately scrambling back!!! He stops!
Miki's face looks like one of resignation as Kasamatsu hits the 2nd HR this inning, giving Osaka Touin the 3-1 lead!
Aoyagi-kantoku callse time, but it doesn't help. Miki hits Yasui to put a runner on. After a foulout by Hakusui, Fujinami scorches one past a diving Uchida down the left field line for a double.
Runners on 2nd and 3rd now for Osaka Touin and it looks bad for Miki.
But Mega pops out to Uchida to end the inning. However, Osaka Touin's power finally shows themselves with 2 big HR's in the 8th!
Last ups for Kendai as the 6-7-8 batters are due up (Kanbe, Kobayashi, Akiayama).
Kanbe has reaches base all 3 times so far, can he get on one more time?
He falls behind 2-2 and starts fighting off pitches. 2, then 3, then 4 pitches fouled off. But Fujinami gets him to chase a slider for the 1st out!
Nishitani-kantoku calls for time as Kobayashi steps in. He's 1-2 on the day with a walk.
Fujinami gets ahead 1-2. Wastes a pitch away. Checks his swing, 3rd base ump calls him safe. And now he's fouling off a pitch. Ball low and he's on base!
The douten run now comes to the plate in Akiyama. But I doubt he can hit a HR, so he just needs to continue the inning. Meanwhile, #13 Saitou comes in to run for Kobayashi.
Akiyama quickly falls behind 0-2, wastes a pitch, but then hits a grounder to 2nd! Oonishi's only play is to 1st and there's 2 down!
Last chance as #13 Takasugi comes in to hit for Miki. But he hits a grounder to short. Mega with the ball, makes the throw to 1st and that's the game!
Osaka Touin advances to the championship game with a 3-1 win over Takasaki Kenkoudai Fukushi! They find a way again to respond swiftly again after Kendai stuns the crowd with a HR.
But the real key was that despite getting 9 baserunners, they did not have a stolen base this game! After perhaps Kanbe got thrown out, they were hesitant to send runners and pressure the defense. Whether Kanbe's caught stealing was the cause or Aoyagi-kantoku's belief that they couldn't steal a base against the Touin battery, the removal of their running game I believe cost them.
Yes, they got the HR, but that's not their game. And in the end Miki's two mistakes late was the difference.
So Osaka Touin got 12 hits in the game, but managed just 3 runs. But, the offense probably put a lot of stressful pitches on Miki as they had runners in scoring position in 5 of the 9 innings which led to the difference later on.
And now they advance to the finals. Fujinami with 142 pitches today, though most of them were not stressful at all. Will he start the game tomorrow or will Sawada take the hill? Nakatani-kantoku really only has that question to worry about as the offense will be fine.
Kendai Takasaki is eliminated, but their performance in the last year will have given everyone notice. Yes, they're still learning to play on the big stage, but they're close. They're darned close.