Nichidai-san almost didn't even make it here. Kousei Gakuen (not to be mistaken with Kousei Gakuin) had a 1-0 lead heading into the top of the 9th, but ace Isozaki and his defense folded under pressure, relinquishing the lead with just one out to go.
And so they find themselves at Koushien once again, looking to be the first team to repeat since Komadai Tomakomai back in 2004-2005.
There are some differences though between last year's and this year's teams. The biggest one is on offense. When last year, Sanko ran circles around their opposition, batting an amazing 0.377, this year it's a more modest 0.295. What's more, the offensive production started falling off in the quarterfinals as they had the following games:
- Quarterfinals - defeated Hino 3-0
- Semifinals - defeated Souka 3-1
- Finals - defeated Kousei Gakuen 2-1
Next, ace Yoshinaga is gone as well. Wildly effective, he for the most part kept batters uncomfortable at the plate. Taking his place is Saitou Fuuta who can throw into the low 140's and as far as I know, carries just the slider in the 130's.
Now, Ogura-kantoku did go to his bullpen in the finals, going with #11 Ooba, first year #18 Kugimiya for a batter, then closed it out with #12 Ogino.
Overall, it's certainly not the dominating team from last year, but they're here so they have a chance.
The team tasked with the first attempt to bring down the champions is Seikou Gakuin. This is their 6th consecutive Fukushima victory, and were never challenged in any of their 6 games. However, the dominance in prefectural play has not necessarily translated into success at Koushien though with the exception of 2009, they have at least won one game, and reached the Best 8 twice (both times from a bracket of 4 teams).
The team batted a rather average 0.321 during this iteration, yet averaged 8 runs/game. It certainly won't translate against Sanko though, though by how much it would be reduced is anyone's guess. What is apparent though is that a lot of the offense is generated by the upper half of the lineup. So if that part is shut down, they'll really have problems on their hands.
Ace Okano is the go-to guy on the mound for Saitou-kantoku. He has used #10 Iidaka, but only on a spot start basis. Neither are fireballers, so it'll be up to the defense to play solid ball.
It doesn't need to be said again, but good luck Seikou Gakuin... you're going to need it...
Nichidai-san (Nishi Tokyo)
SS Kaneko Ryouya
C Yumoto (#13)
P Saitou Fuuta
Seikou Gakuin (Fukushima)
CF Anzai (#9)
LF Saitou Yuuki (#8)
RF Sekine (#7)
2B Honma (#14)
10:33 - First Pitch
Morii leads off the game with a blooper over Honma into center. After a sac bunt, Sanko threatens to get on the board quickly.
But Ryouya flies out to left, and while Tomioka makes good contact, he flies out to right to end the inning.
Saitou's first pitch to Anzai is a curve that he takes into center for a leadoff hit. Hirano tries the safety bunt, but just gets beaten out by Kawatsu's throw.
Saitou falls behind Nagai 3-0 and eventually walks him, bringing up cleanup batter Sonobe.
Sonobe, after getting behind in the count, works it full. Swings on a high fastball, but hits it deep enough to center to get Anzai in and Seikou Gakuin takes the 1-0 lead!
Saitou (Fuuta) struggling with his control early on here, falling behind Saitou (Yuuki) 2-0. He gets a strike and a foul to even the count and eventually getting him to fly out to right to end the inning. Quick run for Seikou, but it's a long game.
Okano features a fastball in the mid-130s with a fork in the mid-upper 120s and change in the lower 120s.
Yamanaka works the count full, but his hit to the right side is snagged by Honma who makes a great play for the out.
Seki up and he's frozen on a fastball on the outside corner! Murai follows that up with a chopper to 1st that Sonobe handles and takes to the bag to end the inning.
After using 2 pitches for 2 outs, Honma is a bit more stubborn at the plate. Still, it's a 9 pitch inning as Honma grounds out to Tomioka for the 3rd out.
Yumoto with a blast to right center, Sekine backs up near the wall and makes the catch.
Fuuta swings on the first pitch, but grounds out to short.
Morii tests Hirano with a hot shot, but he fields it cleanly to make the 3rd out. It's a quick 4-pitch inning.
Saitou Fuuta has a fastball that sits in the mid-upper 130s, and 2 off-speed pitches that sit in the mid 120s, and the high 110s-low 120s.
Anzai with a shot to 3rd, and it bounces off Kawatsu and to Ryouya! His throw is late though and Anzai's on for his 2nd time.
And he takes off for 2nd! Sekiya drops the ball and he's in with his 2nd SB! Then he goes to 3rd on Hirano's grounder to Tomioka.
