The final game of the day puts the Hokushinetsu region on the line as champion Harue Kougyou (a first timer no less), faces a team who is also making a return after a 5 year hiatus in Tokoha Kikugawa.
Tokoha Kikugawa earned their bid via a 2-1 loss in the super-regional semifinal to eventual winners Kenritsu Gifu Shougyou. They got there by basically outscoring their opposition. Ace Hotta Tatsuya throws a pedestrian 135, with a slider, curve and changeup combination that allows about 1 baserunner per inning while striking out one every 2 innings. #11 Hodzumi Taiga and other have been used, but are not nearly as effective as Hotta, which means you'd better hope you don't see them...
Offensively, the team basically walked and smashed their way through the field. The team posted an ISO of 0.245, while their OBP was 0.143 points higher than their BA. How much of that is due to their earlier round games is uncertain though, but carrying that through 14 games does count for something, if even just a little. Over 2/3 of the roster carries a 0.300+ BA, and everyone except for Hotta and new 1B Kuwahara tallied a double and a triple.
Harue Kougyou won their first ever super-regional and earned their first trip to Koushien this fall. They did so avenging a loss to rival Tsuruga Kehi, while beating Matsushou Gakuen and Niigata Meikun along the way. In addition, they defeated Urawa Gakuin at Meiji Jingu before falling hard to Kanzei.
It looks impressive on the surface, but the underlying numbers paint a different picture. Despite going 9-2 in the fall, their two losses were by margins of 2-15 and 2-10. Ace Tsubota Kazuki is the first pitcher covered that has a WHIP greater than 1 (1.33 in fact), and only strikes out 5 batters per 9.
Their offense is heavily predicated on small ball. With an ISO of just 0.094 and a OBP just 0.021 higher than their BA despite averaging 3-4 walks per game, there is a lot of sacrifices to move runners over. As a result, they are generally involved in low scoring affairs. The lynchpin probably is their cleanup batter Kurihara Ryouta, who batted a scorching 0.513 as a rookie.
Note the bright orange knee-high socs they wear. Definitely a defining part of their unifiorm. And the oen-dan is in full force, even if the stands elsewhere aren't full.
Tokoha Kikugawa (Shizuoka) - Tokai 3 seed
CF Toji Keisuke
LF Maekawa Naoya
SS Endou Kouhei
C Matsuki Daisuke
3B Oonishi Yuuki
RF Nakata Koushi (#13)
1B Kuwahara Tatsuki
P Hotta Tatsuya
2B Imasaka Ryousuke
Harue Kougyou (Fukui) - Hokushinetsu Champions
CF Nishi Keita
1B Kinoshita Keigo
LF Ono Shouta
C Kurihara Ryouta
3B Umemura Takumi
SS Nakajima Haruka
2B Hamade Shouta
P Tsubota Kazuki
RF Kotobuki Yuuta
15:55 - First pitch!
Tsubota doesn't throw particuarly hard, but hides the ball behind his body for a long period of time. He gets Toji to hit a routine grounder to 2nd.
In fact Tsubota throws only in the high 120s, with a curve in the mid-100s.
Maekawa is fooled on a curve, but keeps the bat in the zone enough to poke it past Nakajima into center. Morishita-kantoku elects not to bunt (they are a hitting team after all it seems), but Endou gets under one and flies out to Kotobuki.
So instead Morishita-kantoku sends Maekawa on the next pitch! The throw would have had him, but Nakajima just can't hang onto the ball.
It looks like the Tokoha batters are having a hard time picking up the ball early. And Matsuki is also fooled and hits a lazy fly to right as well to end the inning. Not a bad start for the Hokushinetsu champions.
This could be a quick pace game as well. Hotta pitches at a rapid pace - maybe even faster than Takahashi. Hotta though gets a warning about his form, perhaps the hitch in his delivery?
Nonetheless, Nishi though gets ahead 3-1 but grounds out to 1st. Kinoshita though takes a hanging fastball and beats it over a leaping Maekawa and off the wall for a double.
And with Ono up, Matsuki can't secure a ball in the dirt and Kinoshita advances 90 feet! Ono then makes the battery pay by hitting a grounder through to right! Kinoshita scores to make it 1-0 Harue Kougyou!
Kurihara with another single just like Ono! Ono breaks for 3rd and the throw is cut off! Is the warning from the umpire affecting Hotta? Or is Harukou seeing the ball?
Umemura takes a big swing on a 111 curve to open. Then gets a 134 fastball right down the pipe for strike 2. And he watches a 135 fastball catch the bottom of the zone. Can't let that go on 2 strikes...
