Starting with the warmer climate and heading north (because tournaments start earlier down there), Kamimura Gakuen wound up defeating Okinawa Shougaku, just. A 2-1 win followed by a 3-0 win over Kumamoto Kougyou (who is a contender to reach Koushien annually) means that they win the spring tournament, but doesn't instill confidence for the summer.
Shikoku's tournament is so small, it actually is held over one weekend. In it, Naruto dominated the first two games, even defeating mercy-ruling Kochi 7-0. But an embarrassing 6-2 loss to Meitoiku Gijyuku means that there may not be a contender here either.
In Chuugoku, the spring tournament is weird in that all prefectures get one representative except for the host, which gets 4. 4! This time around it's Tottori who is the beneficiary. Tottori Jyouhoku, who not long ago reached Senbatsu, was thoroughly white-washed by Yazu 15-5. They would defeat unknown Kurayoshi Sougou Sangyou 4-2 to be the top representative. Rounding out the 4 would be Yonago Higashi. Kanzei apparently is unable to fully reload from last fall as they stumble late, losing a 9-8 barnburner to Kurshiki Kougyou in the Okayama final. Meanwhile, Shimane would be won by Hamada, who hasn't been heard from for the good part of a decade. It helped that Iwamichisuikan and Kaisei had to face each other in the first round. Similarly in Hiroshima, Onomichi never had to face Jyosuikan or Kouryou as they too were in the same quadrant. Finally, Hayatomo may have been a one-hit wonder as they lose in their very first game. And so it was that established Yanai Gakuen and Iwakuni faced off with Yanai Gakuen earning the last spot. Chuugoku doesn't appear to have any single dominant team that could challenge in the summer.
Well, I guess Chuugoku's format isn't too weird as the same applies to the Kinki spring taikai. This year, Hyogo gets 3 bids as host. Touyoudai Himeji, who lived off low-scoring games had a relative offensive explosion averaging 4 runs a game in the prefectural bracket, defeating Houtoku Gakuen 6-2 in the final. Akashi would be the 3rd qualifier. Shiga is the only other team to complete their prefectural play, and in that final, Hieizan outscores Hikone Higashi 8-6 for the bid.
Elsewhere in Kinki, over in Kyoto 3 powerhouse teams in Fukuchiyama Seibi, Ritsumeikan and Ryuukokudai Heian all are on one side, while senbatsu representative Toba lies on the other half. Osaka Touin is dominating their brackets so far. There are other known teams in Osaka still in play, but the senbatsu champs should be poised to advance. Chiben Gakuen's stranglehold over Nara seems to be tightening as Tenri has struggled in their first two games. And with no other team able to make anything that resembles a challenge in several decades, we can in all certainty proclaim the winner. In fact, Chiben Gakuen is not only dominating Nara, but could well eclipse brother Chiben Wakayama as the better "C" team. Not to say that Chiben Wakayama is in decline, but the field is slowly catching up to them.
Overall, no new teams here either to speak of.
Moving on to the small Tokai region, only Shizuoka has not completed play. Kinkidai Tousen and Kaisei advance from Mie, Oogaki Nishi spoils the all-Gifu Shougyou party by defeating Shiritsu Gifu Shougyou, Aikoudai Meiden loses to Toyoda Kougyou as Touhou and Toyoda Nishi advance, and finally in Shizuoka, Seisei and Shizuoka square off in the final.
Traversing the Chuo Line, we head into the Hokushinetsu region. Fukui, hosting this year, receives 2 extra bids. And interestingly, all 4 bids go to relative unknown teams - Sabae, Mikata, Ono and Fujishima. Toyama is the only other prefecture to complete play, and the winner was Fujikoshi Kougyou, who edged out fan favorite Shin-Minato and then Toyama Dai-ichi for the title. Two teams from each prefecture advance, so Toyama Dai-ichi goes on anyways.
Elsewhere, Ishikawa is in their best 4 and Godzilla's Seiryou is still alive. Their next game is against Yuugakukan. Nihon Bunri is still alive in Niigata, but will have to play Chuuetsu, then either Hokuetsu or Tookamachi, and then probably Niigata Meikun in the finals - though if they get there it doesn't really matter. And in Nagano, Chikyuu Kankyou will have an uphill climb in the prefectural bracket as they drew Matsushou Gakuen in the first round. There are a lot of strong Nagano teams still remaining, so it'll be all uphill from here.
Yet overall in the region, no teams are standing out just yet.
Moving along the Chuo Line back to the 0 km mark, we hit the Kanto region. Here, Saitama gets 4 bids as host, all others get 2 - and that is irregardless of the fact that the senbatsu representatives get an automatic advance regardless of performance.
That's why when Takasaki Kenkoudai Fukushi won Gunma's prefecturals with relative ease (they gave up just 3 runs in 6 games and all in the semis and finals), Maebashi Shougyou's 3rd place win actually gave them a bid. It may also explain why perhaps Kanto Dai-ichi lost in their first game to Hachiouji Kita in the Tokyo taikai. While game experience is good, why do it if you don't have to? Especially against opponents you may see in the summer when it matters? By the way, Teikyou scored 49 runs in 5 games, yet had to survive a 16-10 final against Toukaidai Takanawadai!
In other prefectures, Mito Shougyou and Shimotsuma Dai-ni advance out of Ibaraki, Utsunomiya Kougyou and Sakushin Gakuin represent Tochigi, unknowns Nanryou and Kasukabe Higashi will represent Saitama. Over in Chiba it's an all Matsudo affair as Senshuudai Matsudo only struggled against Narashino, and Matsudo Kokusai will join them in the super-regional. And in Yamanashi, Yamanashi Gakuindai Fuzoku and Toukaidai Koufu advance.
Perhaps one team that could make a name in the summer is good ol' Yokohama Hayato. 3 years ago, they defeated Yokohama 10-9 en route to their first ever Koushien appearance. This spring, they hope they haven't blown their trumps cards early. Why do I say that? Well, take a look at their road to the spring title after 3 easy games:
- Round 4 - Rallies from down 4-1 to Keiou to tie it in the bottom of the 9th, wins 5-4 in 13.
- Quarterfinals - Down 2-1 in the bottom of the 9th to Yokohama Shoudai, scores 2 for another sayonara victory.
- Semifinals - Down 5-0 to Toukaidai Sagami after 3, they rally back to tie the game, then score the go-ahead run in the top of the 9th to win 6-5.
- Finals - Against Yokohama (yes, Yokohama), they come back from down 1-0, then 3-1, scoring 2 runs in the top of the 8th to win 4-3.
So again, the question will be, did they use up all their luck in the wrong spot? Because if they manage to repeat the feat this summer, they will certainly be talked about come the summer. Maybe not as a championship contender, but one that could make a decent run. Oddly enough, you might consider them the Hanamaki Higashi of the Kanto region. And coincidentally, Hanamaki Higashi Sasaki-kantoku's old school? Yep, Yokohama Hayato.
Tohoku hasn't started play yet, and Hokkaido just started, so there's nothing new there.
So a couple of weeks later, perhaps put Yokohama Hayato on the bottom of the notable list. If nothing else, they made one hell of a run.