It's a bit weird with the format this year (with the expanded field), that we're still having teams playing their first games, and we're on Day 6.
But, here we are with some of our opening round teams playing their 2nd game. In this case, it's Tokoha Kikugawa facing home team Houtoku Gakuen.
And I do mean home team - the school is about 20 minutes away by car!
Houtoku Gakuen had some hot and cold stretches during the fall taikais. They would win the Hyogo prefecturals by edging out Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku 2-1, then pretty much did the same against Fukuchiyama Seibi (the same team Kyoto Shouei blew out 22-3). Fast forward to the semifinal and they then mercy-rule current Haru-Natsu champs Osaka Touin before losing in the finals to Kyoto Shouei 3-2 in 13 innings.
Inui Youhei is still their ace, throws in the low 140s with the standard fare. Has average numbers - 5 K/9, 5:2 K/BB ratio, 0.95 WHIP. Yet he was able to 1-hit Osaka Touin, so it's a bit bizarre.
If we assume that Osaka Touin is significantly not as strong as last year (which is easily plausible since they lost Fujinami), then the story makes more sense in that Inui is like all other pitchers, and that the offense significantly takes a hit when facing Koushien-level competition.
It's probably why some of the starting numbers in the fall have been replaced. 2B Miki has been moved in favor of Yamaguchi Daisuke, and LF Arai has been replaced with Yokota Yuuka. They had hit 7 & 8 in the lineup.
Their best batter is at the top of the lineup in Katsuoka Shizuya, who batted 0.373 and half his hits went for extra bases. Direcly behind him is Kurino Wataru who led the team in steals (8), though if Katsuoka gets on base ahead of Kurino, how much will he be able to run?
Their first opponent will be Tokoha Kikugawa, who capitalized on errors made by Kyushu champions Okinawa Shougaku in order to win 9-5. The 9 runs belied the fact that they weren't able to get to Okishou's ace until the latter half of the game. Of course when they did, they showed the offense that they displayed during the fall - including 2 HRs.
The other problem is that Hotta looked rather hittable against Harue Kougyou. Reliever Hodzumi in addition was not effective either. And while Harue Kougyou isn't just some random team, it can probably be agreed that they're not top tier. So the offense will be hard pressed to deliver game after game. But if they can take it a game at a time, it might be possible.
Tokoha Kikugawa (Shizuoka) - Tokai 3 seed
CF Toji Keisuke
LF Maekawa Naoya
SS Endou Kouhei
C Matsuki Daisuke
3B Oonishi Yuuki
RF Kaneko Hisashi (#17)
1B Kuwahara Tatsuki
P Watanabe Naoki (#10)
2B Imasaka Ryousuke
Houtoku Gakuen (Hyogo) - Kinki Runner-up
RF Katsuoka Shizuya
CF Kurino Wataru
SS Kishida Yukinori
1B Katahama Daiki
C Matsutani Tatsuki
2B Yamaguchi Daisuke
LF Yokota Yuuta
3B Hagihara Mikito
P Inui Youhei
09:00 - First pitch!
Toji swings on the first pitch and flies to left.
Inui firing strikes early, Maekawa swinging and missing on a fastball high for the out.
And Endou flies out to right and the inning is over in 7 pitches.
Watanabe getting the start instead of Hotta, perhaps to see how much they can get away with in resting their ace. As I mentioned before about Tokoha Kikugawa, I wouldn't trust the relief staff, but perhaps there's something I'm missing.
He goes full on Katsuoka before freezing him on a pitch inside.
Kurino tries a safety bunt, but Watanabe is there quickly and makes the throw for the 2nd out.
And Kishida goes full has to swing at the next pitch and flies to left. 1-2-3, but as noted he went full twice.
Of course, I mention he's throwing strikes and he walks Matsuki on 4 straight.
Then he comes back and climbs the ladder on Oonishi for his 2nd K.
Matsuki tries to steal 2nd, Matsutani's throw seems late, but instead the camera shifts and Matsuki's out easily! That seems odd.
And Kaneko grounds to 3rd and the side is retired.
Watanabe actually gets ahead of Katahama but runs the count full and walks him! Matsutani bunts him over.
And a curve gets bu Matsuki somehow! Now Katahama is on 3rd!
As expected, Houtoku punishes the strategy! Yamaguchi singles to center and Katahama easily scores to make it 1-0 Houtoku!
Watanabe gets Yokota and Hagihara to fly out to center and that ends the inning, but unless Tokoha plans to outscore Houtoku, they may have to call on Hotta's services early.
It continues to be rather quick for Inui. Like the first, he requires just 7 pitches to retire the bottom of the order as a strikeout of Watanabe is sandwiched by two fly balls. Though to be honest, Katsuoka's backpedaling on Kuwahara's fly ball looked rather awkward and as if he wasn't an actual outfielder.
