With Koushien now in full swing, we've wound up with almost all competitive games (sorry Kitsuki). There were so many "average" teams in the field that we'd either get close games or blowouts, and I'm glad it's the former. Here's to hoping we get more.
Opening day 4 is a clash of bordering prefectures. Going into the Gunma taikai, it was expected that Takasaki Kenkoudai Fukushi would win the bid and perhaps challenge for the Natsu Koushien title. But much like Hanamaki Higashi, they stumbled in the prefecturals, opening the door for everyone else.
Takasaki Shougyou was the team to take advantage, dodging all the other tough competition to make their first trip to Natsu Koushien in 22 years!
The issue though for them is that in their final 4 games, they won by the following margins: 2-0, 2-1, 1-0 and 2-0. That's great and all that they won low-scoring affairs, but the stage will be quite different at Koushien. A 0.256 average in those 4 games means that they certainly struggle to score even a single run. So ace Seki will have to be just about perfect if Takasaki Shougyou is to make a run for the title. And since he doesn't have the hammer like Toukou Gakuen's Matsui-kun, it'll make the task that much harder.
Their draw pits them against the representative to the south, Urawa Gakuin out of Saitama.
As mentioned in an earlier post, Saitama has struggled to have any success at Koushien for some unknown reason (though my speculation is a talent drain to other areas). In fact, the last time a team reached the Best 8 was Seibou Gakuen back in 2003, and the last time a team reached the finals was Kasukabe Kyouei 10 years before that. With that type of pattern, next year's representative should do well!
I kid though, let's focus on Urawa Gakuin.
Their road to the title included wins over Hanasaki Tokuharu and then the aforementioned Seibou Gakuen in the finals. During the final 3-game stretch, which included a win against Shiritsu Kawaguchi, the team batted a respectable 0.290 though they didn't even average 3 runs/game during the same time period. So they're pretty much in the same boat as Takasaki Shougyou in that Mori-kantoku will have to rely on ace Satou and to a lesser extent #10 Yamaguchi - both of whom are not strikeout pitchers either.
There's a good possibility we could see a 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 game. It's also possible we could see a 0-0 or 1-1 game as well. Just don't expect to see a lot of scoring.
Urawa Gakuin (Saitama)
Takasaki Shougyou (Gunma)
9:00 - First Pitch!
One down and a grounder from Rinzaki eats up Kawaura and the ball deflects towards center!
But he makes a bad baserunning decision as he takes off Satou lines out to right and is doubled off to end the inning!
Uchida with a grounder to the left side, Takemura runs it down, but his throw can't beat out a diving Uchida!
After a sac bunt, Takashou is threatening!
But Ishida is jammed an pops out to Midorikawa.
Morozumi with a hard liner, but it's snagged by Akashi to end the inning!
One down and Sasegawa hits a ball through the left side and splits the outfielders! He thinks about going for 3 until the throw comes in which then he puts on the brakes and goes back.
Nishioka can't get a Sasegawa home as he flies to right.
But the Takasaki battery helps him out! Seki uncorks a high one and Sasegawa moves to 3rd.
Akashi returns the favor, swinging on a high ball and flying out to right to end the inning.
According to the announcers, Satou carries the expected slider and curve, plus a cutter and a 2-seam fastball to go with his regular fastball (low 130's).
Nakajima lines the first pitch back up the middle for a leadoff single! Takahashi lays down the bunt, and while Satou takes a look at 2nd, he goes the force at 1st.
Kawaura is jammed on a two-seamer and pops out to 1st, while Seki first pitch swings and hits one back to Satou to end the inning.
Seki throws fairly slow. His fastball is in the mid-upper 120s, with a slider around 120, change in the low 110s and curve in the 100s.
Takada connects on a hanging curve and drives it to right center! Uchida sprinting back, reaches out and makes the running grab! Great catch!
Takemura takes another curve and lines it past Kawaura into center for a single.
After a couple of close calls at 1st, Takemura takes off for 2nd and just beats the throw from Nakayama!
And now he tried sprinting for 3rd? Rinzaki fouls the ball off, but that's some balls man.
Full count and Rinzaki swings on an inside pitch, rolling it to 1st. Morozumi with the easy play at 1st and Seki is out of the pinch.
One down, and Tomizawa hits one past Takemura into left center! Nishioka a little slow getting the ball in and Tomizawa takes the opportunity and goes to 2nd!
Ishida reaches down and pokes the ball over the infield into left! Tomizawa holds up at 3rd and Takashou has a great scoring opportunity!
Satou really slowing the game down with several 1st-3rd fakes. This gives me time to note that Satou throws in the low 130s, and likes to throw his slow curve in the 90s, with a change in the 100s.
Morozumi swings at a change and hits a grounder to short! Takemura starts the 6-4-3 double play to get Satou out of the pinch!
Satou leads off the inning with a liner into right for a single! Yamane tries to bunt, but after popping it foul, hits a ball through the right side! 2 on and no out!
But Sasagawa swings on the first pitch and hits a huge pop fly! Infield fly is called as Kawaura makes the catch. No bunt?
Nishioka with a line shot, but it's right at Ishida! He fires to 2nd where Kawaura tags the bag for the double play! As quickly as the chance developed, it vanished just as quickly!
One thing about Satou, he's not afraid to pitch inside. He gets a weak comebacker from Nakayama, and a pop up from Nakajima. Takahashi manages to get around one and single to right.
And while he walks Kawaura, he's either missing low, or it was a planned pitch (high fastball).
Last batter Seki makes contact, but right at Midorikawa for the 3rd out.
Akashi works the count full, then takes a letter high fastball and takes it just fair past the 3rd base bag into left. Nakajima gets to it quickly to limit him to a single. Still, Takada is able to trade the out for 90 feet.
