For Sakushin Gakuin, this is getting personal. They're one step away from a 2nd consecutive Best 4, and now with the draw, one step away from facing Kousei Gakuin - again.
Talk about story lines. What were the odds that going into the Natsu Koushien qualifying, we would have the possibility of a rematch of last year's semifinal AND a rematch of last spring's final??!!
But first thing's first, they have to get past Toukaidai Koufu to do so.
Toukaidai Koufu is a rather bizarre team. None of their games so far has gone longer then 100 minutes.
That's right. Longer. Don't believe me?
- Round 1 vs. Seiritsu Gakuen - 86 minutes
- Round 2 vs. Ryuukokudai Heian - 98 minutes
- Round 3 vs. Ube Koujyou - 95 minutes
But all 3?!
It can't be a coincidence. But what would be the reasoning behind it?
Well, I mentioned a theory last game, but I think it has to do with throwing off the opponent.
By running a faster paced game, and committing no errors in doing so, it might make the opposing team play faster (swing at pitches earlier in the count, rush plays on the field, etc.). And that in turn could cause errors or lapses of judgement. Which could lead to runs, and a win. And since their pitching is used to the tempo and used to getting contact, it only quickens the pace.
And that's pretty much what they've done. Win - to the tune of 3-0, 4-2 and 3-2.
So, how does Sakushin Gakuin counteract that?
Well, if at any point they're feeling rushed on the mound, take extra time between pitches. If it's while they're batting, call for time more often to slow it down.
Because the team seems like they can hit, though pushing them in for runs at times can be an issue. And the pair of Tsutsui and Mizunuma don't really strike out or walk anybody either. Which means they depend on pitch selection and location, and rushing that can only lead to disaster.
The key to the game may the time of the game. If it's another sub-100 minute game, the odds may in fact lie with Toukaidai Koufu. If it goes above 100 minutes and is a more normal length, Sakushin may have the advantage.
Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi)
SS Ishii Kazushige
CF Tsuruta (#7)
1B Yamashita (#13)
LF Yoshida (#16)
P Tsutsui (#10)
Toukaidai Koufu (Yamanashi)
CF Saitou Keisuke
C Ishii Shinjirou
RF Tanaka (#15)
9:00 - First Pitch
One down, and Tsuruta laces one back up the middle over Kanbara's glove for a base hit.
And now Kanbara walks Shinohara! Chance early for Sakushin!
But Kanbara gets Takayama to bite on a slider down and away for the 2nd out. And Yamashita lines out to Takashima for the 3rd out.
One down and Keisuke drives one to right! Shinohara running it down, but it lands at the base of the wall! Keisuke's in with a double!
Yamamoto lays down the bunt, and Tsutsui and Takashima converge late! But they're letting it go as it looks to be going foul, still fair, still fair... and it barely goes foul! Break for Sakushin!
Or is it??!!
Yamamoto drives the next pitch to center! Tsutruta running back, but he has no chance! It takes a bounce before hitting the wall! Keisuke scores easily as Yamamoto slides ahead of the throw for a triple! 1-0 Toukaidai!
Chance now to extend it to 2 runs with cleanup hitter Shinjirou up. But he pops it up! Yamashita there for the 2nd out.
And Tsutsui gets out of the inning with minimal damage as Akiya grounds out to 2nd to end the inning.
But still Toukaidai Koufu takes the lead!
Kanbara is going a bit slower than in prior games, but the Sakushin batters are somewhat complying with the pace.
Yoshida runs the count 2-2 before being frozen on a curve. Takashima and Yamanashi quickly ground out for a 1-2-3 inning.
Toukaidai's batters are working with what they're given. Aihara takes another outside pitch the other way deep and over the defense again to center-right-center (That's like NNE, in compass terms, I think).
Tanaka bunts him over for Kanbara.
It's not a sac bunt, but a hit-and-run with a runner on 3rd??!!
Kanbara makes contact and grounds to short. Kazushige's only play is to 1st and Toukaidai takes a 2-0 lead!
And now Shinkai pulls a line shot to left for a single, and it's obvious that Tsutsui is in a lot of trouble.
Yet #18 Mizumoto who has been warming up, nor #1 Ootani (whom we actually see out for the first time! and is warming up) is being put in.
Watanabe with a line shot right at 3rd! Takashima can't field it! It goes out of his glove and goes up the 3rd base line!! All safe!
Kobari-kantoku calling time as the game is teetering at this point given the error just now and how hard the Toukaidai batters are hitting the ball.