Nagai though first pitch swings and flies out to center to end the inning.
Kawatsu is made to look silly on a slider way away for a K.
Ryouya gets around on a fastball inside, but is just on top of it and hits a comebacker to Okano for the 2nd out.
Okano working at close to ludicrous speed and Tomioka hits a shot at Sonobe who blocks it, then runs to the bag for the out. Since the opening base hit to Morii, Okano's retired 12 straight.
Sonobe attacks tthe first pitch from Fuuta and sends it over Kawatsu and to the wall for a leadoff double. Yuuki then tries to sac bunt, but can't and falls behind 0-2. Yuuki still shows bunt, but pulls it back and takes a ball. He pulls it back again, but hits it to short. The ball wasn't hard hit though and Ryouya has no play at 3rd, so he throws to 1st.
Kyouda with a liner to right, but Sonobe makes a baserunning error! He breaks for home then has to go back on the catch! The ball was so hard hit that Sonobe can't tag up now!
And with Sekine's foul out to end the inning, that costs Seikou Gakuin a run! Will that cost them later? Kousei Gakuen needed that extra run in the finals, and facing Sanko every run counts.
Yamanaka with a hard hit to right puts the douten runner on. Seki moves him to 2nd.
Murai gets 2nd life when he appeals a swinging 3rd strike and gets the foul ball call. It pays off as he is jammed but cues a ball back up the middle! Hirano and Honma converge on the ball, but Honma has no play! Douten run 90 feet away! That missed tag-up looks mighty costly right now!
Yumoto with the squeeze, but the ball hits off the bat again and it's called foul! Now he takes a 2nd strike and he can't bunt right?
Not yet anyways, he takes a pitch just outside. Another ball, this time in the dirt is blocked by Nagai and the count runs full. Playing with fire and he walks Yumoto!
Manrui now with Fuuta up! Okano with no room for error, especially with only a 1-run lead!
First pitch a slider over the middle for a strike. Fastball outside for a ball. I bet Fuuta's not swinging unless he has to.
Pitchout yields no squeeze and he falls behind 2-1.
Now a pitch up and in makes it 3-1. The threat of a squeeze is so much they may get a walk!
Saitou takes the pitch, but the runners are taking off!! Yamanaka is hung out to dry! He's run down for the 2nd out! And he makes his displeaure known to Fuuta.
But Okano seems to throwaway the 3-2 pitch to Fuuta walking him - even though he's the #9 batter.
So manrui one again for leadoff batter Morii.
And Okano gets him to pop it up! Sonobe in foul territory makes the catch and the side is retired! Misses by both sides in consecutive half innings cost teams a potential run! So the score remains 1-0 in favor of Seikou Gakuin.
Homna makes good contact, but it's a routine fly to Seki. Okano puts a good charge into it, but too flies out to center.
Fuuta gets Anzai to hit a comebacker and we hit the break with Seikou's run in the 1st holding up, though just. While it is a lead, it will not be a comfortable one until the last out is recorded in the 9th.
Kawatsu grounds out to 2nd, Ryouya after working the count full has to swing away and grounds to Sonobe who grabs the tricky hop and tosses to Okano for the 2nd out.
Tomioka is then fooled by Okano, swinging early and hitting a routine grounder to Sonobe who again tosses to Okano to retire the side.
Hirano first pitch hits a solid single to right center. Nagai successfully lays down the bunt to put Hirano in scoring position for Sonobe.
Sonobe with a grounder to 2nd, and Ryouya easily catches Hirano between the bases and he's run down for the 2nd out.
Yuuki then swings at the first pitch and pops it up. Tomiko just on the grass in center makes the catch for the 3rd out. Another base-running error by Seikou there.
Yamanaka with a hard hit ball the other way, but it's lined to Yuuki for the first out.
Seki with a ball into the gap on the left side, Hirano with a great stop and strong throw to first! Sonobe with the great stretch to record the out!
Murai with a drive to right center! Sekine running back, running back! At the wall!!
Makes the catch as he bumps into it! That was a close one for Okano as the side is retired in order!
Kyouda with a comebacker to Fuuta. He runs to 1st, and the ball comes out of his hand! He runs it down, but not before Yuuki reaches base! I think he accidentally hit his body with his hand and the ball came out! What a bizzare play!
Sekine tries to bunt him over but can't and the count runs to 2-2!
He attempts and makes the free bunt! The insurance run is in scoring position yet again with Honma up to bat.
