Shoushikan had been one of the slightly above average teams in Kagoshima, generally making a decent run, but not necessarily a deep run.
But this fall, they somehow found a way to reach the Kyushu super-regional semifinal all while facing one Koushien team after another. Take a look at part of their road:
- Prefectural 3rd Round - def. Kagoshima Jitsugyou 3-2
- Prefectural Quarterfinal - def. Kagoshima Jyousai 10-3 (8 inn.)
- Prefectural Semifinal - def. Kamimura Gakuen 3-1
- Super-Regional 2nd Round - def. Saga Kita 7-3
- Super-Regional Quartefinal - def. Nagasaki Nichidai 6-2
- Super-Regional Semifinal - lost Seiseiko 0-8 (7 inn.)
It's not really the pitching - ace Yoshikuni Takuya is another non-power pitcher, carrying a 4.27 K/9 and a 1.24 WHIP. He carries a shuuto along with the default slider and curve.
That means our focus turns to the offense. And it's an offense that slugged a hefty 0.471 in the fall (0.160 ISO). Combine that with an OBP of 0.447 and it's easy to see how Shoushikan did it. Each of the first 5 batters in their lineup collected a HR during the fall taikai with cleanup batter Imayoshi hitting 2.
So a hard hitting squad that supposedly faced tough competition. Seems legit, but with Okinawa Shougyou's poor performance on opening day, it does cast some doubt.
On the other side sits Yamato Kouryou from Nara. No, not Tenri, not Chiben Gakuen, but Yamato Kouryou.
I make it sound like a big deal because, well... it is. Those two schools have had a stranglehold on the prefecutre for years. Instead this time around Yamato Kouryou only had to face Tenri in the prefectural final, advanced to the super-regionals where after a close win against Shiga Gakuen, they give up just 5 hits to Ryuukokudai Heian - but fell 2-0.
Yamato Kouryou is the opposite of Shoushikan, not so much pitching, and an ace on the mound.
That ace is Tatsuta Shouta. Standing at 181cm, the righty can hit the upper 140s, and features a slider and changeup. He uses the power to strike out just a shade over a batter an inning, while sporting a paltry 0.74 WHIP. He was not on the mound versus Tenri in the prefectural final, and then returned to limit Shiga Gakuen and Heian to a total of 3 runs.
Offensively, the team bats a meager 0.275 with the majority of the offense lying in the top of the order. Tatsuta in fact carries not only the ace number, but the cleanup spot in the lineup as well. However, half of the lineup carries a BA of less than 0.250.
The game can easily be summarized as strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness. It'll be a battle then to see which side cracks first.
Shoushikan (Kagoshima) - Kyushu 3/4 seed
LF Nakamura Haruki
3B Komura Yoshihiro
CF Takeyama Masahiro
1B Imayoshi Kouhei
RF Hangeishi Yoshitsune
2B Seki Takuya
C Matsuura Hidehiko
P Yoshikuni Takuya
SS Niihara Kouta
Yamato Kouryou (Nara) - Kyushu 5/6 seed
SS Kishimoto Tatsuki
2B Hirano Masashi
LF Yamaguchi Yuuji
P Tatsuta Shouta
RF Yamabe Daiki
CF Yamaguchi Masaki
1B Morita Tokiya
C Misaki Koujirou
3B Uchida Tomoya
09:00 - First pitch!
Nakamura goes down swinging to start, but it's only on a 137 kph fastball.
In fact, he isn't even hitting 140 like the reports say! That's important, because any extra power you can get (as long as you have control), is a big plus.
Komura with a grounder to short, but Kishimoto misplays it and it goes into center!
And things aren't looking any better as Takeyama his a single past a diving Kishimoto into center!
Against Imayoshi, Tatsuta struggles with his control, only getting bailed out twice as Imayoshi swings and fouls off two shoulder-high fastballs.
Imayoshi gives him the ultimate free pass as he hits a grounder right to 2nd! Kishimoto starts the 6-4-3 double play and Tatsuta gets out of the inning.
Kishimoto gets Yamato Kouryou's offense to a roaring start as he hits a seeing-eye single past a diving Seki into right. Wakai-kantoku puts the gears in motion as Kishimoto takes off on the first pitch and successfully steals 2nd! That means Hirano's bunt moves the runner 90 feet away now.
Yuuji delivers! He hits a simple single to center, easily scoring Kishimoto and just like that it's 1-0 Yamato Kouryou!
The struggles for Shoushikan continue as Yoshikuni walks cleanup batter Tatsuda on 4 straight.
Wakai-kantoku call for another bunt, this time from Yamabe. Both runners advance for the other Yamaguchi, CF Masaki.
Interesting. Yamato Kouryou's oen-dan is playing "Wasshoi".
But Yoshikuni gets Masaki to chase a fastball away to end the inning. But Yamato Kouryou strikes first here in the opening frame!
The fact that Tatsuda only sits in the mid-130s change my opinion on the team drastically. Unless his control is pitch perfect, he's just another "ace".
