Opening ceremonies are done, and the first two teams take the field for the first game of the 94th Natsu Koushien Tournament.
On one side is Tokoha Tachibana, who were in some ways in the shadow of Tokoha Kikugawa, who in two consecutive years put Shizuoka on the map by making runs to the semifinals and finals back in 2007 and 2008. Yet in 2009 it was Tokoha Tachibana who qualified, and made it to the 3rd round before losing to Imamiya Kenta and Meihou out of Oita.
And after a year off, Tokoha Tachibana is back at Koushien once again - though not without some difficulty.
Much like their 2009 team, they are dependent on ace Miyazaki Satoshi (宮崎悟投), a 3rd year who features the traditional slider and curveball to go with his fastball. The team is offensively challenged, so Miyazaki will have to shoulder more of the load - much like Shouji did 3 years ago.
Fukui Koudai Fukui has been a better team in the prefecture, but like many other schools played second fiddle to Fukui Shougyou. This time around though, they defeated both Tsuruga Kehi and Fukui Shougyou to make their first appearance since 2004.
Ace Sugawara Shuu (菅原秀) has kept Fukui Koudai Fukui in games throughout their prefecturals, but now they're on the big stage. How he'll do here is anyone's guess.
Both offenses were pretty much average during their prefecturals, so expect the good hitter for each squad to come from the top of the order.
No clear favorite here as it appears that it is a match of a team with better pitching than offense (Tokoha Tachibana) versus a team with better offense than pitching (Fukui Koudai Fukui). It's a matter of which strength gives up first.
Personally, I'd like to see Tokoha Tachibana advance, but it's not a given here.
Fukui Koudai Fukui (Fukui)
Tokoha Tachibana (Shizuoka)
CF Shimizu Hironobu
2B Shimizu Taishi
And the ceremonial first pitch from Futaba is a bit high, but caught by the C from Ootsuchi.
10:28 - First Pitch!
And the first pitch of the 94th Natsu Koushien is a slider fouled off.
Sugano then drives a 1-1 pitch deep to center over Shimizu and off his glove at the wall! He's in with a quick double!
But Fujimura's bunt attempt dies too quickly and Kido easily throws Sugano out at 3rd! One down!
Ueda gets good contact on the ball, and Kimura can only block it as it deflects away to his right for an infield hit.
Yamashita follows that up with a seeing-eye single through the infield into left! Fujimura rounds for home and Michiba's throw will not get there in time. Fukui Koudai Fukui gets on the board quickly! 1-0!
Baba with another groundball past Kimura into left and Ueda will make the turn home as well! The throw is cut off and it's now 2-0 Fukui!
Finally, a respite for Miyazaki as Itou goes down swinging for the second out.
The calm doesn't last though as Sugahara helps his own cause with a blooper to center which scores another to give himself a 3-0 lead!
The inning finally ends for Miyazaki and Tokoha Tachibana as Yamamoto grounds out to 3rd, but it's evident early that Fukui's offense is outplaying Miyazaki's pitching to start.
Sugahara for Fukui throws pretty hard (~145 kph) and supposedly fields a slider, curve and a knuckle curve.
After a quick K, Hironobu tries a safety bunt, but is thrown out after he tries to dive into 1st.
Kido too goes down swinging and it's a good start for Fukui Koudai Fukui.
Miyazaki on the other hand has a fastball that sits in the 130's with apparently a cutter to boot.
After a shaky first inning, Miyazaki settles down, getting #9 batter Manabe to fly out, a good fielding play on a safety bunt, and a grounder to 2nd.
Cleanup batter Michiba is able to swing level on a high fastball, but lines out to right.
Masuda swings on a short knuckle curve that gets away from Manabe allowing Masuda to reach base.
Sasaki up, and he's struggling like the rest in recognizing the off-speed pitches, but is saying alive in the AB by fouling off pitching and taking when he can. He manages to fill up the count... but he can't catch up to the high fastball for the 2nd out.
