Well, we're past the flurry of games that brought us from 49 teams to 8. And now the real test begins. Even more so given the draw that has come out.
Our first game could have easily been a semifinal game. But the draw is the draw, and both teams are in the fight of their lives.
Kousei Gakuin has been on course to yet another final. After a bit of an unimpressive 4-0 win over Yuugakukan, they bats came out to play against Kamimura Gakuen. But ace number Kanazawa lasted just 5.1 innings and as a result Jyouma had to come in relief to finish the game. Neither have shown to be a K master, so again it's up to getting not so good contact.
But to get to the finals, they will have to face the hottest pitcher right now at Koushien - Matsui Yuuki of Toukou Gakuen.
He struck out 22, then 19, and then 12 against Urasoe Shougyou. The last performance though was not the dominance we saw out of the first two games. And not just because of the K's.
Urasoe Shougyou tested Matsui. They made him throw pitches in the strike zone and rarely chased. Batters went deep into counts and either appeared to swing at pitches they were looking for or when they had to protect the plate.
It certainly had an effect. Batters started walking, getting better pitches to hit, and more importantly, kept Matsui on the mound. Because in the 9th, while they were down by a good margin, they managed to get the tying run to be plate before being retired to end the game.
Now while Urasoe lost the game, it may be Toukou Gakuen that loses the war. Because while they have advanced, they have to turn around the next day and play against Kousei Gakuin.
Kousei Gakuin (Aomori)
Toukou Gakuen (Kanagawa)
2B Suzuki Takumu
9:00 - First Pitch!
Already Ameku with a drive down the left field line! Yaamguchi right at the foul pole! No catch! It bounces down in front of the wall as Ameku is in with a leadoff double!
And it does look like they're waiting when they can. Murase was down 0-2, took an inside fastball and was rung up. Wasn't his pitch.
Unfortunately for Kousei, the plate umpire is very loose when it comes to going around. Tamura, count full, 8th pitch of the AB, looks to have checked, but the umpire calls him going around.
Furthermore, he's calling the inside strike.
So Ameku steals 3rd on the 1-1 pitch, hoping that any base hit will get him home.
Houjyou goes down on a high inside fastball though, and Matsui has struck out the side. Kousei is taking their pitches when they can, but the zone seems very liberal today. And that's not a good thing for Kousei,
Well, that's strange. #18 Sekiguchi is already in for Murase in LF.
After a routine grounder to 1st by Takumu, Ukawa works a walk. Mizukai not bunting, but not able to at least move the runner as he goes down swinging on a slow curve.
Uekusa with a comebacker to Kanazawa, goes to 2nd (thinking he needs a DP, I assume) and gets the 3rd out.
Despite the wide strike zone, Kousei is sticking to the plan. Oosugi runs the count full, but grounds out to 1st.
Jyouma attacks early on a pitch I guess he likes, but pop sup to Tanaka in foul terrirory.
Takeda gets a 4-pitch walk as Matsui has a small loss of control.
Kimura can't hold up on a slider in the dirt, tries to make a mad dash to 1st, but is just thrown out by Ukawa to retire the side.
Kanazawa at 2-2 to Yamaguchi, hits him to start the inning. Tanaka with the bunt, pops it up! Tamura right there at home for the catch, and there's 1 down!
Matsui grounds to short. Houjyou goes to 2nd for one, but Jyouma throw is high and Matsui is safe.
Now Take hits a single through the left sdie! Runners now at 1st and 2nd now for Toukou!
But Nakano pops it up. Houjyou doesn't really move and makes the catch for the 3rd out.
Kanazawa up and he tries to wait Matsui out, but he takes a fastball at the knees for strike 3.
Back to the top of the order and Ameku, and no dice this time around as he grounds to 2nd.
Sekiguchi up for his first AB, shows bunt a couple of times, but Matsui can't find the plate. 2-out walk.
Tamura up and takes a big swing at 1-0. Takes the inside strike for 0-2. But he grounds out to 2nd to end the inning.
They're trying to take pitches that's for sure, but their pitch recognition I'm not sure is as good. Plus I don't think the umpire is giving the outside corner as much as opposed to the inside corner.
Takumu leading off again here in the 3rd, gets fooled on a curve and goes down swinging. Ukawa gets jammed and grounds weakly to Oosugi.
And Mizukai swings late on a fastball and grounds to 2nd.
Houjyou continuing the trend of K's as he goes down swinging on a bad slider.
Oosugi gets a hold of a fastball, but is under it and hits a high fly to left.
And Jyouma goes down on another slider. 7 K's for Matsui through 4. It doesn't look good for Kousei as they can't even work the pitch count at all given they're swinging at bad pitches.