And with one down, Seki connects with a hanging curve and hits it over a drawn in Masaki for a double!
Tatsuta tries another curve on Matsuura, who hits a comebacker to him. He's about to look the runner back before recording the 2nd out.
Hm. Tatsuta strikes out fellow ace Yoshikuni on 3 straight, with his last two fastballs going 139 and 141. Perhaps he's "warming up"?
Yoshikuni's control looks okay for the most part. The offspeed pitches aren't just for show - he can throw them for strikes.
Morita hits a high chopper back to Yoshikuni, then Yoshikuni inadvertently climbs the ladder on Masaki (successfully though).
Yoshikuni finishes off the inning with a weak grounder to 2nd from Uchida.
Niihara gets the leadoff runner for Shoushikan on by blooping an inside fastball from Tatsuda just past a diving Kishimoto in shallow left.
Ayukawa-kantoku not calling for the bunt with his leadoff batter Nakamura. Unfortunately he pops it up to Hirano for the first out.
And now with one down, Ayukawa-kantoku does call for the bunt. Komura can't lay it down though! Instead he has to swing away and hits a grounder to 3rd. But because both Uchida and Hirano double-clutch the ball they can't turn two!
Wild pitch from Tatsuta! Komura advances to 2nd, and now it's the situation Ayukawa-kantoku was looking for!
Meanwhile, Tatsuta's control issue persist! He continually throws wide to left-handed batter Takeyama and walks him!
Imayoshi is up, and he's still bailing out Tatsuta on those high inside fastballs! If he's going to continue to swing, migh as well pitch up there.
Instead Tatsuta is all over the place and falls behind to Imayoshi as well.
But once again, Imayoshi swings on a high fastball and can't get a level swing! Morita camps out next to 1B and makes the catch to end the inning!
Meanwhile Yoshikuni has settled down from the 1st inning. He seems to like throwing his curve a lot, using it to start the batters off.
He gets two flyouts from the top of the order before getting Yuuji to wave on a fastball down the middle. The swing didn't look that good either.
The Shoushikan oen-dan plays a slower version of Train-Train as Hangeisihi grounds to 1st.
Cameras point to the scoreboard which shows no wind for the first time this tournament.
Seki catches a slider off the end of the bat and hits an easy fly to Masaki.
And Morita makes a great pick at first on a grounder to 3rd by Matsuura to end the inning.
Now it's Yoshikuni who is having some control issues. He falls behind 3-0 to Tatsuta before throwing a strike. Still ahead, Tatsuda hits a ball deep the opposite way, but Hangeishi is able to track it down for the first out.
Yamabe ignores the current pitching issues and swings away. Winds up grounding back to Yoshikuni for the 2nd out.
But Masaki does wait, works the count full, and keeps the bat in the zone enough to hit one back up the middle for a base hit.
On the 2-2 count, Wakai-kantoku calls for the hit-and-run, but Morita fouls it off. Another hit-and-run, another foul ball.
The next pitch, Misaki tries a straight steal... and is thrown out by a proverbial mile. Perhaps it was a communication error?
Yoshikuni takes a slider on the outside part of the plate and pokes it into center for a base hit. Masaki misplays the ball, but Yoshikuni doesn't take 2nd. Niihara not hiding the apparent strategy as he's showing bunt. But he can't lay it down and the count goes to 2-2. He's still showing bunt and takes a ball low to fill the count.
Niihara lays it down, but it's too hard! Tatsuta quickly turns to 2nd for one, Kishimoto's throw to 1st... in time! Double play!
And with the runners wiped out, Nakamura grounds to short to end the inning.
Morita with a comebacker off of Yoshikuni's glove. It trickles towards the right side, but he's able to run it down and make the toss to 1st just in time.
Misaki works har to fill up the count, but raises the bat behind him in frustration as he can't get around on an inside fastball.
Uchida gets his first hit as the ball short hops Niihara and eats him up.
Ayukawa-kantoku calls time.
For what I'm not sure, but Kishimoto can't make contact on Yoshikuni's fastball and becomes his 5th K victim.
We head to break with a low-scoring 1-0 game. I'm not entirely impressed with either pitcher, but their effectively wild in this game to keep most batters off balance.
Komura tries a safety bunt to start the 2nd half, but misses. Then he feebly swings on a curve in the dirt before watching a fastball on the outside corner for strike 3.
Takeyama with a ball up the middle, Kishimoto makes a great pick and running throw to 1st for the 2nd out.
Imayoshi can't catch up to an inside fastball and Tatsuda has another 1-2-3 inning, and his 4th K.
It's a quick inning for Yoshikuni. Yamato Kouryou's batters are making contact, but they are easy outs.
Hirano half-swings a ball to 1st, Yuuji can't get level on the ball and flies out to right, and Tatsuda catches a ball on the outside part of the bat and also flies out to Hangeishi to end the inning.
I think part of the problem is that the batters aren't swinging level and as a result aren't making good contact. Hangeishi makes none at all as he chases a curve outside.