Nakajima grounds to 2nd to end the inning, and perhaps Tokoha Kikugawa is fortunate to have given up just one run.
Kikugawa's batters are making good contact, but not solid contact. Oonishi flies out to deep right as Kotobuki runs it down near the line. Nakata does the same as this time Kotobuki backs up.
Kuwahara takes a big swing, but is way ahead of a Tsubota curve. And even with the big swing he looked like he was trying to take it the other way. But he's fooled again and this time grounds to 1st. Kinoshita beats him to the bag and it's a 6 pitch inning for Tsubota!
Hamde gets around on a fastball and fists it over the infield into left for a leadoff hit. Tsubota lays down a bunt on the next pitch leaving it to last batter Kotobuki to try and get another run in.
Kotobuki tries a safety bunt! But he fouls it off.
He does it again! Hotta goes to 1st, but throws it high! Hamada scores from 2nd and Kotobuki replaces him there! It's 2-0 Harukou! Either Kotobuki really can't hit or they saw something in Kikugawa's fielding. Either way, it pays off!
Back to the top of the order and Nishi, but he flies out to left-center.
Kotobuki takes off for 3rd as Kinoshita hits a grounder to short! Endou has to backhand it, double clutches and that allows Kinoshita to dive in safely! (Stop diving!) Kawamura-kantoku is really putting the pressure on the Kikugawa defense!
That brings up Ono, who got a base hit in his 1st AB. This time Hotta wins, getting Ono to wave at a fastball at the bottom of the zone for the 3rd out. But Harue Kougyou tacks on yet another run!
Hotta is a bit more patient to start the inning, probably because he can't hit well. But I think he's suffering from the same problem as the other batters. He can't pick up the ball and as a result chases a slider out of the zone for the first out.
Oddly, agains last batter Imasaka, Tsubota stars off with two slow curves before going to the fastball for a strike. Another cuve misses and it's a hitters count.
But still the batters struggle. Imasaka hits a chopper to Nakajima for the 2nd out.
And while Toji winds up to try and wait for the ball, he hits a grounder right to Kinoshita for the 3rd out.
Hotta doesn't particularly throw hard though his fastball is in the 130s. He still has a slider in the high 120s and a curve in the 100-110s.
Speaking of which, Hotta pulls the string on a curve to strike out Kurihawa to star the inning. Umemura immediately follows that up with an easy fly to center.
And Hotta finally gets a 1-2-3 inning as Nakajima lines to center to end the inning. Now can the bats figure out Tsubota?
Looks like Tsubota has the slider too that sits in the upper 110s. But he falls behind Maekawa 3-1 before filling the count at 3-2. Maekawa wins the battle hitting one back up the middle for a leadoff hit.
Endou swings away on the opening curve, but he pops it up. Kotobuki slips a bit, but Nishi is there for the catch. Quickly 1 down for Tokoha.
Matsuki with a drive to right! That's down the right field line and Maekawa easily scores from 1st on Matsuki's RBI triple! 2-1! Tsubota left that curveball up in the zone and Matsuki properly punished it!
Oonishi with an inside-out swing and lines that to right! Matsuki scores and just like that we're tied at 2-2!
And Morishita-kantoku sends Oonishi to 2nd on the 2-2 pitch! The throw from Kurihara, and safe?!? The umpire called him safe? I don't know about that... The replay sure looks like he was out.
Tanaka though can't get the timely hit and whiffs on a slow curve.
Now Kurihara is hit! Wait, is Kurihara arguing he didn't get hit? I think he is! I think he's arguing because he knows Hotta is up next!
And wouldn't you know it, Hotta swings away on the first pitch and fouls out to Kurihara to end the inning. But the offense for Tokoha Kikugawa shows up here in the 4th and levels the score!
Now it looks like it's Harukou's batters who are getting fooled and Tokoha's batters who are seeing the ball.
Hamade grounds out to 1st, Tsubota weakly grounds to Kuwahara at 1st. And Kotobuki makes to effort to run to first after waving on a curve that Matsuki can't field.
Imasaka with a towering fly to left center.. Ono is there, but has to make a last minute adjustment to catch the ball.
You know, I wonder if Tsubota is hiding the ball as effectively as he did to start the game. It looks like it peeks out behind him during his delivery.
Nonetheless he seems to be less effective. After the flyout, he walks Toji. And with Tsubota's slow pitches, Toji takes off and successfully steals 2nd!
