With Osaka Touin's win of Senbatsu, it would make them the favorites for Natsu Koushien. Indeed, they were without cleanup hitter Tabata after the 1st game, still put up huge offensive numbers and Fujinami did a more than adequate job on the mound.
However, next time around it'll be in the summer where it's much warmer, more games will be played, and Fujinami's stamina will be tested. Sawada appeared to be a servicable reliever, but I bet he'll have to be called upon more if they are to win it all.
Kousei Gakuin has played bridesmaid the last two tournaments. They can win the games they're supposed to, but when push comes to shove, they falter against the bigger names of Nichidai-san and Osaka Touin. This summer may be their best chance to win it all as I'm sure they're not satisfied with finishing 2nd twice.
Takasaki Kenkoudai Fukushi showed off their speed early and often, putting defenses back on their heels. However, against Osaka Touin they completely shut down their running efforts. Whether they were spooked by being thrown out or if was another reason, running is their game. If you're going to go down, go down doing what you do best. If they can stick to that, I think they can make another deep run.
Aikoudai Meiden, who appeared to be one of the stronger teams in the nation, has only lost two games in major tournament play - and both to Kousei Gakuin. This time around, it was on a gamble dive by the CF that resulted in an inside-the-park 3-run HR. The team feels solid as a whole, but suffering 2 losses to Kousei Gakuin means that they're not quite at the top of the list. That or they just need to avoid them this time in the summer.
Outside of these 3, none of the others really made a strong case to be considered a title contender in the summer.
So what we're left with is to look at spring tournaments and perhaps identify teams that may be on the come for the summer. Note though that the spring tournaments do not qualify teams for anything that I know of and are just to get the teams more experience.
Only Kyushu is actually in super-regional play at this time. However, none of Kyushu's representatives made it out of the 2nd round at Senbatsu, and it appears from looking at the bracket that the champion this year may not come from this region.
Kamimura Gakuen is in the Best 4, but an opening round comeback to defeat Kurume Shougyou 3-2 highlights the weaknesses in Kyushu. In fact, their opponent in the semis - Okinawa Shougaku may prove to be a better candidate.
Shikoku has their 8 representatives for the super-regionals, and not surprisingly Naruto is back in the field, as well as mainstays Meitoku Gijyuku and Kochi. Ehime and Kagawa have 2nd tier teams representing them, so there's not much to see here. And in fact, despite their run a couple of decades ago, Shikoku has not performed as well in recent years.
All other regions are still in prefectural play, though some prefectures are further along.
In Tokyo, Kanto Dai-ichi was eliminated in the first game, so no continued dominance. Instead, the best 4 in the spring includes Teikyou, Nichidai Tsurugaoka, Toua Gakuen and Toukaidai Takanawadai. Teikyou of course has bashed their way through the field.
And in Gifu, they too are in the Best 4. As expected, Kenritsu and Shiritsu Gifu Shougyou are both present, along with Oogaki Nishi and Gifu Jyouhoku.
That's it for now. As the fall tournaments continue, I'll try and identify other teams that we might see in the summer.