Huh, now the plate umpire isn't calling the "Go arounds" on strike 3 instead deferring to the base umpires.
Uekusa tries to check his swing, but is rung up but the 1st base umpire. Yamaguchi tries to check his swing, but is rung up by the 3rd base umpire.
And then Tanaka decides to forgo the checking and just gets rung up on a curve.
Kanazawa strikes out the side, but he's better not get too over-confident.
Because his offense, while they may try to tire Matsui out, are doing a worse job than Urasoe Shougyou.
Takeda displays this point, swinging on a high 2-2 fastball for the strikeout.
Kimura, behind 1-2, has to swing away and grounds to 2nd.
And Kanazawa rightly takes a slider, but this time should tip his cap as Matsui actaully puts it over the plate for strike 3.
Matsui goes down swinging on a curve, but the ball gets away from Tamura allowing him to reach base. Take puts down the sac bunt and the sensei (先制) runner is in scoring position.
And so does Nakano. So runner on 3rd, 2 out. My bet is that they're doing this to try and remove the curve from the equation. Because a wild pitch or passed ball here causes a run.
But Takumu walks away in disgust as he swings on a slider. The gamble doesn't pay off and we're at the break with an expected pitchers' duel on our hands.
Here's the question. Who will give? Will Matsui tire from going back to back? Will they stay with Kanazawa a batter too late? Will it be Jyouma who actaully gives up the run in relief?
Ameku up and he just can't hold up on the slider in the dirt.
Sekiguchi falls behind 1-2 and makes contact with a slider that just misses the dirt. But he too falls victim.
Matsui's slider is fairly easy to figure out for the most part. He'll generally bury it when the count isn't 2 strikes, and almost certainly bury it when it IS two strikes.
Tamura in one of the rare cases gets up 3-1, gets a good swing on it, but it's to right and Uekusa is there for the catch in deep right. Doesn't look like the wind is blowing in from right though to knock it down.
This was the inning Kanazawa started to fail on the mound last game.
And he starts out Ukawa falling behind 3-1. Manages to fill up the count.
OH! The plate umpire gives a VERY LOW strike to Kanazawa and Ukawa goes down looking! Wow. That was ball 4.
Mizukai with a drive to right! Ameku backing up, backing up... makes the catch near the fence for the 2nd out.
Uekusa with a grounder up the middle. Houjyou makes a great stop, turns and throws! And that's expectedly high and into the camera well! Uekusa is awarded 2nd.
Will this be when one side finally cracks?
No! Yamaguchi grounds to 2nd. Jyouma makes the play at 1st and we're still scoreless.
But the Kousei batters are starting to hit Kanazawa hard. It may be wise to preempt a possible late pull by putting in Jyouma.
Houjyou a stubborn cleanup hitter is not taking pitches and swinging away. And once again he falls behind in the count.
But he hears me typing about him and he lines a ball to left for a leadoff single. Oosugi obviously bunting despite his 0.500 average at Koushien.
On a 1-1 pitch he offers at a slider. What he should've noticed is that prior to that pitch, Matsui had thrown to 1st and Oosugi had dropped his bat as if to bunt. So they knew he was going to offer.
Anways, 1-2 and he has to swing away. Well, he doesn't "have" to, but still.
And Oosugi just reaches out, puts the bat on the slider and pokes it over Nakano into left for a base hit! Two on and no out for Jyouma!
He's for sure bunting, but he fouls it off at 1-2! Now what? Well, Nakai-kantoku sends a message to Jyouma.
It's a hit and run! But Jyouma chases a high fastball for strike 3! Ukawa goes to 3rd and they gun down Houjyou!
Oh, that's a bad gamble on Nakai-kantoku's part. If you can't even hit the ball half the time, what makes you think a hit-and-run is a good thing? Especially to 3rd??!! Yes, you're trying for the 1 run, but that's a bad percentage play against Matsui.
Well, Oosugi advances to 2nd so there is still a runner in scoring position, but there's 2 outs. Takeda stepping in.
He falls behind, but manages to work the count full. At this point, just continue the inning.
But he falls to a fastball on the outside corner for strike 3. Matsui gets out of the jam, but that's more in thanks to the Kousei Gakuin kantoku more than anything else.
Now Kousei has to be careful. Momentum is on their side, and Kanazawa looked a bit more hittable in the 6th.
Tanaka swinging early, grounds to 3rd. Matsui hits the ball very hard, but it's a grounder to short. And Take hits a comebacker to Kanazawa, who goes to 1st to retire the side.