Miyazaki swings on top of a curve and weakly bounces one to 3rd for the last out. Sugahara looking good, but it's more of the Tokoha batters looking pretty bad to start the game here.
Ueda collects his 2nd hit on a grounds past a diving Shimizu into center.
Yamashita with a bunt, but Kido saves it again with a quick sidearm throw to 2nd to get Ueda!
The hit parade continues however as Baba signles to right, and Miyazaki is in another pinch.
However Miyazaki gets a lazy fly to center and grounder to Kimura to end the inning.
The Tachibana batters are swining early and often looking for the fastball to drive. Taishi gets on base with a blooper downt he right field line, but after an unlucky wild pitch that hits the bat of a ducking Kimura, he grounds into the 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
Though Miyazaki gives up his first walk, he retires Sugano and Fujimura to end the inning. He's settled down nicely, but the offense needs to get going here in the 4th.
Kido finally delivers a solid 1-out base hit as he singles past the infield into left.
Once again though, the runner is wiped out as Michiba grounds into the 6-3 double play to end the inning.
Yamashita with one down lines one past a chasing Michiba to the wall of a double.
After a grounder to short, Itou gets his first hit, a ball past a diving Matsusaka and to the wall. That scores Yamashita to make it 4-0, and prompts a pitching change by Kurosawa-kantoku.
Strangely, he removes cleanup batter Michiba to insert in #10 Takahashi!
It does work as he strikes out Sugahara on 3 pitches to end the inning, but how will taking out the cleanup batter affect the offense?
Unless the offense is so bad, that he basically pulled off a double switch to put him at the "end" of the order?!
Masuda with a slow roller to Fujimura, but Ueda tries to cut in and it glances off his glove and away from both of them!
Sasaki up and he's not bunting. He lengthens the AB with a couple of foul balls, then hits a grounder in the right spot to left. Masuda on the shallow hit makes a break for 3rd! Yamamoto's throw is off-line and the gamble pays off! Just. Sasaki advances on the throw to 2nd.
Miyazaki to help his own cause quickly falls behind 0-2.
Sugahara with a ball that goes 50 feet and bounces over Manabe! Masuda scores and Tokoha Tachibana is on the board at 4-1!
Miyazaki eventually gets fooled on a curve for the 1st out.
First pitch from Sugahara is short, but Manabe blocks it.
No he doesn't! It gets past him and he doesn't know where it is! Sasaki goes home and it's now 4-2!
And now Sugahara can't find the strike zone, walking Matsusaka on 4 straight!
There appears to be trouble on the horizon now for Fukui, but Taishi goes for the bunt instead of waiting out Sugahara. His bunt is short as Manabe fires to 2nd. They just get the out as Fujimura throws to 1st for the double play! Sugahara is bailed out and as the damage is limited to 2 bad pitches and 2 runs as we head to the break.
Yamamoto is lifted here to start the 6th for #14 Oozaki who grounds out to 1st. Manabe inside-outs one, but lines out to right for the 2nd out.
Takahashi is a 3/4-throwing southpaw who throws just as fast as Miyazaki.
After collecting 2 quick out, top batter Sugano slices one to left-center. A wild pitch from Takahashi sends him to 2nd. On a full count, he doesn't get the call on the inside corner and walks Fujimura.
Ueda with a high chopper to 3rd! Matsuzaka has to hurry the throw, and it's high! Sasaki has to leave the bag and it's now manrui for Fukui as Kurosawa-kantoku calls time.
And it's not a good time for cleanup batter Yamashita to come up for Tachibana.
But he gets him swinging on a fastball outside to get out of the jam!
Oozaki stays in the game to play left. Top of the order for Tachibana, and they;ll need to make inroads against Sugahara - without depending on wild pitches.
Kimura hits a hard liner to right, but Sugano makes a small leap for the catch.
