Next up is a poor man's Osaka Touin squaring off against a surprise runner-up out of Kanto.
Naruto had a decent senbatsu last year winning 2 games before being pounded by the streaking Takasaki Kenkoudai Fukushi. This year, they have decided their winning formula is to just outscore their pitching.
With exception of their first game, Naruto's pitchers gave up at least 4 runs per game. New ace Bandou Yuugo carried a 1.50 WHIP, and a paltry 2.86 K/9 leading to a 4.73 ERA. But the alternatives for Naruto are so bad that they've pretty much abandoned carrying a reliever and will depend on SS Kawano Yuuto if it ever gets to that point (which by then will probably mean it won't matter).
They make up for this by peppering the opposition with base hits. Despite an ISO of just 0.120, the team as a whole hit 0.389. Oddly, it's not the top of the lineup that is performing well either. A lot of the contributions are made from cleanup batter Ise Hayato and lower.
Asking a team though to continuously outhit the opposition is a tough proposition, just ask Osaka Touin. Yes they won both spring and summer, but they also had Fujinami.
Utsunomiya Shougyou was a surprise to reach the Kanto finals, but looking at their game logs, it would appear they were the beneficiary of a weak schedule. Even with the weaker schedule though their pitching staff still had a tough time of it. In fact, the team heavily relied on CF/P Iioka Kenta who averaged 6.37 K/9. But he's far from a flame thrower - in fact he barely hits 130 on the gun. Yet he's the best option, even over ace number Arai Ryou.
Offensively, it's all about the top of the lineup. Kimijima Kenzou and Watanabe Yuuji set the table for #3 batter Igarashi Yuuta and the aforementioned Iioka at #5.
Looks like Iioka will need to survive the expected barrage from Naruto. Otherwise, this game could be over and swiftly.
Utsunomiya Shougyou (Tochigi) - Kanto Runner-up
CF Kimijima Kenzou (#3)
2B Watanabe Yuuji (#5)
SS Igarashi Yuuta (#4)
3B Arai Ryou (#1)
P Iioka Kenta (#8)
LF Ozai Yoshihisa
RF Shibayama Kazuhiro
C Satou Fumitaka
1B Sekiguchi Daisuke (#11)
Naruto (Tokushima) - Shikoku Runner-up
SS Kawano Yuuto
2B Nakano Yuuki
RF Inaoka Kenta
1B Ise Hayato
LF Hashikawa Ryousuke (#10)
C Kusaka Hiroki
3B Matsumoto Takanori
P Bandou Yuugo
CF Koumoto Yuujirou
10:46 - First pitch!
If the position and number mismatch is any indication, there will be a lot of position moving later on for Utsunomiya Shougyou.
Opening batter Kimijima swings and misson a cutter for the first out.
I couldn't catch all of the pitches Bandou has, but I did catch a cutter, slider, curve, change in addition to the fastball. He only maxes out in the mid 130s though, and he rarely throws the fastball preferring to pitch backwards.
Watanabe is ahead of a cutter and hits a weak grounder to 2nd. Igarashi too swings on a cutter and flies out to right to end the inning.
According to the announcers, Iioka has a slider, shuuto, fork to go along with the fastball. But in perhaps a bit of nerves Iioka walks Kawano. Nakano bunts him easily to 2nd.
Iioka is still having trouble finding the zone, with his pitches to Inaoka all going wide. He manages to fire one in after falling behind 3-0, but ends up losing him.
Iioka doesn't light up the guns either throwing in the low-mid 130s. But he'll need to find his control quick as cleanup batter Ise stands in. Though it's quite obvious they are going to go away on him.
But misses in, and Ise swings! It's a pop fly though, and while Ozai has some trouble, he makes the catch for the 2nd out.
Iioka though refuses to go inside on left-handed batters and walks Hashikawa on 4 straight, creating a manrui situation for Kusaka. Kaneko-kantoku calls time.
It appears that th strategy for Utsunomiya Shougyou is to nibble the outside corners and not pitch inside.
Of course as I say that Iioka goes in on Kusaka and gets him to ground to 3rd. Arai goes to 1st and Iioka and Utsunomiya Shougyou get out of the early pinch.
