If you think about it, it really is remarkable. For two teams to go through their Aki （秋 - fall） prefecturals to reach the super-regionals, get invited to Senbatsu, reach the finals. Then only a couple of months later participate in the Natsu prefecturals and win, then at Natsu Koushien reach the Best 8, avoid each other in the draw, win, then avoid each other again and then meet in the finals.
Such a rematch has never happened in the history of Koushien, and for that it certainly will have the nation's attention.
There are some differences though between this final and the Senbatsu final.
First, because of rainouts, Osaka Touin got more rest than Kousei Gakuin before the finals on 4/4:
- Osaka Touin (準々決勝 - 3/30, 準決勝 - 4/2)
- Kousei Gakuin (準々決勝 - 4/1, 準決勝 - 4/2)
This time around, their schedules mirrored each other - almost down to the game:
- Kousei Gakuin (8/12, 8/18, 準々決勝 - 8/20, 準決勝 - 8/22)
- Osaka Touin (8/13, 8/18, 準々決勝 - 8/20, 準決勝 - 8/22)
That brings up the 2nd point. Weather.
This summer, field temperatures at times has broken 40C (104F!). I don't care how much you hydrate, you are going to fatigue to some extent.
Since the game will be at 10:30, it will start out cooler on the field - probably around 37C (98.6F) but will probably get close to 40 near the end of the game. We already saw the effect that pitching on back to back days can do to an ace - just ask Toukou Gakuen's Matsui Yuuki.
Fujinami was not worked especially hard by Meitoku Gijyuku as he allowed few baserunners early on and then was comfortable after extending the lead after the mid-game break.
But, the more important thing was that he was on the field the entire game, and did show signs of being hittable in the 9th (or losing his control if nothing else). If you show signs of fatigue in the last game, chances are you're going to see it and sooner the next one.
Kanazawa on the other hand, was on the bench for the whole game. Which means he'll be on 2 days rest.
Offensively, the advantage continues to lie with Osaka Touin. About the only time you can rest on the lineup may be in the last batter, SS Mega. Other than that, there are pitfalls everywhere starting from leadoff batter C(!) Mori, all the way down to Fujinami who has displayed homerun power at Koushien - even if he is retired more often than not.
Compare that to Kousei Gakuin, whose top 5 definitely can be scary, but from Jyouma down, the offense pretty much disappears. Which means that you're possibly looking at throwing away at least an inning trying to cycle through the bottom of the lineup. And you can't afford to just give away outs easily to a team like Osaka Touin.
Objectively, this has to be a "show me" game to Kousei Gakuin. There still doesn't seem to be enough there talent-wise for them to pull off an upset of Osaka Touin and they haven't proven so far to win the big game. Circumstances may level out part of the playing field as Fujinami may not be 100%, but his offense is there to pick him up. If Kousei is planning on using a tandem like in Senbatsu, Nakai-kantoku must not be hesitant to change pitchers at the first sign of fatigue. As many managers have learned the hard way, it's a lot easier to remove a pitcher one batter too late than one batter too early.
Not to mention the fact that this is not Kousei Gakuin's 2nd consecutive finals appearance, but their 3rd! And I'm pretty sure they'd set a historical record if they lost by being the only team to lose in 3 consecutive calendar Koushien tournaments (Summer 2011 v. Nichidai-san 0-11, Spring 2012 v. Osaka Touin 3-7).
There have been 2 other instances where a team has gone to 3 consecutive calendar Koushien finals:
- Chuukyou Shougyou (now Chuukyoudai Chuukyou) went to the 14th Spring (lost), 23rd Summer (won) and 15th Spring (won).
- PL Gakuen went to the 65th Summer (won), 56th Spring (lost), and 66th Summer (lost).
Osaka Touin is going for the 7th ever 春夏連続優勝 (haru-natsu renzoku yuushou or Spring-Summer Consecutive Champion). Just two years ago, Shimabukuro Yousuke set the country on fire with his performance, and now Fujinami and his team are on the verge of adding their names to the heralded list. They may be the favorites, but they still have to win the game.