Seki swings on a low curve as well, and merely lifts it to center where Masaki easily fields it.
And Matsuura is all twisted on an inside pitch and grounds out to Morita.
There's also the matter of identifying pitches. There are a lot of swinging at pitches that aren't even close to the plate.
Yamabe is jammed on such a pitch and grounds out to short. Masaki and Morita swing away early and ground out. 5 pitches and Shoushikan is back in the dugout.
The game has breezed by in the last couple of innings, and before you know it Shoushikan is down to their final 6 outs.
Yoshikuni gets his 2nd hit taking a curve the opposite way again for a base hit. Niihara up to bunt again, hoping for better results than last time.
But he again bunts it too hard! Tatsuta goes to 2nd and just gets Yoshikuni! The throw to 1st is not in time, so it's not a total disaster.
Nakamura can't do any better, grounding to short and knocking off the lead runner again.
So Ayukawa-kantoku goes to the bench and #13 Maruyama hoping for something good.
Maruyama is certainly swinging hard, and Tatsuta has turned it up a notch, going upper 130s.
But Maruyama winds up with a swinging bunt. Misaki fields it before it goes foul and thows out a diving Maruyama for the 3rd out.
#15 Sakanoue comes in for PH Maruyama and takes over at 3B.
Niihara makes another great running throw on a grounder up the middle by Misaki.
Uchida on the other hand waves on an outside fastball for the 2nd out. And does the same to Kishimoto to retire the side. Yoshikuni has done an great job of holding the deficit at 1. Now it's time for the bats to stand and deliver.
3-4-5 batters up for Shoushikan.
Takeyama with a blooper to center. Kishimoto, Yuuji and Masaki all converge on the ball. Kishimoto dives, but can't make the catch! He looks hurt on the ground as they get the ball in.
Douten runner on as Kishimoto gets up. He looks to be ok.
Imayoshi up and he takes a curve the other way! That's in for a base hit as Takeyama takes and slides into 3rd!
Tatsuta in his first real pinch this game, and it's here in the 9th! #16 Hazeyama comes in to run for Imayoshi.
Hangeishi steps in, he's 0-3 on the day. This time though he's battling, working the count to 2-2, fouling off pitches.
And Tatsuta goes 142, but it's a fastball way high in the zone. Full count!
Fastball inside, Hangeishi swings and gets a piece of it.
It's high! Hangeishi walks and it's manrui for Shoushikan here with just 1 out!
Seki's up now and he hit the double over Masaki's head back in the 2nd. Can he do the same again?
He's swinging for it, that's for sure. But he's quickly down 0-2.
Seki reaches out and pokes a ball down the 1st base line.. FAIR!!! It goes into right as Yamabe runs it down! Takeyama and Hazeyama score! Seki comes through again with the gyakuten 2-run double! It's 2-1 Shoushikan!! And still nobody out!
Ayukawa-kantoku is unusually not calling for a squeeze and instead lets Matsuura swing away. He grounds right to Uchida who holds the runners before going to 1st for the 1st out.
Yoshikuni is also not bunting, and grounds right to 1st. Morita also looks the runners back before tagging the bag.
And with Niihara up, Tatsuta winds up filling up the count and then walking him! Manrui again for Shoushikan with top batter Nakamura coming to the plate!
Nakamura grounds to short to end the inning, but Seki's 2nd double of the day gives his team the lead!
Now it's Yamato Kouryou who's behind the 8-ball now. Their 2-3-4 batters are due up to try to extend the game.
Hazeyama stays in the game at 1B.
Hirano swings on the first pitch and pops it up! Seki settles in just on the outfield grass for the first out!
Yuuji is way ahead of a curveball and pops it up! Takeyama comes in for the catch and there's 2 outs!
It's all up to ace Tatsuta to extend the game. After ball 1, Ayukaawa-kantoku calls for a quick conference.
Tatsuta swings on the next pitch and it's a fly to right! Hangeishi is under it and he raises his arms in the air as he makes the catch! Shoushikan rallies late to defeat Yamato Kouryou 2-1!
It's not like it was a collapse by Tatsuta that allowed the winning runs to score. But it could have been fatigue, or just finally missing in the wrong locations. Either way it's unfortunate for the team from Nara as Tatsuta's efforts all go for naught in the 9th.
For Shoushikan, its an opening win in their first ever appearance at Koushien! Yoshikuni kept the opposition off the base paths after the first inning allowing the middle of the order comes through in the final moments and allows them to play one more game!
Yoshikuni Takuya (Shoushikan) - CG, W, ER, 4 H, 7 K, BB
Seki Takuya (Shoushikan) - 2-4, 2 2B, 2 RBI
Takeyama Masahito (Shoushikan) - 2-3, R, BB
Tatsuta Shouta (Yamato Kouryou) - CG, L, 2 ER, 8 H, 4 K, 3 BB
Yamaguchi Yuuji (Yamato Kouryou) - 1-4, RBI
Yamaguchi Masaki (Yamato Kouryou) - 1-3