Maekawa stands in and he gets his 3rd hit, Tokoha will probably have the lead. Tsubota gets ahead of him 2-0, but Maekawa stubbornly fouls off several pitches. And he shows a forkball that the announcers didn't know he had.
Meanwhile, Maekawa continues to foul pitches off while working the count to 1-2, then 2-2. Tsubota finally wins the battle, getting Maekawa to hit another towering popup, this time to Nakajima for the 2nd out.
That leaves it up to Endou, who finally takes a pitch. And another! At 2-1, Endou chases a curve in the left-handed batters box for strike 2.
But they go to the well one too many times! Tsubota tries to put a curve down and away, and instead Endou reaches down and pokes it to center! Endou gives Tokoha Kikugawa the lead here in the 5th at 3-2!!
Matsuki fouls out to Kinoshita, but the damage is done! Tokoha Kikugawa takes the lead!
Back to the top of the order and Nishi for Harukou, who now find themselves behind.
Nishi tries to play the waiting game at the plate, but has to swing away at 2-2 and flies out to left.
Kinoshita looks like he puts a charge in the ball, but Maekawa has time to go back and camp under it for the 2nd out.
And it's a 9 pitch inning as Ono swings on the first pitch and pops out to Endou.
So after a strong start by the Hokushinetsu champs Harue Kougyou, Tokoha Kikugawa strikes before the break and takes the lead. Will Harukou have a response or will the offensive output of Tokoha Kikugawa steamroll on?
Oonishi sizes up a Tsubota fastball and drills it to left. It one bounds to the wall for a leadoff double. It may be after all that Harue Kougyou is in trouble. I wonder if the hitch Tsubota his affecting his delivery.
Tsubot though isn't giving up just yet. He gets Tanaka to climb the ladder for the first out.
Kuwahara gets a hold of a ball! Nishi chases it back in center... Hits the wall!
We have our first HR of this Koushien as Kurihara hits a hanging slider to dead center! It's 5-2 Tokoha Kikugawa and the flood gates might be opening up on the Hokushinetsu champs.
Hotta even gets in on the act, hitting a blooper to shallow left center! Imasaka hits a solid single through the right side and it's gut check time for Tsubota. Kurihara goes out to try and settle him down.
Seems to work as Toji grounds into the inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
But Tokoha Kikugawa extends the lead and could be leaving Harue Kougyou behind.
Kurihara can't get the offense started as he nubs one up the 3rd base line. Oonishi charges in, makes a leaping throw to get Kurihara.
Umemura hits a ball back up the middle, that's deftly fielded by Endou who spins and makes the throw to 1st for the 2nd out.
Nakajima prevents the 1-2-3 inning by blooping a ball to center.
Wait! Hamade slices one past a diving Kuwahara into right! Nakata has to chase it down at the wall and Nakajima scores from 1st on the triple! It's 5-3!
Tsubota tries to bloop in another one, but leaves it up too long and Ono runs it down to retire the side. But timely hitting from Hamade allows Harukou to cut into the deficit!
Tsubota finally has a clean inning after giving up crooked numbers the last couple of innings. It's back to a 7 pitch inning to retire the side. But is it too late?
Kotobuki shows bunt again to lead off the 7th, but it looks to be just for show. Instead, he insides out a fastball and singles to left. Kawamura-kantoku has no hesitation in having Nishi bunt the runner along for Kinoshita nad Ono.
And what's this? Hotta can't find the strike zone and fall behind Kinoshita 3-0 before rifling in a fastball and a curve at the bottom of the zone for strike 2. Kinoshita strikes out, but the ball gets away from Matsuki! Kotobuki goes to 3rd, but Kinoshita fails to run to 1st! He's thrown out and there's 2 outs now!
That's the second time now that a runner has failed to take off for first immediately after a dropped strike 3.
Ono insides out a ball and that bloops in down the left field line! Kotobuki scores as Ono takes 2nd, and now the deficit is at 1! It's 5-4!!
Kurihara though can't do the same and flies out to left. Still Harukou chips away another run off Tokoha's lead.
Can Tsubota continue to shut down the offense? The lights are on and we have umpires down the lines.
Oonishi leading off the 8th, and while Tsubota is keeping it down now, Oonishi isn't chasing.
However, the count runs full and Oonishi hits a hard grounder to 3rd. Umemura blocks it and makes the throw to 1st.
Morishita-kantoku brings out the big guns with #16 Kikuchi, and he does take a full swing, but hits a high fly to left for Kotobuki.