Kimura not doing too much with the slider, and takes it back up the middle for a base hit. Matsui didn't quite bury that, but the count was full so he couldn't be too obvious with it.
Kanazawa trying to lay down the bunt, pops it off foul! Nakai-kantoku with some instructions for Kanzawa, and he lays it down the next pitch.
Now it's Noro-kantoku with a conference on the mound as we're back to the top of the lineup and Ameku.
I don't think they're going to give him much to hit, but the first pitch is not far out enough and Ameku fouls it down the left field line!
After another outside pitch for a ball, they do go after him with a slider inside! Ameku swings and misses for strike 2. Matsui buries one, but Ameku doesn't bite. 2-2. Slider outside, misses the corner, full count.
Fastball down and away and Ameku walks! Ukawa goes to the mound as Sekiguchi steps in. He's not one to shy away from a walk.
But he's showing bunt?
No, he pulls back but hits it foul away from the 3rd base side.
He does the same at 0-2 and grounds to 2nd. Take goes to 2nd for one, but the throw is a bit off. Takumu decides to not go for 2.
So there's 2 down with runners at the corners for Tamura, who just has been lost for the most part at the plate.
Ball hit to the left side! There's no one in view! It's through to left! Kimura comes in to score and Kousei Gakuin has broken through here in the 8th! 1-0!!!
Houjyou with a drive to left center!! The outfield is in and has to run back! It's in the gap! Sekiguchi scores!! Tamura all the way from 1st... he scores!!
Matsui leaves a slider up in the zone and Houjyou knows what to do with it! Matsui can only look up with a sigh as Houjyou gives Kousei the 3-0 lead!
Oosugi goes down swinging to end the inning, but it is Matsui who gives in first!
And now they have just 6 outs to try and mount a comeback.
Nakano with a liner to left. Sekiguchi running in, makes the catch.
Takumu with the bunt. Kanazawa with a late start off the mound! Throw to 1st... beats a diving Takumu!
I suppose most teams will never learn...
Ukawa chases after a curve and rolls a chopper to 3rd to retire the side.
All Matsui can do is to try and preserve the deficit and give his team a chance.
Two balls to Jyouma to start, but the body language is starting to look like someone running out of gas.
Jyouma with a ball down the 3rd base line, Nakano makes a great backhanded stop at the line and makes a strong throw to 1st to get the out.
Takeda also makes contact, hits the ball to the left side. Nakano fields that one too and throws to 1st for the out.
And Kimura goes down swinging for Matsui's 15th K.
But right now the more important thing is that there's a 0 for Toukou Gakuen, and a 3 for Kousei Gakuin.
The 3-4-5 batters are due up for Toukou.
Mizukai with a grounder to 3rd. Oosugi fumbles with the ball on the bag, makes an ill-advised throw to 1st that flies over everyone! Mizukai advances to 2nd.
Time for Kousei as Nakai-kantoku calls time.
Uekusa with a drive to left! Sekiguchi running to his left, goes back... and makes the catch! Just not far enough for Uekusa!
Yamaguchi up for Toukou.
HE CRUSHES ONE!
But it's on a liner right to Ameku for the 2nd out!
Kanazawa clearly approaching his last legs as Tanaka steps in. Nakai-kantoku better be careful.
Whoo... fastball on the outside part gets called for a strike. 2-2 to Tanaka. Curve on the corner, no go! Full count!
Slider fouled off...
Tanaka goes down swinging as Matsui can only watch from the batters circle!
And aw man, Matsui is really taking this hard.
Matsui unfortunately is like the first iteration of Shimabukuro where he just wasn't able to fulfill what he wanted to do, despite striking out 22-19-12-15 for 68 batters.
He's just a 2nd year, but he's really distraught. Because there's never a guarantee that you'll be able to return, especially from a prefecture like Kanagawa.
He put the team on his back for so long, for him and for his seniors, but just couldn't go 9 more innings.
But while he couldn't carry his team to victory, he helped make a mark at Koushien and his team, and especially this game will not be forgotten.
It just so happened that perhaps they tried to get in the way of a finals matchup that may be destined to be.
For Kousei Gakuin, they were able to successfully wear down Matsui and score right at the end. Their timely hitting was just enough to pull off the victory. It's well earned, and they get a day off before the semifinal match.
Kanazawa Yuuki (Kousei Gakuin) - CG, 0 ER, 3 H, 9 K, BB, HBP
Houjyou Fumiya (Kousei Gakuin) - 2-4, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 K
Matsui Yuuki (Toukou Gakuen) - CG, 3 ER, 6 H, 15 K, 3 BB