Boy, there are some baserunning gaffes or chances being made I didn't think I'd see. Akashi tries taking 3rd on a possible hit and run, but Midorikawa misses and Nakayama throws him out by a wide margin.
Midorikawa then hits a grounder to 2nd, and it goes Kawaura's there but it ducks under his glove into right!
And now Midorikawa tries to steal 2nd. He's thrown out by Nakayama to end the inning!
I think at least Mori-kantoku knows that 1 run can win this, but that's desperate running if you ask me...
Back to Uchida at the top of the order. He strikes out on a change outside for the first out. Tomizawa gets under an offering and flies out to left. Ishida just gets under one and hits a routine fly to center.
So as expected, some hits, some opportunities, and no score as we head to the break!
Takemura is plunked after trying to duck a slow curve from Seki. He's promptly moved to 2nd by Rinzaki.
Satou is really careful with Satou and walks him on 4 straight (it wasn't one of those unintentional intentional walk deals).
Wow... That is some real big balls there. On the first pitch to Yamane, Takemura takes off for - and successfully steals - 3rd!!! He may have been 5-5 during the prefecturals, but that's one heck of a gamble there.
And now Yamane with a fly to center! Uchida under it, makes the catch as Takemura takes off! The throw is offline and Takemura breaks the deadlock right after the break and Urawa Gakiun leads 1-0!
Sasagawa with a drive down the left field line! Nakajima running back to the wall, looking up!!!
Sasagawa whips around a fastball and drives it out for a 2-run HR! Just like that Urawa Gakuin leads 3-0!!
Nishioka pops out to end the inning, but not before Urawa puts a big "3" on the board!
It's a quick 1-2-3 inning for Satou as he gets 3 straight groundouts in 6 pitches. Takasaki Shougyou will be hard pressed to get 3 runs now I think.
One down, Takada draws a walk. Midorikawa lays down a bunt, but when Ishida picks it up, he has no play! I don't know if it was going foul, but if he knew he had no play, no harm in letting it go to see if it goes foul.
Seki though retires Takemura with a pop fly to left, then Rinzaki to right and the inning is over.
But now his offense needs to make some hay.
Finally, Kawaura takes one back up the middle for a one-out single. And on a bunt attempt, the ball gets by Rinzaki and Kawaura takes 2nd!
But Seki goes down swinging for the 2nd out. Uchida up and they really need at least 1 run here.
AH!! After getting ahead 1-2, Satou plunks Uchida! The inning continues with Tomizawa at the plate.
But he swings and pops it up! Yamane camps under it for the 3rd out, and Takashou is denied here in the lucky 7!
Satou first pitch ropes a single to right. Cleanup batter Yamane bunts him along.
They pitch to Sasagawa and he drives a ball to deep center! Uchida running back... still running... really??!!
It's off the base of the wall! Sasagawa in with a stand-up double as Satou scores making it a 4-0 ballgame!
Now Seki walks Nishoka on 4 straight, and that gets Tomioka-kantoku to make a double-switch. #11 Tachibana comes in the game in Tomizawa's spot in the lineup. Uchida moves from CF to RF, Nakajima moves from LF to CF and Seki goes to LF.
Akashi up and Tachibana catches Sasagawa napping at 2nd. He's run down, but stalls enough to get Nishioka to replace him at 2nd.
But after getting that pickoff out, he replaces the runners by hitting Akashi.
Eventually, Tachibana gets Takada to pop out to short to end the inning, but the gap widens tremendously with that 4th run.
Ishida can't get around a change inside and strikes out to start the inning. Morozumi and Nakayama are quickly retired and it looks like Takasaki Shougyou may be starting to accept their fate.
After getting ahead 1-2, Tachibana loses Midorikawa to a walk. Takemura slightly pops his bunt up, but it falls in fine and gets the job done.
Rinzaki with a base hit to center! Midorikawa easily scores on the play as the throw is high. 5-0.
And a passed ball by Nakayama allows Rinzaki to head to 3rd. That proves costly as Satou his a sac fly that easily scores Rinzaki to head home, making it 6-0.
Yamane grounds to short to end the, oh boy.
Morozumi for some reason can't field the routine throw and Yamane is safe.
Eventually no harm is done as Sasagawa flies out to right to end the inning. But if it wasn't certain before, a 6-0 should be sufficient to advance.
After a first pitch ground out, Takahashi singles past Midorikawa into center.
Kawaura hits a slow grounder to short, Takemura tries for the DP, but gets the lead runner.
Last chance for Takashou as #17 Taguchi hits for Seki.
And Taguchi grounds to 2nd. Midorikawa flips to Yamane for the 3rd out, and that's the ballgame!
Urawa Gakuin wins going away in the border war 6-0 over Takasaki Shougyou. The game was close through the first 5, but an inning full of missteps by Seki give Urawa Gakuin a commanding 3-0 lead that they would not relinquish. After that, it just went downhill.
Still, Takasaki Shougyou played a good ball game, and should be proud of their efforts in getting here, even if it didn't result in a victory.
Meanwhile, Urawa Gakuin will have to regroup quickly. Another border war may very well be on the horizon as Nichidai-san lurks in waiting.
Satou Takuya (Urawa Gakuin) - CG, 0 ER, 7 H, 3 K, 2 BB
Satou Takuya (Urawa Gakuin) -2-3, 2 R, RBI, BB
Sasagawa Kouhei (Urawa Gakuin) - 3-5, 2B, HR, R, 3 RBI
Takemura Haruki (Urawa Gakuin) - 1-3, R, HBP, K, 2 SB
Takahashi Yuuki (Takasaki Shougyou) - 2-3
Tomizawa Kouhei (Takasaki Shougyou) 1-2, 2B