Tsutsui behind Keisuke 3-1, and walks him! Manrui now for Yamamoto! Will they change pitchers now?
Doesn't look like it.
But Tsutsui gets out of the jam as Yamamoto hits an easy comebacker to him for the 3rd out. But Toukaidai has added to their lead.
#3 Wakui in to hit for Tsutsui. Looks like they wanted to get a PH in there since they were going to replace him anyways, but that's a big gamble in the bottom of the 2nd.
Wakui goes down swinging though for the first out.
Back to the top of the order and Kazushige and he grounds out to short.
Kanbara back to his quick tempo working the count full on Tsuruta before throwing a ball 55 feet for ball 4.
And Tsuruta takes off for 2nd! Throw from Shinjirou is high, but Watanabe has time to come down and make the tag for the out! 3 outs!
Well, ace Ootani may have been out there, but it's Mizunuma pressed into early service here in the 3rd.
And Mizunuma immediately shuts the door, getting groundouts from Shinjirou and Aihara sandwiched around a foulout from Akiya for a 1-2-3 inning!
Shinohara with a grounder past Watanabe into center for a base hit!
Takayama follows that up with a ball on the opposite side of 2nd for another base hit! Runners at 1st and 2nd for Sakushin to start the 4th!
Yamashita showing bunt, but takes to up 3-1. And still up on the count, Kobari-kantoku has him bunt, which he does successfully.
So it's up to Yoshida and Takashima at the least to drive the runners in.
Yoshida reaches out for a ball way outside! Up the 3rd base line... FAIR! Aihara dives, but can't reach the ball as it goes up the left field line! Shinohara scores! Takayama being waved around... he scores! Yoshida with an bailout swing keeps it fair, and more importantly ties the game! It's 2-2!!
Takashima grounds to 2nd, advancing Yoshida 90 feet.
Yamanashi goes down looking to end the inning, but Sakushin Gakuin has gotten the runs back and we have a new ballgame!
Tanaka with a blooper to shallow right, and it falls in between Yamanashi and Shinohara for a base hit! Kanbara bunts him along looking to get the lead back.
Comebacker to Mizunuma! He turns to 2nd and has Tanaka caught in between! He's run down 1-5-6 and there's 2 outs!
Mizunuma gets Watanabe to ground to short to end the inning and Mizunuma continues to put up 0's!
Mizunuma looking to help his own cause lines one into center for a base hit!
Kazushige not bunting as "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" is being played in the Sakushin oen-dan. He goes down 0-2 and flies to right.
Tsuruta grounds to 1st. Akiya tries the 3-6-1 double play, but can't turn the back half of it.
Shinohara goes full on Kanbara and singles the other way to keep the inning going for Takayama.
After going down 0-1, Kobari-kantoku passes a message to Takayama.
Takayama with a soft liner up the middle! Shinkai is there, but bobbles the ball! Everyone is safe!
Wait! Watanabe backing up, fires to 3rd and Tsuruta over ran the base! He gives up as he's tagged out to end the inning! What a baserunning blunder!
Keisuke with the first real hard hit against Mizunuma, pulling a ball through the gap in right for a leadoff single.
Yamamoto lays down the bunt, but Takashima is crashing in and throws to 2nd to get the lead runner!
Shinjirou gets his hands around an inside fastball and singles to left! Chance for Toukaidai!
Akiya too just gets his hands around one, and puts one just over a turned around Yamanashi into right! Runners had to wait on the fly so it's manrui for Aihara.
Shot to 3rd! Takashima has it pop out of his glove! Kazushige fields it and makes the play at 1st, but Yamamoto scores to make it 3-2!
Tanaka with another hard ball to the left side! Takashima dives but can't come up with it! Shinjirou scores to make it 4-2!!
Kanbara grounds to short to end the inning, but right before the break they retake the 2-run lead!
One down and Yoshida tries to jump start the offense with a blooper over Shinkai into right.
But he can't hit for others as Takashima chases a slider, and Yamanashi grounds to 2nd to quickly end the 6th
Defensive change as #14 Asano comes in for Takashima.
Shinkai with a drive to left-center! Again it's over the defence and one bounds to the wall! He in with a double!
Watanabe with a great bunt down the 3rd base line. Mizunuma sliding with his feet near the base line, makes a great throw for the out. But Toukaidai threatens again.
Keisuke with a single to right! He's 4-4 as now Toukaidai leads 5-2!