Fuuta though can't find the zone and he's behind 3-0 and walks Honma on 4 straight.
That gets Ogura-kantoku moving and he's sending in #11 Ooba to relieve Fuuta on the mound.
Okano up, and Saitou-kantoku calls for the bunt, even so far as the free bunt! Okano tries, but can't lay down the bunt for the 2nd out. I guess they were trying to avoid the double play.
But still, it's 2 outs so they need a base hit or a non-out. The lineup does turn over to Anzai though.
And Kyouda takes off on the 1-1 pitch! Sekiya's throw is not in time and he has the base!
Meanwhile, Anzai stays patient at the plate and earns a walk! Manrui for Seikou!
Hirano though doesn't try to wait Fuuta out, he swings away and fouls off the first 2 pitches and is behind 0-2. Ooba take advantage with a waste pitch.
Pitch inside and Hirano just fouls it off... Fastball high and away he fouls off as well...
Ooba gets Hirano to hit a grounder to 2nd! Tomioka with the putout at 1st and Sanko is out of the pinch! Seikou Gakuin unable to get that much needed insurance run in!
Yumoto, after getting a couple of sliders wide of the plate chases a fastball on the outside corner for Okano's 3rd K.
New P Ooba watches a fastball cross over the plate for strike 3, and there's 2 down.
Top of the order and Morii hits a ball to 3rd. The ball bounces off of Kyouda, and by the time he retrieves it it's too late! That's Seikou's first error of the day and it puts the douten runner on as Kawatsu steps in.
He hits a grounder to 3rd and this time Kyouda doesn't muff it! He throws to first and the side is retired! Okano doesn't panic on the error and they're 3 outs away from sending the defending champions home!
But it woudl really, really help if they got an insurance run...
Sonobe with a drive to deep left center!!! Seki running over, running, dives...
Doesn't have it! The ball rolls away towards the wall as Sonobe breaks for 3rd! Relay throw in not in time! Sonobe in with a 1-out triple!
Replays show Seki was indeed there and had the catch, but the landing dislodged the ball!!
Yuuki connects on a high fastball and lines up the middle! Sonobe scores and Seikou Gakuin gets some much needed breating room at 2-0! Saitou-kantoku will try for another one-timer for another run as he has Kyouda free bunt and send Yuuki to 2nd.
Sekine with a base hit through the right side! Yamanaka charging in as Yuuki is sent home! The throw is on line... OUT!
Yuuki tries to sweep tag, but Sekiya swipes him first for the out! Can't fault them for trying really.
But now it's hang on time!
In kokoyakyu, the english saying "The last 3 outs are the hardes to get..."
AND BOY DOES IT APPLY!!!
Okano behind 3-1 to Ryouya gives him a fastball and he grooves it all the way off the first wall in dead center! It's 2-1!
Will the thought of defeating vaunted Sanko undermine yet another team??
Tomioka with a deep ball.. but not deep enough! Anzai with the catch for the first out.
Yamanaka to step in next. He drives one to center! But again it isn't far enough!! Anzai makes the catch for the 2nd out!
Last chance for Sanko as Ogura-kantoku sends #15 Tadokoro to the plate. He hits a liner to center!
But Anzai is there once again and secures the ball for the 3rd out! Seikou's done it!
Well, color me surprised. I mentioned earlier that Nichidai-san isn't the same team from last year, but I still thought they had the talent to make a deep run. But losing a key piece on the bat and the ball can be too much to overcome.
Nichidai-san had several opportunites to tie the game, but mental errors contributed to their loss. I'm sure Saitou Fuuta would shoulder a bit of the blame with the missed squeeze sign, and knocking the ball out of his own hand. It'll be a lot of "what might have been" for Sanko had they executed like they expect from themselves.
But Okano Yuuichirou should also be credited with pitching a great game. He kept the Sanko batters off balance for most of the game, though he did almost crack under the pressure in the 9th. They had their own mistakes, but managed to do what was necessary to win and advance. Their win will certainly be celebrated across Fukushima and perhaps the entire Tohoku region.
Sanko's loss opens up Block C to anyone who wants it. It'll certaintly be a mad scramble for the Best 8 berth.
Okano Ryuuichirou (Seikou Gakuin) - CG, ER, 4 H, 4 K, 2 BB
Sonobe Satoshi (Seikou Gakuin) - 2-3, 2B, 3B, R, RBI
Saitou Fuuta (Nichidai-san) - 6.1 IP, ER, 3 H, 2 BB
Kaneko Ryouya (Nichidai-san) - 1-4, HR