Perhaps Watanabe heard me, because he's throwing strikes now.
Inui hits a comeback to Watanabe, and behind 1-2 Katsuoka grounds out to 2nd.
And apparently those strikes come in spurts as Watanabe goes full on Kurino before he grounds to 1st.
So for those that haven't read my prior game posts on Inui, he throws in the low 140s with a forkball to go with the standard fare.
Toji gets the bat around an inside fastball and lines it down the right field line... fair! Katsuoka runs it down and fumbles a bit with the ball! Still though, Toji winds up at 2nd with a leadoff double!
Maekawa tries to bunt Toji to 3rd, but he fails in his 2 attempts! Now he has to swing away!
And instead swings badly on a fastball way outside for the first out.
Endou with a grounder to left! They're sending Toji??!! That's really shallow!
But Yokota's throw is way up the 1st base line and Toji scores to tie it at 1-1! Either Morishita-kantoku has information or they like to press. Either way it works this time.
Matsuki is given the green light to swing, but flies out to center for the 2nd out. Oonishi grounds out to 2nd on the first pitch to end the inning, but some aggressive running and timely hitting give us a time game!
One down for Houtoku and Katahama with a base hit to left! He's moved over for a one shot from Yamaguchi, but he swings on the first pitch and grounds out to 3rd. As quickly as an opportunity presented itself, it disappeared.
Kaneko swings under a shoulder high fastball and pops up to Hagihara for the first out.
Kurihara with a grounder to 3rd, but Hagihara's throw is short and Katahama can't field it! E5 and Tokoha has another runner on!
#16 Kikuchi to hit for Watanabe, so that means Hotta will be entering the game.
Kikuchi though can't do anything as he swings on a slider in the dirt.
And apparently Houtoku Gakuen sees a weakness in Tokoha's they like the high pitch. Because Imasaka sees nothing except those and strikes out swinging to end the inning.
So ace Hotta actually comes in for Kaneko and takes the hill, Kikuchi moves to right.
And this game just whizzes along. Yokota gets ahead of a curveball and goes down. Hagihara follows that with a first pitch grounder to 3rd, and then Inui hits a high fly to Endou to end the inning!
We hit the break at a sub 2-hr pace, and for Tokoha Kikugawa, they got the innings they wanted from Watanabe as after a shaky first 2 innings, he settles down and hands the game over to his ace level.
For Houtoku, Inui has done fairly well against Tokoha's offense save for the score in the 4th. And I think they have something they can take advantage of.
And just as expected, Toji is behind 1-2, and they give him a couple of high fastballs which he manages to foul off. After laying off a slider in the dirt, he hits a pitch outside for a fly out to left.
Maekawa swings on a high pitch and hits a booming fly to right that Katsuoka secures.
And Endou chases a ball down and flies out to Yokota to end the inning.
I get it now! If Tokoha Kikugawa is a good hitting team, perhaps the idea isn't to go from side to side, it's to go up and down! If you miss side-to-side, you might leave one in their wheelhouse. If you pitch high and they swing, they can't drive through the ball, or they can't swing through it because it is high. If they swing low, they're reaching for it, and again aren't driving it and probably golfing it into the air!
Now it's Hotta's turn to nibble, working the outside and thus the count full. But he does eventually get Katsuoka to ground to 2nd.
And quickly thereafter, Kurino grounds to 3rd, and Kishida fies out to Toji near the infield and it's a quick inning for Houtoku!
I think the Tokoha batters are catching on, and thus waiting for a better pitch, but the results are the same. Matsuki grounds out to 2nd, Oonishi grounds out to 3rd, and Hotta in his first AB strikes out swinging on a fastball outside for the 3rd out.
One down for Houtoku, and Matsutani lines a curve back up the middle for a base hit!
And now Nagata-kantoku starts the hit-and-run! Yamaguchi grounds to 3rd, Oonishi charges in, throws and beats out a flopping Yamaguchi. (I don't know how better to explain it, he was completely horizontal about 4 feet off the ground like a belly flop.)
#13 Sakai to hit for Yokota.
Sakai drives the first pitch he sees! Maekawa running back, reaches his glove out and it's over him! Matsutani being sent home and Sakai delivers with a PH RBI double! It's 2-1 Houtoku Gakuen! He's given a warm welcome back in the dugout as he's replaced at 1st by #15 Sugiura.
Hagihara flies out to center to end the inning, but the Lucky 7 is lucky for Sakai and Houtoku Gakuen!
Sugiura stays in the game at LF.
AH! Kuwahara is sent to the ground after being hit by Inui! He's fine, but the douten runner is on base!