Yamamoto with a grounder to short, but Kazushige can't quite backhand it and everyone's safe!
The Toukaidai batters seem to be masters of getting around an inside pitch because Shinjirou hits one off the label and still manages to hit one over Asano into left!
Manrui for Akiya! Chopper to the left side! Mizunuma can't get to it! Kazushige does and fires home, and gets the out. 2 down.
Aihara flies out to left, but Toukaidai Koufu is threatening to pull away once again!
Mizunuma with his 2nd base hit, a bounder past a diving Watanabe.
But he's replaced at fist by Kazushige when he grounds to short.
Wild pitch from Kanbara sends Kazushige to 2nd. Tsuruta turns on a fastball and singles through to right. Kazushige advances to 3rd.
Shinohara doesn very little with the outside pitch, othere than shoot it through to left, plating Kazushige and making to 5-3.
Takayama with a ball just out of the reach of Aihara into left! Tsuruta rounds 3rd and the throw is taken up the line by Shinjirou! It's 5-4!!
#10 Honda warms up.
Yamashita though contiues to be shutout on the day as he flies to right.
But that brinds up Yoshida who had that 2-run double earlier. He swings on the first pitch though and grounds to 2nd! Shinkai retires him at 1st and Toukaidai Koufu holds the lead!
Oh! Here's a surprise! Ace Ootani enter the game and take the hill!
Tanaka lines one past Kazushige into center! Leadoff runner on for Toukaidai!
Kanbara lays down the bunt. Yamashita fields it, goes to 2nd, but throws it away! Tanaka advances to 3rd and Sakushin Gakuin is in a lot of trouble!
Shinkai with another blooper that finds its way to the outfield for a base hit! Tanaka scores to make it 6-4!
Watanabe with a ball to center, but Tsuruta is there for the catch. Runners hold.
Keisuke is finally retired as Ootani strikes him out. And he finally gets out of the pinch as Yamamoto grounds out to 2nd.
Once again though Sakushin Gakuin finds themselves 2 behind with 2 innings to go.
One down, grounder to short by Yamanashi. Watanabe one hops the throw and Akiya can't make the pick.
Ootani looks like he gives one a ride, but it's right to Tanaka for out #2.
And Kazushige can only hit a weak comebacker to Kanbara to end the inning.
Shunjirou with a drive to left! Yoshida doesn't even move!
Shinjirou almost seals Toukaidai's spot in the Best 4 with a leadoff homerun here in the bottom of the 8th! 7-4!
One down and Aihara hits a shallow fly to center. Everyone converges, but no one take initiative to get it and it falls in.
Two down and Kanbara drives one to deep center! Tsuruta running back, dives, but can't get it! It bounces off the wall as Kanbara has an RBI triple to make it 8-4.
Shinkai strikes out to end the inning, but the book is almost closed on Sakushin Gakuin.
Shinohara gets a one out single to right center, his 4th on the day.
But Takayama grounds into the 1-4-3 double play and the game is over!
Well, what do you know. The game goes a "pedestrian" 127 minutes and Toukaidai Koufu advances to the Best 4!
That was unexpected. This game, they didn't go their quick, frenetic pace, and put an 8 spot against last year's semifinalists. I don't know what to chalk this one up to.
But it was clear early that Sakushin Gakuin was in trouble early as starter Tsutsui was being hard hit. Things never improved as they had to play catchup the entire game and eventually fell too far behind. The stage seemed to be all set for a rematch, but unfortunately Tokaidai Koufu got in the way.
As for Toukaidai Koufu, they seemed to prove they could play a "regular" game as well with this performance. Perhaps they didn't want to exert too much energy with the pace knowing full well they'd have a game tomorrow. But hat will be the case going forward anyways.
But ti was a dominating performance by the team from Yamanashi. They reach the semifinals for the 3rd time in school history, and will look to reach the finals for the first time if the can defeat Kousei Gakuin.
Ishii Shinjirou (Toukaidai Koufu) - 3-5, HR, 2 R, RBI
Saitou Keisuke (Toukaidai Koufu)- 3-4, 2B, R, RBI, K
Tanaka Ryuuta (Toukaidai Koufu) - 3-4, R, RBI
Shinohara Yuuta (Sakushin Gakuin) - 4-4, R, RBI, BB
Takayama Ryousuke (Sakushin Gakuin) - 3-5, R, RBI, K
Yoshida Koudai (Sakushin Gakuin)- 2-4, 2B, K