That brings up Kuwahara. Not a HR this time, but he scorches one to the right side. Hamade blocks it and keeps it in front of him, but that's all he can do.
With Hotta up, Tsubota's pitches start finishing high again. This could be trouble...
A pitch gets away from Tsubot and hits Hotta in the head! It's a glancing blow, but he is taken out for an injury runner so he can be looked at. Kikuchi comes in to run for him in the meantime.
That brings up Imasaka. Can Tsubota get out of this mess?
It's not looking good as he falls behind 3-1.
And Imasaka hits a hanging fastball the other way! Ono and Nishi run back to the ball, but can't catch up to it! Both Kuwahara and Kikuchi score bringing the lead back up to 3! It's 7-4!
Things get worse as a passed ball by Kurihara sends Imasaka to 3rd.
Tsuboto gets Toji to ground to 1st to end the inning, but the gains made by Harue Kougyou have been wiped out!
It doesn't look like Hotta is returning and #11 Hodzumi Taiga does replace him on the hill. Also #17 Kaneko comes in for PH Kikuchi and takes over in RF.
Umemura tries to restart the rally with a liner down the right field line for a leadoff double. Nakajima can't get a productive AB though as he hits one back to Hodzumi.
Neither can Hamade who hits a grounder to short that Endou field for the 2nd out.
Hodzumi isn't a hard thrower himself, reaching just the low 120s. But he gets the job done as Tsubota bends away from a slider that goes right down the middle to end the inning.
Maekawa records his 3rd hit, but this time on a nubber up the 1st base line that he beats Tsubota to the bag with!
Tsubota is probably fighting fatigue and form issues.
And as I say that, Endou takes a rising fastball and drives it to left! Ono runs to the wall, but knows it's no good!
It's a liner of a HR as Endo leaves no doubt with a 2-run HR to make it 9-4!
That'll be it for Tsubota. Nakajima takes over on the hill, Hamade slides to SS, and #12 Shimode replaces Tsubota in the lineup and takes over at 2B.
Wouldn't you know it, Matsuki hits a grounder to new 2B Shimode who promptly boots it. E4.
No harm done though as Matsuki tries to steal 2nd and Kurihara guns him down with time to spare. New P Nakajima has a fastball in the 130s with a curve in the 110s that I've noticed.
And while he gives up a single to Kaneko, he's thrown out trying to steal 2nd.
Last ups for Harue Kougyou as #11 Seki comes in to hit for Kotobuki.
Seki though fights off several pitches before taking one th other way for a base hit! That cycles the lineup back to the top and Nishi.
But Nishi's troubles at the plate continue as he flies out to center and is 0-4 on the night.
Kinoshita on the other hand finally gets his 3rd hit, a grounder past a diving Endou into left. That brings up Ono, but he won't be able to make up the deficit by himself.
Now a passed ball by Matsuki again lets the runners advance. Still not alarming yet for Tokoha. Count runs full as Ono fights off a pitch.
But Hodzumi will gladly trade a run in for an out as Ono grounds to 2nd. Just one more to go as Umemura steps in.
He makes a free swing at it, and it's an easy fly for Toji who runs it down for the final out.
Harue Kougyou just couldn't hold off the potent Tokoha Kikugawa offense and as a result bow out in the first round by the score of 9-5.
Give Harue Kougyou credit though, they did fight back after being countered by Tokoha in the middle innings. But Tsubota's inconsistencies cropped up again and cost them a chance for a gyakuten win. It was a good showing, but sadly not enough. It'll be hard to repeat the feat in the summer with many other competitive teams in the prefecture, but they might have a chance still.
Tokoha Kikugawa advances to face Houtoku Gakuen, but need to shore up some things before then. First of all, Hotta was not sharp to start the game, nor was the offense able to pick up on Tsubota's delivery until the middle innings. They may not have the same luxury against the hometown team. But they have 5 days to work on it.
Kuwahara Tatsuki (Tokoha Kikugawa) - 2-4, HR, R, 2 RBI
Endou Kouhei (Tokoha Kikugawa) - 2-5, HR, R, 2 RBI
Maekawa Naoya (Tokoha Kikugawa) - 3-5, 2 R, SB
Imasaka Ryousuke (Tokoha Kikugawa) - 2-4, 2B, 2 RBI
Kinoshita Keigo (Harue Kougyou) - 3-5, 2B, R, K
Ono Shouta (Harue Kougyou) - 2-5, 2B, 2 RBI
Hamade Shouta (Harue Kougyou) - 2-4, 3B, R, RBI