There is a lot of historical significance in this game. And a lot of pressure on both sides. Osaka Touin should be the favorites to win this, but there are a lot of factors that will come into play in the game.
(I almost wish I was at this Koushien instead of last years'. Man my sense of timing is god-awful.)
Kousei Gakuin (Aomori)
LF Sekiguchi (#18)
Osaka Touin (Osaka)
2B Oonishi (Tomoya)
10:31 - First Pitch!
First pitch in for a strike. And another slider it looks like for strike 2. Ameku has to swing away, just makes contact and grounds to 2nd.
After a couple of balls away, Fujinami puts a fastball just out of the zone that Sekiguchi chases for Fujinami's first K.
Tamura up, and Fujinami attacks the zone. He can only walk away as he looks a slider on the outside corner for strike 3.
It's a good start for Fujinami.
The thing with Kanazawa is that his other pitches tend to be a bit on the slow side. Which can make them fat targets.
Mori with a hard grounder to 3rd. Oosugi right there and makes the play for the out.
Kanazawa though having issues with his control to start. Winds up walking Oonishi, who if you had to get an out somewhere, he'd be the one to get.
Which unfortunately means you're now in the heart of the Osaka Touin lineup starting with Mizumoto.
Kanazawa throwing a lot of off-speed pitches early - I'd be concerned they'd start keying in on that later on. Mizumoto gets way under one and fouls out to Tamura.
Grounder to 2nd, Houjyou throws to Jyouma, throws it away! Somehow the easy play at 2nd is missed and the inning continues for Osaka Touin!
First unforced error goes to Kousei Gakuin. Will it cost them as Yasui comes to the plate?
Well, the problems start compounding on themselves. Kanazawa hits Yasui to load the bases! That brings up Kasamatsu, and Osaka Touin can put their foot down on Kousei early!
Kanazawa gets ahead 1-2, but the AB isn't over yet. Another curve in the dirt. Where is the fastball?
Another curve fouled off. Fastball inside fouled off.
Grounder to 3rd! Oosugi with the snag. Sets, throws to 1st... side retired!
Kanazawa gets out of the pinch, but that's an extra 10 high-stress pitches he had to throw that he didn't have to.
Big swing on a 150 kph fastball. And another. I think see 3 swings.
Nope! Fujinami pulls the string on a fork and freezes Houjou for the out!
Fujinami throws away from Oosugi and walks him. Takeda up, and he's still throwing away. Doesn't want to challenge him? He finally goes inside, but way inside. Count goes to 3-1.
Takeda with a hard grounder to the left side! Mega diving to his right, makes a great backhanded grab! Throw to first... just misses out on a diving Takeda!
Jyouma up, and he's bunting on 0-1?? He's fouled it off and now it's 0-2! He's in a corner now!
And he does swing on a high fastball for the 2nd out.
Kimura up now to try and and keep the inning going, but at the bottom of the lineup it seems unlikely.
Fujinami with a wild pitch! It bounces in front of Mori and back to the 1st base side. Runners advance!
And Kimura swings on 3-1! Why?? He hits a high fly to left. Yasui backs up a little, camps, and makes the catch to retire the side!
I say "Why?" because now you're starting at the #9 batter. You'd like to start at the top of the lineup if you could.
Kanazawa's throwing predominantly his off-speed stuff as Hakusui looks at a curve for strike 3.
Now on Mega, he seems to varying his selection more. But he goes full to Mega before he gets him to go around on an off-speed pitch for strike 3.
That brings up Fujinami who isn't your regular hitting pitcher.
Kanazawa goes 2-2 to Fujinami before he makes him twirl like a ballerina on yet another curve for strike 3.
So Kanazawa goes from the mound to the plate as he has to face Fujinami.
Chopper to the left side. Kasamatsu takes it, sets and throws HIGH!!!
It goes to the fence as Kanazawa takes off for 2nd!
Ameku up and he's not bunting (to start). Can't check his swing for strike 1. He's not bunting at all and goes behind 1-2!
Sanshin! Ameku spins himself into the ground on a slider inside.
