All right, we're approaching the end of the calendar year, and it's about time I started handicapping the projected field for the 85th Senbatsu.
北照 - Hokushou (Hokkaido, Otaru-shi) - 5th overall, 2nd consecutive - B-
Hokushou reaches Senbatsu for yet another time. But there was no dominance throughout the prefecturals, and barely got by some of the stronger teams in the prefecture.
A hard fought 5-3 win over Sapporo Nichidai, they almost let a 7-1 lead over Engaru slip away in the semifinals, then battled with the resurging Komadai Tomakomai, barely taking the title 7-5.
Oogushi Kazuya (大串 和弥), who lead the team at Senbatsu last year, does the same again this year. Thanks to the new video, his fastball according to the Meiji Jingu gun has reached the 130 mark, but the slider and curve still sit in the 110s and 100s respectively - which leads to a lot of contact, a lot of pulled balls, and a K every 3 innings.
Hokushou has done good to reach their 2nd straight Senbatsu, but that's
all they will get. Teams from Hokkaido do not generally fare well, and
Hokushou looks like a team that is weaker then the average entrant.
仙台育英 - Sendai Ikuei (Tohoku, Miyagi, Sendai-shi) - 10th appearance, 1st in 6 years - A-
Sendai Ikuei not only won the Tohoku Super-Regional, but the Meiji Jingu tournament - giving their area 4 teams to Senbatsu this year. And they have some unfinished business to attend to.
Last summer, in the block final, they fell to Sakushin Gakuin 3-2.
They've changed tacks, and this time around there is easily one word to describe Sendai Ikuei - offense.
In their 11 games this fall, they have outscored their opponents 88-20. Two players to potentially watch for is CF Uebayashi Seiji (上林 誠知) and LF Hasegawa Yuta (長谷川 寛)
But offense alone cannot get you a championship title. You need to have strong enough pitching as well to earn the title. Even my rival Sanko in 2011 had Yoshinaga, who was wild but effective.
Sendai Ikuei doesn't have that. They generally use a tandem of #10 Baba Kousuke (馬場 皐輔) and #1 Suzuki Takato (鈴木 天斗).
Both appear to throw in the 130's, so it'll be all down to control for them to be successful. They don't have to be great, they just have to manage the game.
For that alone, they only get an A- instead of the A or A+ they might get as a favorite.
聖光学院 - Seikou Gakuin (Tohoku, Fukushima, Koori-machi) - 4th appearance, 2nd consecutive - B
Seikou Gakuin has been a staple of Natsu Koushien as the representative of Fukushima. This is just their 4th Senbatsu appearance though.
1B Sonobe Satoshi (園部 聡) has to be the lynchpin of the Seikou offense. Last summer, he was 3-6 with a HR and 4 RBIs. Before him, Yaoita Hyuuma (八百板 飛馬) didn't fare badly himself in the Super-Regional semifinals and finals.
Seikou Gakuin's MO hasn't changed. They take care of business when they're supposed to, but stumble when facing quality competition. The 5-4 win over Moriokadai Fuzoku and the 8-4 loss to Sendai Ikuei (which wasn't as close) highlight this.
Chances are they'll do what they've normally done so long as they don't face a hard matchup right off the bat. Win one, then be done.
盛岡大付属 - Moriokadai Fuzoku (Tohoku Memorial Bid, Iwate, Morioka-shi) - 3rd appearance, 1st in 2 years - C-
Moriokadai Fuzoku has done well to reach Koushien over the last decade+. But while they have had success getting there, they are 0-9 in Koushien games (both Haru and Natsu).
Matsumoto Hiroki (松本 裕樹) is a first year who has succeeded the ace position at Moriokadai. He throws in the low 140s with a curveball discovered as of now.
This fall, it was a bunch of low scoring games. A 4-3 nail-biter against oft-spurned Ichinoseki Gakuin, and a 5-4 loss to Seikou Gakuin in the semis after holding a 4-1 lead are the notable games. Yes, there was a 4-2 win over Tohoku along the way, but they don't seem to be the same team in the last couple of years.
Given their close games in the prefectural and the super-regionals, Moriokadai Fuzoku probably did just enough to get in, but will probably go to 0-10 in Koushien games.
青森山田 - Aomori Yamada (Tohoku Meiji Jingu Bid, Aomori, Aomori-shi) - 2nd appearance, 1st in 8 years - C
I expect Aomori Yamada to get the final bid out of Tohoku instead of Sakata Minami based on their mutual performances against Sendai Ikuei.