Kikuchi with a liner to right! Katsuoka gets it in quickly and Kuwahara has to hold at 2nd.
But with no out, Morishita-kantoku doesn't call for a bunt!
And Imasaka chases a fastball outside for the first out! One down, but that will flip the lineup back to the top and Toji.
Inui working from side to side now, but his control is not as good! He falls behind Toji 3-0 before fighting back to fill the count. But Toji doesn't chase on a ball way outside and it's manrui for Maekawa!!
Nagata-kantoku calls for time.
Fastball high and Maekawa fouls it off. And another foul! Will Inui take advantage of Maekawa's aggressiveness?
Well at 0-2 he throws a waste pitch, then another high pitch that Maekawa swings at, but grounds to Yamaguchi! He goes home for the force and there's 2 down!
Last chance in Endou to tie the game here in the 8th. Fastball on the outside corner taken for a strike. Goes there again and Endou fouls it off, quickly falling behind 0-2.
Another outside, and Endou emergency swings it foul! Pitch high, no swing!
Grounder to short! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The ball 5-holes Kishida into left center!!!
Kikuchi scores! Toji scores!! Maekawa being sent home!!!!
Throw from Kishida... SAFE!!!!
Maekawa slides in ahead of the throw and Matsuki clears the bases on an unfortunate play for Houtoku Gakuen!! Tokoha leads 4-2!!
Matsuki pops out to 2nd, but Tokoha Kikugawa gets some lick in the 8th and now have a 2-run lead!!
The home team now has little time to regroup and mount a rally.
One down for Houtoku and Katsuoka goes down and guides a ball through to center for a base hit!
Nagata-kantoku hoping for some more luck as he sends ini #12 Arai to hit for Kuwano.
He hits a fly to right center! But Toji sprinting over makes the catch! Kikuchi points in and Toji fires it to 1st! Katsuoka scrambles back, but Toji's throw beats him for the double play!!
Nagata-kantoku isn't happy about that as now his team is down to their last 3 outs!!
It takes a little bit of work, but Inui retires the side in order. He's done what he could on the mound now. It's up to the offense to try and make a final rally.
3-4-5 batters for Houtoku up as well.
But Hotta goes right after Kishida with 2 strikes. But then two balls not close and the advantage is gone.
Kishida lines a shot past a leaping Oonishi down the left field line! He's in easily with a double!
I will never understand the "waste" pitches that aren't even close. You're just giving away pitches and any advantage you had as the pitcher.
And now Hotta is trying to nibble or get the batter to chase and is getting nowhere! He walks Katahama on 4 straight! The douten runner is on for Houtoku!
Matsutani up and showing bunt, pitch inside - bunts it foul. Next pitch, buster shot! But he fouls it back! He's down 0-2, but still showing bunt!
Pitch way up and in for ball 1.
He goes for it! lays it down! Hotta goes to 1st and now the douten runner is in scoring position for Yamaguchi!
And Tokoha's defense is way in! Where is the "no doubles" defense??
Well, Hotta gets ahead of Yamaguchi 1-2.
Fly to right! Kikuchi with the catch, Kishida comes in to score, but Imasaka's throw home is high! Hotta backing up play retrieves it, and Katahama is caught off 3rd??!!
Hotta starts the rundown, and 1-5-2-1 Hotta makes the tag and jumps in the air! Tokoha Kikugawa survives to defeat Houtoku Gakuen 4-3!!
Oh man, that's the second base running error in as many innings for Houtoku Gakuen and this one costs them the game!!
And you can see it as the players go out to the oen-dan, some of them are crying because the game was there for the taking, but unforced errors cost them.
So it'll be back to the drawing board for Houtoku Gakuen. They'll have the entire spring and summer to stew over that loss and to work their way back to Koushien once again.
For Tokoha Kikugawa, they get a lot of bounces their way - the 5-hole bases-clearing double, and the two baserunning errors mean that they advance on to play Kochi in the 3rd round. As much as perhaps their aggressiveness helped them in the past, they may need to be more disciplined lest they swing themselves out of Koushien instead of into the finals.
Watanabe Naoki (Tokoha Kikugawa) - 4 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, K, BB
Hotta Tatsuya (Tokoha Kikugawa) - W, 5 IP, 2 ER, 4 H, K, BB
Endou Kouhei (Tokoha Kikugawa) - 2-4, 2B, 3 RBI
Inui Youhei (Houtoku Gakuen) - L, CG, 4 ER, 4 H, 8 K, 2 BB, HBP
Sakai Shuugo (Houtoku Gakuen) - 1-1, 2B, RBI
Katahama Daiki (Houtoku Gakuen) - 1-2, BB
Yamguchi Daisuke (Houtoku Gakuen) - 1-3, 2 RBI