On the other hand, Bandou chugs along. He gets an assist from Kawano who stops an Iioka grounder in the hole and makes a great throw to 1st.
Ozai though makes it tough for Bandou, fouling off several pitches before he finally swings and misses on a slider inside for the 3rd out.
Iioka's 3/4 delivery creates a weird 1-7 curve. Apparenly the Naruto batters haven't figured it out yet either as Matsumoto can't check his swing.
And a slider that follows the same patch is whiffed on by Bandou for the 2nd out.
Iioka gets a clean inning after the trouble in the 1st as Koumoto reaches out and hits a lazy fly to center to end the inning. Looks like they still don't have the timing or the motion figured out yet.
Shibayama gets a hold of a fastball and turns it into the right-center field gap! The outfield is in and has to race back! Shibayama is in easily with a leadoff triple!
First pitch from Bandou is short and wide! It gets away from Kusaka and Shibayama scores from 3rd! It's 1-0 on the unforced error!
Bandou finally settles down after falling behind on Satou 3-0. 3 straight strikes (including the third which seemed low to me) and there's one down.
Sekiguchi attacks the first pitch, but lines out to short.
Kimijima gets around on a slider inside, but flies out to center to end the inning. Once again though, a defensive miscue cost a team a run.
Iioka continues to test the outside corners, but the Naruto batters continue not to bite until Iioka is supposedly painted into a corner.
Case in point, Kawano waits until 3-1 to swing away, but fouls out to Sekiguchi.
Bad break for Iioka as a comebacker from Nakano glances off his glove and dribbles to the right side for a base hit.
Now it's Iioka with a wild pitch! Satou keeps it in front of him, but it bounces away enough for Nakano to take 2nd!
Inaoka has the right idea, taking all those pitches away and trying to take it opposite field. But it doesn't work this time as he flies out to Ozai.
That leaves it to Ise to try and get the douten run in. Iioka continues to stay on the outer half and beyond.
And Naruto finally punishes Iioka! 3-1 count and he tries a curve over the plate. Instead Ise crushes it to center and over Kimijima's head for a RBI double! We're tied at 1-1!
Hashikawa grounds to short to end the inning, but Utsunomiya Shougyou's strategy on the mound will not work for a full game.
Utsunomiya's batters are having better AB's now it seems with many of them going deep into counts. Watanabe is unsuccessful popping up to short. Igarashi on the other hand takes a ball the other way into the left-center field gap for a double.
Arai with a chance to get the lead back, also goes to a 2-2 count, and if not for a good dive by Ise would have plated that run. Instead there's two outs. That leaves it to starter Iioka. After falling behind 1-2, he fills up the count and could have had ball had he not chased a ball up and in. Fouled it off though.
And another one up and in Iioka manages to foul off, though why he isn't taking the pitch is beyond me.
Bandou wins the battle as he gets Iioka to fly out to shallow right to end the inning.
Well, there is a change, but not severly defensively. Ace Arai takes the hill, and Iioka moves to 3B.
Not a bad start as he jams Kusaka into a grounder to short. Matsumoto can only manage a weak comebacker to Arai.
At first glance, Arai looks like a carbon copy of Iioka. It takes just 7 pitches, including a 3-pitch K to Bandou to end the inning.
Not to be outdone, Bandou says "I can do you one better". And does, using just 6 pitches to retire the side in order. All batters retired on hits in the infield.
One down for Naruto and leadoff batter Kawano is able to get around on a high fastball and line it over Arai into center.
Moriwaki-kantoku tries to start the hit-and-run, but Nakano fouls it off. Moriwaki then calls for a bunt, but that doesn't work either. Moriwaki doesn't remove the bunt though, and Nakano fouls it off for strike 3.
Moriwaki then sends Inaoka on another hit-and run, but Inaoka can't make contact and Satou throws him out at 2nd to send the game to the break all level at 1-1.
One down for Utsunomiya and Kimijima collects his first hit, a hot grounder that gets past a diving Nakano.
And as I thought, Kaneko-kantoku will play for the run as Watanabe successfully bunts him along.
Igarashi attacks the first pitch, but gets under it. Koumoto is there to make the catch and Utsunomiya Shougyou is unable to make any headway.
