Well, we know one team who's in the finals. Who will step up to face them tomorrow?
One thing we do know, it will be a team from Shikoku - which is not what I would have expected at all.
Oddly enough, Kochi has not faced off against Saibi as they were on opposite sides of the Shikoku taikai. They got here by first shocking Kanzei (ok, perhaps just me only) with a 5-1 upset. After that, the team has played very close, low-scoring games defeating Tokoha Kikugawa then upsetting the Meiji Jingu champs Sendai Ikuei.
For Saibi, it was the only extra inning affair again Kouryou, then handling Seiseikou and battering an already battered Kenritsu Gifu Shougyou battery for 6 runs.
I really don't know what to expect from this game, especially since this isn't a rematch from the fall. It's been a while for Kochi to reach the finals, while Saibi is going for their 2nd finals in their 2nd attempt.
Who wants it more?
(I'll insert more here when the game is over)
Kochi (Kochi) - Shikoku Champions
2B Wada Yoshito
SS Doi Kouyou
1B Ichikawa Gou
3B Wada Ren
LF Matagawa Ryouyuu
CF Ueta Shunya
RF Sugimoto Daiki
C Maeda Ryuusei (#12)
P Sakai Yuuya (#10)
Saibi (Ehime) - Shikoku 3 seed
CF Ueda Kyousuke
RF Yamashita Takuma
SS Usagawa Riku
P Anraku Tomohiro
LF Oota Yuuya (#5)
3B Morita Shouhei (#15)
1B Fujiwara Kouki
C Kaneko Kouhei
2B Machida Takahiro
13:22 - First pitch!
Anraku throwing a lot of off-speed pitches to start. Perhaps he can't locate his fastball?
More like his fastball is not as fast as before, only in the upper 130s. Yoshito grounds to 1st on one such one.
More off-speed pitches to Doi.
Doi gets a hold of a fastball from Anraku! Oota running back to the fence!! Looks up!!
Doi with a HR in the first just like the previous game gives his team a 1-0 lead!
Anraku continues with his steady diet of non-fastballs. Ichikawa strikes out looking on a slider and Ren flies out to right.
But if Anraku's fastball is wordly today and he's throwing off-speed pitches almost exclusively, this could be a big problem for Saibi.
One pitch, one out. Kyousuke flies out to left.
Yamashita tries to work the count, but winds up grounding out to short for the 2nd out.
Usagawa is called going around on a slider down and in and it's a 1-2-3 inning to start for Sakai.
Shunya with a ball up the middle, Usagawa with a great diving stop, but the ball slips out of the glove on the way to throw to 1st and Shunya is safe!
And now he tries to steal 2nd! Throw from Kaneko is a bit of a loop and Ueta is in safely! And the ball gets away fro Usagawa allowing Ueta to reach 3rd!
Ah, looks like the dirt from the slide got in his eyes.
Luckily for Saibi, it doesn't hurt them as Maeda grounds to 2nd to end the inning.
After a groundout by Anraku to start the 2nd, Oota works a walk off of Sakai.
But when Jyoukou-kantoku runs the hit-and-run, Morita grounds right to Ren who goes to 2nd and still gets the lead runner! Yoshito fires to 1st and the twin-tandem gets the double play!
Bottom of the order and Sakai steps in.
Grounder to short, and the hop unexpectedly eats up Usagawa! He drops it and his throw to 1st is late!
Back to the top of the order and Yoshito, and ooooh... He gets called out on a very questionable fastball in the bottom of the zone.
Anraku continues to throw predominantly off-speed pitches which only help to speed up the bats.
Doi gets around on one, but grounds to Fujiwara. He goes to short for 1, goes back to Fujiwara for the double play!
So far Saibi is going after early pitches, but like last game, it seems like when they're able to go deeper into counts they get better results.
Fujiwara grounds out to short on a 1-1 count. Kaneko hits a soft liner to short on the same 1-1 count.
Machida has to swing away after falling behind 1-2, and grounds out... to short to end the inning.
Anraku is back to hitting the low-mid 140s, but it seems hittable.
Ichikawa on the 2-2 pitch walks back to the dugout only to be called back by the umpire! He wasn't called out!
He is later though as he is frozen on a fastball down the middle.
Ren goes after the first pitch and hits a deep fly to center. Ueda is there near the fence to make the catch.
And it looks like he's using his fastball more now as he buries a fastball and gets Matagawa to chase to end the inning.
Hm. I think someone's heard me over on Saibi's bench...
After a quick flyout by Ueda, Yamashita and Usagawa work back-to-back full count walks. That sets the table for Anraku, who should still implement the strategy.
Once again, he is working the count and gets ahead 2-1. Oddly, Jyoukou-kantoku has Oota go out and talk to Anraku.
On the very next pitch, Sakai bounces it in front of Maeda! It bounces high into the air and to the backstop! Runners advance, and now it's Shimada-kantoku calling for time!
