Monday, January 7, 2013

Handicapping the 21st Century Candidates

So the Super-Regional Finalists have been announced, 4 will be selected to Senbatsu - 1 from Western Japan (Kinki, Chuugoku, Shikoku, Kyushu), 1 from Eastern Japan (Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Hokushinetsu, Tokai), and 2 wild-cards.  Let's take a look at each of the nominees:

Higashi-Nihon (東日本)
Hokkaido - Engaru (Engaru-machi) - No appearances - Eliminated in semifinals of Super-Regionals
Engaru was nominated due to their volunteer work in the town, their acceptance of players of all abilities, and their many close calls to reaching Koushien.

If Engaru makes it, to me it will be one year too late.  Yes, they reached the semi-finals, but the scores indicate that they're not the team they were last year.  They were just 1 run away from going to Natsu Koushien last summer.  Alas, they were denied by Asahikawa Kougyou and their ace Matsugawa's final summer was over.

Taking over is a duo of Kamono Takaki (鴨野 崇希) and rookie Ooshiro Yuuki (大城 祐樹) with an occasional assist from Maeda Kazuki (前田 知輝).

It may be one year too late, but I'd like to see the small school make it.  They may be the front-runner to receive the Higashi-Nihon bid.

Tohoku - Iwaki Kaisei (Fukushima-ken, Iwaki-shi) - No appearances - Eliminated in Round of 16 of Fukushima prefecturals
Iwaki Kaisei has been nominated because they continued practicing after the tsunami despite their grounds being destroyed.  Despite that, they reached the round of 16.

As much as I know the JHBF wants to recognize the Tohoku area and stress repeatedly the earthquake, this nomination is a bit of a stretch.  First of all, Tohoku already has 4 teams.  2 normal invitations, the Tohoku Friendship bid, and the Meiji Jingu bid won by Sendai Ikuei.  I believe that will actually hurt Iwaki Kaisei's chances.

Also is the fact that while the round of 16 seems impressive, note that there were only 29 schools in the field this year.

As a result, I do not imagine Iwaki Kaisei receiving one of the 21st century bids.

Kanto/Tokyo - Hitachi Dai-ichi (Ibaraki-ken, Hitachi-shi) - No appearances - Eliminated in Quarterfinals of Ibaraki prefecturals
Hitachi Dai-ichi has had one Koushien appearance, back in the summer of 1985.  Here, they are being nominated for their 1st Senbatsu appearance.  They are being nominated for their work volunteering in areas affected by the Great Tohoku Earthquake.  In addition, this year they have reached the quarterfinals, with ace Kagaya Ryou (加賀屋 諒) narrowly losing 3-2 to the top seeded Kasumigaura.

If the selection committee is going to pick a team because of a link to the earthquake and tsunami, I would actually imagine it to be this one.  The committee would like to give opportunities to teams that have perhaps not been to Koushien, but at the same time would like those teams to be competitive.  Hitachi Dai-ichi could fit that criteria.

Hokushinetsu - Gosen (Niigata-ken, Gosen-shi) - No appearance - 3rd place in Niigata prefecturals, eliminated in first round of Super-Regionals
Gosen was nominated due to the help they provided in clearing snow during the winter months, as well as other volunteering efforts as well as focusing on academics.

Gosen has done well in recent years, and this year they narrowly lost to Niigata Kenou Kougyou 2-1 in the semifinals, then went to defeat Niigata Meikun to advance to the Super-Regionals where they lost to eventual runner-up Tsuruga Kehi in the bottom of the 9th inning

It's possible that Gosen gets nominated due to their performance.  All their games were decided by 2 runs or less.  They may be looked at as a team that can play up (and subsequently down) to their competition.

Tokai - Toyokawa (Aichi-ken, Toyokawa-shi) - No appearance - 2nd place in Aichi prefecturals, eliminated in first round of Super-Regionals
Toyokawa was mainly nominated due to their recent performance in the Natsu taikais as well as their active outreach in the area.

Toyokawa's performance this year included a 2-1 win over Chuukyoudai Chuukyou.  But they lost in the finals to Touhou 9-0, and collapsed late to Shizuoka 3-seed Hiryuu 5-4.

It is true that they have done well, reaching the semifinals last summer and the quarterfinals this summer.  But because of the nature of kokoyakyu, success like that does not translate to future years (see Engaru).  That's because people graduate leaving the team to fill in the gaps.