Sekiguchi up and he is showing bunt. Lays it down, but it's very poor! Fujinami quickly to it and throws to 3rd where Kanazawa is out by a mile!
Tamura up, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Sekiguchi try to steal 2nd.
He does! Tamura behind 0-2 and he takes off for 2nd! Throw from Mori is high and he's in safe!
Sanshin! Tamura can only do a slow-motion spin as he tries to, but fails to, make contact with an outside slider for strike 3! Kousei has had their chances, but they just can't do anything right now.
Temperature on the field is 38.6C. That's just about 3F higher than I was anticipating.
Top of the lineup and Mori punishes a curve with a shot past Takeda into right for a single. This is what you have to be careful for throwing so many off-speed pitches.
Oonishi up and as expected he's bunting.
Hit-and-run! Nishitani-kantoku tries the hit and bunt, but Oonishi fouls it off!
Oonishi with a grounder to 3rd! Oosugi has it, throw to 2nd, HIGH!
Mori runs to 3rd and the throw back in from Kimura not in time! Another unforced error by Kousei!
And with no down, it will take a miracle to prevent a crooked number from being put on here.
Now a 4 pitch walk to Mizumoto makes it manrui to Tabata.
This is the WORST situation you can put yourself in.
Two curveballs, Tabata takes both to get ahead 2-0.
Grounder to 3rd! Oosugi tags 3rd! Goes home! Mori backs up! Tamura throws to 3rd, Oosugi tags Mori for a 5-2-5T double play?!?!
2 down and Kanazawa is almost out of the jam!
But they try to pitch to the corners to Yasui and walk him on 4 straight! Manrui again for Kasamatsu!
Nishitani-kantoku sends a message to Yasui.
Swings on the first pitch! Pops it up! Takada under it just in foul territory... makes the catch!
Once again Kousei Gakuin finds a way to snake its way out of the pinch, but that is high stress you are putting on Kanazawa.
Houjyou up and he tries to be a little more patient. But a slider on the outside corner puts him down 1-2. He swings away makes great contact, but the outfield is back and Hakusui is there for the catch.
Oosugi is patient and works the count full, but goes down swinging. And Takeda swings on the first pitch and fouls out to left.
Fujinami just isn't facing the same amount of pressure as Kanazawa is here to start.
Hakusui swing makes that ping sound that when you hear it you know the ball's been crushed...
Kimura runs back to the fence... looks up...
Yep, that ball cleared the fence just right of dead center where the bleachers begin. Osaka Touin leads 1-0!!
Mega now with a seeing eye single back up the middle for a base hit. As expected the constant off-speed stuff is speeding up the bats of Osaka Touin.
Fujinami lays down the bunt to advance Mega into scoring position.
Mori in a great chance to drive in a run, hits a comebacker to Kanazawa! He blocks it, picks it up and goes to 1st for the 2nd out.
Things continue to be difficult for Kanazawa as he hits Oonishi and brings up Mizumoto.
Kanazawa comes back to freeze Mizumoto on a curve ball to get out of the inning, but the powerful Osaka Touin offense finally strikes here in the 4th!
Jyouma with a high pop fly that Tabata fields just outside 1st for the out.
Kimura tries his best to get on base, but chases a full count slider inside for a K.
And Kanazawa... well... he's what a normal hitting pitcher would look like... kinda feeble as he hits a routine chopper to 3rd for the out.
For Kousei, the clock is ticking on Kanazawa. The pressure is now even more on him to hold the deficit at 1.
Tabata leads off the inning. Down 1-2, he almsot throws the bat at the ball, softly lining it at Kanazawa's feet and he can't field it! Houjyou runs it down behind 2nd, but had no play!
Yasui tries to lay the bunt down, but bounces it off the plate! Tamura would have a clear play at 2nd, but it's foul.
Now it's a bunt up the 1st base line! Kanazawa hesitates thinking it might go foul, but quickly realizes it won't! Throw to 1st, not in time!!
Oh, another mental error by the Kousei defense puts 2 runners on with no down!
Time for Nakai-kantoku.
Bunt again to 3rd. Oosugi with it, throws to 1st HIGH AGAIN!!!!