Tokoha's batters continue to swing early and often as Kido falls behind 1-2. He fouls off a couple and works the count full as he reaches the 10th pitch of the AB. But on the 11th, he can't catch up to a high fastball and the inning is over.
It's a quick lucky 7 for Fukui Koudai Fukui as Takahashi continues to keep the deficit at 2 by retiring the side in order. However 2 runs for Tokoha Tachibana seems like 5 or 6 right now.
Takahashi continues the mantra of swinging early and grounds out to 2nd on the 2nd pitch of the AB.
Masuda tries waiting on Sugahara, falls behind 1-2, works the count full, but then swings and misses on a fastball up and in for Sugahara's 7th K.
Huh, and I just noticed that Sugahara has a delivery similar to Hideki Okajima in that he doesn't appear to look when he delivers the ball.
Seems to be working as he too retires the side in order in the lucky 7th and Fukui holds on to their 4-2 lead.
Takahashi continues to dominate the Fukui batters as Oozaki can't get around on an inside fastball, Manabe weakly grouds to 2nd.
But Sugano breaks up the party as he hits a high chopper to short that prevents Kimura from making a play at 1st.
And in an inexplicable turn, Sugano breaks for 2nd while Takahashi stands there and he's easily tagged out to end the inning.
It's been a neat 92 pitches so far for Sugahara. And not Miyazaki's day is done as Kurosawa-kantoku sends in #11 Aoshima to bat for him to lead off the 8th.
Aoshima works the count full, getting to the 9th pitch of the AB... where he's caught looking on what looks like a splitter on the outside corner.
Matsuzaka becomes Sugahara's 8th strikeout victim on a knuckle curve in the dirt.
And finally Taishi hits a chopper, but not as high and more routine to Ueda for the 3rd out. Time looks to be short for the Shizuoka representatives.
Aoshima stays in the game at left.
Fujimura quickly works the count back to where it was at the end of last inning (1-2) but lines out to right. Takahashi finally retires Ueda on a fastball just on the outside corner.
Takahashi finishes out his relief effort facing 3 more than the minimum as Yamashita grounds to 2nd. He's done a stellar job in relief with good control and missing in the right places.
But it's the last 3 outs for Tokoha Tachibana as the top of the order steps in.
Kimura jumps on a ball from Sugahara, but it's right at Oozaki for the 1st out...
Hironobu though, after falling behind (and looking bad), he digs in and draws a walk. That at least puts the douten run at the plate in Kido.
Kido's looking to drive one, but whiffs on a knuckle curve. Hironobu then takes off for 2nd, but Kido swings and fouls it off when he might have had the base.
Instead Kido goes down swinging as Hironobu takes 2nd.
Now it's down to reliever Takahashi to keep the game alive.
And he does! He takes the ball the other way through the infield for a base hit! Hironobu wisely holds up at 3rd. Things become slightly more interesting as Masuda steps in.
He holds up on a curve outside to get ahead 2-1, but then chases one and fouls it off for strike 2. Down to their last strike...
And perhaps fittingly, he's fooled on a curveball and hits a grounder to short. Fujimura flips it to Baba for the final out! Fukui Koudai Fukui wins the opening game 4-2 and will advance to face Akita Shougyou!
Tokoha Tachibana made it at least compelling in the 9th, but for the most part the batters looked lost against Sugahara. If not for 2 battery mistakes they would have been shutout. However, the majority of their struggles happened in the 1st when Fukui scored on consecutive base hits. If not for that inning too, the game would definitely look much different.
As it stands though, Tokoha Tachibana becomes the first team eliminated here in the 94th version of Natsu Koushien.
Sugawara Shuu (Fukui Koudai Fukui) - CG, 2 R, 0 ER, 5 H, 10 K, 2 BB
Ueda Teppei (Fukui Koudai Fukui) - 3-5, R, K
Sugano Masashi (Fukui Koudai Fukui) - 3-5, 2B
Takahashi Haruto (Tokoha Tachibana) - 4.1 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 4 R, BB