I do have some information on the ace Moriguchi Rentarou (森口 練太郎) who throws in the high 130s with a curve and two-seamer.

The fact that he has a video is a plus, but I'm a bit skeptical on their prospects still.

Nishi-Nihon (西日本)
Kinki - Shiritsu Horikawa (Kyoto-fu, Kyoto-shi) - 1 appearance - Lost in Round of 16 of Kyoto prefecturals
Horikawa has been nominated due to the fact that they reached the round of 16 despite being considered more of a top-class educational institution.

Horikawa advanced out of the regionals, but was eliminated in their first game of the prefecturals by Ritsumeikan Uji 8-7.

I cannot find any more information on that, so it's really hard to gauge based upon so little information, but I don't believe they will get a bid.

Chuugoku - Masuda Shouyou (Shimane-ken, Masuda-shi) - No appearances - Shimane Champion, eliminated in first round of Super-Regionals
Masuda Shouyou has been to Koushien before, though under one of the merged schools (Masuda Sangyou).  In 2006, they merged with Masuda Kougyou to found Masuda Shouyou.  They were nominated due to their sportsmanship throughout the fall taikai, as well as the school receiving an award in recognition of being one of the top schools for career education.

This was Masuda Shouyou's first ever Shimane fall title.  However, this title did not involve facing some of the major players out of Shimane, and rallied in the semifinals and finals to take the title.  They lost in the first round to Iwakuni, Yamaguchi's 3/4 seed 3-0.

Yanai Yuuto (柳井 祐斗) is the staff ace, though Terado Masashi (寺戸 雅) often comes in relief.

Again, there is little information that I can find right now.  Masuda Shouyou may have won their first fall title, but I don't think they'll get selected either.

Shikoku - Tosa (Kochi-ken, Kochi-shi) - 6 appearances - Kochi 3rd place, eliminated in first round of Super-Regionals
This is the 3rd consecutive time that Tosa has been nominated out of Kochi, and the 1st that they've reached the final selection stage.  They were nominated due to their strong showing in recent years - reaching at semifinal stage all but one time since 2010 (and that time they lost in the quarterfinal stage), as well as their academic focus.

For this fall, Tosa had finished 3rd in the Kochi prefecturals, losing to Kochi but beating Kochi Minami to advance to the Super-Regionals where they lost to Tokushima Shougyou in the first round.

Kyushu - Moji Gakuen (Fukuoka-ken, Kitakyushu-shi) - No appearances - Fukuoka runner-up, eliminated in 2nd round of Super-Regionals
Moji Gakuen is the merger of Moji and Moji Kita, and finally reached the Super-Regionals for the first time in 55 years.  They were nominated because of the fact that they developed shorter, more intense practices so students could focus on academics.

That Super-Regional loss was a 6-5, 13 inning loss to Nagasaki Nichidai which included Moji Gakuen scoring 4, the giving up 4 in the 10th inning.

Doi Naoki (土井 直樹) is the ace who endured all 13 innings, 4-run 10th, sayonara run and all.

The quality loss to Nagaski Nichidai in the Super-Regionals gives them probably the inside track to the Nishi-Nihon bid.

I believe the four 21st century bids will go as follows:
  • Nishi-Nihon -  Moji Gakuen (Fukuoka)
  • Higashi-Nihon - Engaru (Hokkaido)
  • Wild Card 1 - Gosen (Niigata)
  • Wild Card 2 - Tosa (Kochi)
From 2009-12, only 1 team has been selected that had not advanced out of the prefecturals - Sumoto from Kyoto.  Kyoto is one of the more competitive prefecutres, so I assume that all teams selected will have advanced to their respective Super-Regionals.

That eliminates Iwaki Kaisei and Hitachi Dai-ichi and Shiritsu Horikawa.  Iwaki Kaisei is penalized also by the fact they received an extra bid.  Shiritsu Horikawa is penalized by Kyoto having 2 teams already in the field (by my projections at least).

Of the remaining 6, Toyokawa and Masuda Shougyou have the weakest resumes, and thus we have the 4 above.

Of course, the selection committee can make it a point to emphasize the Tohoku region by selecting either Iwaki Kaisei or Hitachi Dai-ichi, but I think the Tohoku friendship bid takes care of that.  If they do, Iwaki Kaisei will go for one reason only - Seikou Gakuin has basically ruled Fukushima, and here's a chance for someone else to go.

IF Iwaki Kaisei is selected, it will sadly be Tosa who is pushed out - despite the 3 straight nominations.

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