This time it's costly! Tabata scores! Yasui being waved around 3rd, he scores! Kasamtasu on 2nd from the error by Oosugi and it's 3-0 Osaka Touin!
Hakusui with the sac bunt and they threaten to really blow this open.
Nishitani-kantoku calls for the squeeze, but it's a pitchout... err pitchdown. Mega can't lay down the bunt and Kasamtasu is run down for the 2nd out.
Mega grounds to 3rd to end the inning, and we reach the break.
And looking at the game so far, it feels like the pressure has been all on Kousei. 3 actual errors and a couple more mental ones have finally costed Kousei Gakuin in the 5th. Facing a 3-run deficit, with just one hit to their name, the pressure may be too much for Kousei to overcome.
Top of the order for Kousei, this is probably a pivotal inning for them.
Ameku hits a hard liner to 1st, but Tabata fields it and goes to 1st for the out.
Sekiguchi with a quick fly ball to left. And Tamura again with a fly ball to left.
6 pitches, 3 outs. There's a lot of trying to hit the ball hard, where they should be trying to get base hits however possible (much like Tabata's single).
That 6th inning looked very bad for Kousei.
Osaka Touin looks fine to speed up the tempo of the game, after all they are ahead.
Fujinami goes down on 3 pitches, kinda swinging his bat on a slider.
Mori first pitch grounds to 2nd, while Oonishi first pitch flies to right.
Houjyou stepping in. Fujinami not directly attacking him and works the count full.
Another uppercut swing from Houjyou almost results in a foul out.
Instead he goes down swinging on a slider down and away.
Up comes Oosugi, who I'm sure wants to get a run back for his team. He waits for his pitches and works the count full, but can only start walking to the dugout after a fastball goes by him for strike 3.
2 down for Takeda. Fujinami not challenging him with strikes though and walks him on 4 straight. Shouldn't be a problem though I think he believes because he's facing the bottom of the order.
And indeed Jyouma falls behind 0-2.
Oh? #10 Sawada is warming up for Osaka Touin? Well, I think he's being recalled after Fujinami went 1-2 to Jyouma.
And as expected Jyouma goes down swinging for the 3rd out. With the 8-9-1 batters due up for Kousei, they are probably down to their 9th inning.
Kanzawa facing the 3-4-5 hitters walks Mizumoto on 4 straight. Tabata bunts him to 2nd. I guess for Kousei it's beter to have a runner on 2nd with one down than trying to pitch to them both.
Well, Yasui walks at least putting the force on, but with now 13 H+BB to Kanazawa's name, it's no wonder they're behind.
Kasamatsu connects with a ball but is just a bit ahead of it hitting it foul.
Kasamatsu with a chopper up the 1st base line. Kanazawa late getting there, tosses to 1st where Takeda was going in! He tries to back up to the bag, but the umpire calls Kasamatsu safe!
Manrui again for Osaka Touin for Hakusui.
Liner! But it's right to Houjyou for the 2nd out!
And now Nishitani-kantoku is going for the KO punch. He's sent in #13 Kinden to hit for Mega.
He's just ahead of the first two pitches grounding them foul.
But Kanazawa places a fastball down the middle that Kinden freezes on! No runs added on...
...but no runs to their name either.
#14 Mizutani in for Kinden at SS.
Kimura leads off the 8th. And gets a little bit of a late call by the umpire on an outside fastball for the 1st out.
#17 Furutera in to hit for Kanazawa. His day is done.
First pitch slicing down the left field line... foul!
So close and yet so far it seems, and he goes down swinging on a slider. Doesn't know that the ball got away until it was too late and is thrown out at 1st.
Ameku quickly grounds to 1st and Kousei Gakuin is about out of time.
#10 Itou makes his appearance at Koushien for the first time replacing PH Furutera and taking the mound. He's a lefty who throws 3/4 it looks like, not quite sidearm. And not particularly fast.
Fujinami though flies out to center.
Next Mori displays his flexibility as he arches his back forward to avoid a curveball behind him. Needless to say he earns a walk.
And so that experiment ends. Jyouma takes the hill while #15 Sunago comes in for Itou and takes his place at 2nd.