Inaoka slices a liner to the left side, but Igarashi climbs the ladder to make the catch.
Ise hits a grounder to short. Igarashi boots the ball, but quickly recovers and the throw beats Ise to the bag.
And Igarashi is responsible for all 3 outs as Hashikawa swings on the first pitch and flies out to end the inning.
The game so far really hasn't been about good pitching, it's really been the inability of the batters to get on base.
Arai tries to work the count in his favor, but grounds out to 2nd. Iioka tries to slap one the other way, but flies out to Inaoka. Ozai is jammed and dribbles one to 2nd to end the inning.
Kusaka goes down and golfs one, but right at Kimijima for the first out.
Matsumoto tries that patient approach and earns himself a walk. Moriwaki-kantoku is also playing for the run as Bandou shows and lays down the bunt. This leaves it though to last batter Koumoto.
Koumoto does the right thing and tries to work the count. Checks his swing at 2-2 to fill up the count. And he wins the battle! Koumoto gets the walk and the lineup cycles back to Kawano!
Arai now goes into outside mode and manages to get ahead 1-2. It works this time as Kawano weakly swings a grounder to 2nd to end the inning!
Utsunomiya Shougyou's batters continue to have timing isses on Bandou's pitches. Shibayama is way ahead of a slider and pops out to Bandou. Satou too is in front and grounds to Kawano.
Sekiguchi is finished off with a slider inside. All he can do is hit a grounder right to 1st,and the side is retired.
Time is running out for both teams in regulation. Could we see our first enchousen match?
Nakano tries a safety bunt to get on base, but fouls it off.
It works out as Nakano correctly takes an outside slider the other way into the gap for a leadoff double!
Moriwaki-kantoku calls for the bunt, but Arai instead hits Inaoka! Runners on 1st and 2nd for Ise as Kaneko-kantoku asks for time.
Ise gets jammed by Arai and hits a grounder to 2nd! Watanabe can't get the ball out of the glove and Utsunomiya Shougyou only gets the runner at 2nd.
Moriwaki-kantoku now calls on #7 Narukawa to bring the runner home.
Narukawa tries to lay down the squeeze bunt, but fails! Nakano is left out to dry and there's 2 outs! Naruto still has a chance though as Ise advances to 2nd.
Narukawa with a base hit! It falls in left-center and Ise scores! Naruto breaks the tie here in the 8th! It's 2-1!!
#11 Tanaka comes in to run just in case something else happens, but Kusaka flies out to center to end the inning.
However PH Narukawa gives his team the lead with just 3 outs to go!
Kimijima with a rocket to right! Inaoka gives chase, but it's off the wall! He's in with a leadoff double! Is there a rally within them? Watanabe lays down a great bunt to move the runner along.
That brings up Igarashi, who had the double himself earlier.
But he pops it up! Matsumoto in foul territory fights the wind, but makes the catch for the 2nd out! It's all up to Arai now!
But after falling behind 2-0, the battery elects to walk Arai and face Iioka.
The gamble pays off! Iioka fists a ball to the left side! Matsumoto charges in, makes the throw and Naruto holds on to defeat Utsunomiya Shougyou by the final of 2-1!
It definitely was a hard fought battle between the two schools, and the aces on the mound were certainly effective. But a slight defensive hiccup in the 8th made all the difference in this matchup!
Utsunomiya Shougyou represented their school well, despite falling in the first round. Iioka and Arai were both good on the mound and the defense for the most part was excellent.
For Naruto, the win helps them on their march to exceed what they did last year. There's still some holes to patch up, mainly on offense, but they'll have the full 5 days to rest up for it.
Bandou Yuugo (Naruto) - CG, W, 0 ER, 4 H, 3 K, BB
Nakano Yuuki (Naruto) - 2-3, 2B, R, K
Narukawa Shuuji (Naruto) - 1-1, RBI
Arai Ryou (Utsunomiya Shougyou) - L, 5 IP, R, 3 H, 2 K, 2 BB, HBP
Shibayama Kazuhiro (Utsunomiya Shougyou) - 1-3, 3B, R
Kimijima Kenzou (Utsunomiya Shougyou) - 2-4, 2B