It'll be a welcome return after several years off. Remember Kousei Gakuin had taken over as not only the best in the prefecture, but 3 times 1 game short of being the best team in the country.
This fall though, Kousei's run appears to be over. They fell 6-5 to Aomori Yamada in the prefectural semi, then was mercy ruled by Sakata Minami.
So Aomori Yamada steps back in to fill the gap, and doesn't miss a beat earning a trip to Koushien.
Looking at the scores though, it appears that their success hides a problem - that they could possibly play to their competition. Whether they're strong or weak, they play up or down to their level. It'll make for close games and maybe an upset, but asking to win a lot of close games is a bit much.
浦和学院 - Urawa Gakuin (Kanto ex/Tokyo, Saitama, Saitama-shi) - 9th appearance, 3rd consecutive - B
Urawa Gakuin too got as far as Sendai Ikuei, and in fact was eliminated on the same day last summer.
And while they almost stumbled against Ageo in the Saitama quartefinals, they revenged their loss the prefectural final to Hanasaki Tokuharu and then defeated them in the Super-Regional final.
However, at Meiji Jingu, they had 2 close games against Kochi and Harue Kougyou - two teams not really known as 高校野球 powerhouses.
While Yamaguchi Rui (山口 瑠偉), a 2nd year who throws in the low 140s with a slider, curve and fork, had the inside track when he started in place of Satou last Natsu Koushien, his struggles - and #14 Ojima Kazuya's (小島 和哉) success against Tenri meant that it was Ojima, not Yamaguchi that was promoted to the ace position. He throws a slider, change and curve but his fastball goes only in the 130s.
They will not be able to consistently overpower teams, so the pitching will have to carry them. But given their staff, it's hard to say that they will be able to do that.
花咲徳栄 - Hanasaki Tokuharu (Kanto ex/Tokyo, Saitama, Kazo-shi) - 3rd appearance, 1st in 3 years - B-
Hanasaki Tokuharu returns to Senbatsu after a small time off. As mentioned earlier, Hanasaki Tokuharu and Urawa Gakuin pretty much paralleled themselves as they met in the prefectural and Super-Regional final. They did however have what appears to be quality wins against Narashino (12-0!) and Yokohama Hayato.
But in looking for players, they don't have any named pitchers out there, just a catcher named Wakatsuki Kenya (若月 健矢).
They perhaps should be on level for Urawa Gakuin, but there's probably a bit to prove still for them.
常総学院 - Jyousou Gakuin (Kanto ex/Tokyo, Ibaraki, Tsuchiura-shi) - 7th appearance, 1st in 8 years - C
宇都宮商 - Utsunomiya Shougyou (Kanto ex/Tokyo, Tochigi, Utsunomiya-shi) - 3rd appearance, 1st in 34 years - C-
I can't really find anything about Jyousou Gakuin and Utsunomiya Shougyou other than their results, and their ace pitchers Iida Harumi (飯田 晴海) for Jyousou Gakuin and some highlights of Utsunomiya Shougyou against Hikawa (see 5:15). What's interesting about the Utsunomiya video is that it highlighted the two pitchers they predominantly used, #18 Shibayama Kauzhiro (柴山和博), and #8 Iioka Kenta (飯岡 健太). Neither is their ace number! Instead Arai Ryou (新井 諒) plays center and bats cleanup.
And both did about the same, struggling in the Super-Regional quarterfinals before falling in the next round.
They'll both be glad to have made it to Senbatsu, but I don't imagine them getting out of the first round.
安田学園 - Yasuda Gakuen (Tokyo, Sumida-ku) - 1st appearance - B
Yasuda Gakuen earns their first ever appearance gritting out some wins against Kokushikan, Nittai Ebara and Waseda Jitsugyou. The 3-2 loss to Kanzei in the Meiji Jingu Tournament give some credibility to their run this fall.
The only player of note is C Takami Shunsuke (深見 俊介) who apparently has gotten attention for his quick throw to 2nd base. If he can keep that up, he can prevent teams from running and perhaps help out the offense in not having to score as many runs.
早稲田実 - Waseda Jitsugyou (Tokyo, Kokubunji-shi) - 20th appearance, 1st in 3 years - B
Soujitsu should make it now by name brand. Though if one were to look at their road to the final, there is nothing outside of the 11-5 win over Souka before their loss to Yasuda Gakuen.
Oddly it was #12 Nishiyama Ryou (西山諒) that Soujitsu mainly depended upon to reach the final.
Their name may get them an extra game if they face an inexperienced opponent - hence an upgrade from a B- to a B, but asking them to win it all this time around may be a bit much to ask.