Oonishi goes down looking on 3 straight. Mizumoto grounds to new 2B Sunago who makes the play at 1st for the 3rd out.
And so Fujinami is just 3 outs away from achieving the 8th ever haru-natsu renzoku yuushou.
Sekiguchi, Tamura and Houjyou are the three who will try to stand in the way.
Or rather #7 Murase, as he comes in to hit for Sekiguchi.
Down 0-2, he watches a borderline fastball outside for a ball, then takes a 153 high for ball 2.
He makes contact, but right back to Fujinami who goes to 1st for the out.
2 more to go.
Tamura jammed and the ball goes to shallow center! Hakusui coming in can't get there and Kousei has a runner on. Still not enough yet as Houjyou is not the tying run.
But Fujinami falls behind him 2-0. Houjyou swings away anyways and skies it! Oonishi is there for the out!
1 more to go!
Nishitani-kantoku calls for time.
Oosugi the last chance for Kousei. Fujinami can't find the zone though and buries it. Then gets Oosugi to chase and foul one off. Slider over the plate is whiffed.
Fouled off! Just.
Fastball way outside for ball 2.
Fastball inside, fouled off again.
Oosugi goes down swinging! Osaka Touin has done it! Haru-Natsu Renzoku Yuushou! The players mob Fujinami on the mound as they become the 7th team to ever complete the feat!
After Osaka Touin sings their school song and the teams go out to their oen-dans, Osaka Touin's players are rejoicing, while Kousei Gakuin's players aren't crying. It makes sense though - by this time they've reached here and lost again. It's not painful in that they lost, it's just a look of - we've tried three times to eclipse the summit and all 3 times we were rebuffed. We tried all we could and we just couldn't do it, and for us it's all over now. What more can we do? It's a look of resignation and unfulfillment.
But I don't think they should look at it that way. Yes, you've reached 3 straight finals, and lost all 3. But you are also one of only 3 teams to have reached 3 straight calendar finals joining the ranks of Chuukyoudai Chuukyou and PL Gakuen to do so.
And it's unfortunate that they had to run into 2 teams as strong as Nichidai-san and Osaka Touin. But in the end, they should be proud of the accomplishments they were able to achieve in one calendar year. Three 2nd place finishes at Koushien, and a Meiji Jingu title. It's not quite the ending they got, but it's still impressive nonetheless.
For Osaka Touin, they join the names of Sakushin Gakuin, Chuukyoudai Chuukyou, Minoshima, PL Gakuen, Yokohama and Kounan as the 7th team to win both the spring and summer Koushien tournament. It was hard to argue that they weren't the best team in the country with the combination of the high-powered offense with the powerful pitching of Fujinami - who if he wants to will be the 1st overall pick of the draft. Teams that faced Osaka Touin knew full well that there was little room for error.
But even then it still takes effort as an any point in time - like the Osaka final against Riseisha, it can all fall apart. So the fact they were able to fulfull what they set out to do, despite the odds and possible traps is something to be applauded.
And so we've reached the end of the 94th Natsu Koushien. The tournament was very competitive for the most part and storylines developed all over the place. From Toukou Gakuen's Matsui striking out 22 and 19 batters in consecutive games, to Ube Koujyou almost reaching the Best 8, to 2 possible matchups in the semifinals and finals, and to that finals rematch that cemented Osaka Touin as the best team in the country, this was a very entertaining tournament from start to finish.
But there's no time to rest. For there are already teams that have started down the road of the fall taikais for next spring. There's always baseball to be had, and for the players remaining - it's back to work.
Fujinami Shintarou (Osaka Touin) - CG, SHO, 2 H, 14 K, 2 BB
Hakusui Kenta (Osaka Touin) - 1-3, HR, R, RBI, K
Yasui Kouki (Osaka Touin) - 1-1, R, 2 BB, HBP
Kanazawa Yuuki (Kousei Gakuin) - 7 IP, ER, 6 H, 6 K, 5 BB, 2 HBP
Takeda Toshiki (Kousei Gakuin) - 1-2, BB. K