Anraku goes after the 3-1 pitch but can't make contact! Full count yet again for Sakai!
Check swing by Anraku makes contact with the next pitch and fouls it off!
Ball low and Sakai has walked the bases loaded!!
Shimada-kantoku as Sakamoto warming up along with another pitcher. He's got to make a decision quick because Sakai is in a real pinch!
Grounder to 3rd by Oota. Off Ren's foot as he shuffles over and it's into foul territory! He chases it down but has no play! Yamashita scores and it's 1-1!!
Now Morita looking to give Saibi the lead, but he deviates from the plan! He swings on the 1-1 pitch and pops it up! Ren in foul territory makes the catch for the 2nd out!
And Fujiwara also chases a pitch early and falls behind. He winds up chasing a fastball away for the 3rd out and Sakai limits the damage to the douten run! (Saibi's 6-7 hitters let him off the hook.)
#7 Goutouji comes in to play CF for Ueda.
Ueta leads off the inning with a grounder past a diving Usagawa! Sugimoto tries to bunt him over, but Anraku instead fires to 2nd! Usagawa makes the out but the slide from Ueta prevents a throw to 1st.
Maeda up and it looks like Sakai's day is over. #18 Takeuchi is in the on deck circle instead of Sakai.
Shimada-kantoku sending Sugimoto! Throw from Kaneko... not in time! Kochi threatens to take the lead once again!
But Maeda bails swing on an ball up and in for the 2nd out.
Takeuchi trying to get the timely pinch-hit runs the count full but is called out looking on a borderline fastball to end the inning.
Ace Sakamoto comes in the game for Kochi to hold the tie.
One pitch, one out. Kaneko flies out to center.
Last batter Machida pulls a ball on the outer half and singles to left! Jyoukou-kantoku elects to have Goutouji bunt the runner along for a one-shot.
And it works! Yamashita hits a grounder past a diving Doi! Machida is being waved home! Throw in from Matagawa is up the 1st base line and late! Machida scores and Yamashita takes 2nd on the throw! Yamashita with the gyakuten RBI to give Saibi the 2-1 lead!
Usagawa still without a ball in play as he feebly swings on a sinker to end the inning, but even putting ace Sakamoto in hasn't help Kochi here in recent inning as Saibi ties, then takes the lead as we hit the break!
Defensive change as the outfielders play the shuffle game. Goutouji goes from CF to LF, Oota goes from LF to RF, and Yamashita goes from RF to CF.
The defense doesn't affect this inning though as leadoff batter Yoshito grounds to 2nd, Doi looks at a 146 kph heater down the pipe, and Ichikawa grounds to 1st to end the inning.
Things are changing quickly as Anraku singles back up the middle, going 5-hole on Sakamoto.
Oota looking to bunt, but actually gets ahead 3-1 before the count runs full.
The cameras go to the 3rd base coaches' box and it's former CF Ueda with his middle finger bandaged up. That can't be good for them.
Back to the action, and Jyoukou tries the hit-and-run only to have Oota miss and Anraku left out to dry. He's run down for the 2nd out.
And Morita pops out to Yoshito to end the inning.
Ren with a drive to left-center! Yamashita running over, leaps!
Anraku tries to put a fastball by Kochi's cleanup hitter, but he drives it out of the ballpark! Kochi with their 2nd HR of the day ties the game at 2-2!!
Anraku retires the next 3 without much issue, but the HR bug has bit him yet again - this time in the Lucky 7!!
Fujiwara with a bit of bad luck has his check swing hit the ball in play in front of home. Maeda goes to 1st for the out.
Kaneko with a lazy fly to center is the 2nd out. Machida softly lines out to 3rd and Saibi can't get anything on their Lucky 7.
#17 Okuda in to hit for Maeda as the Kochi oen-dan plays Born This Way. He grounds to 1st.
Sakamoto without a hit still as he pops one to Usagawa behind 2nd.
Back to the top of the order and Yoshito.
Down 1-2, he bloops one into left center for a single.
But he's stranded there when Doi flies out to center to retire the side. Are we headed for another enchousen game?
#2 Kawakami Shouta now in at C.
Goutouji gets ahead of Sakamoto 3-1, but can only hit a fly to center.
Yamashita with a ball driven to left! Matagawa chasing it to the wall!!!
Yamashita trying to give Anraku a break! He drives a HR to give Saibi the lead at 3-2.
Sakamoto trying to hold the line at 1, gets Usagawa to climb the ladder for the 2nd out.
But when Anraku has a grounder take a high bounce past Yoshito into right, Shimada-kantoku has seen enough. Ren comes in from 3B to take the hill and #16 Kawakami Yuuta comes in Sakamoto's place to play 3B.
Oota pops out to Shouta to end the inning, and it's crunch time for Kochi!!
3-4-5 batters up for Kochi.
Ichikawa with a pop fly down the 3rd base line. Machida going out is called off by Oota, but the ball pops out when he dives for it! Ichikawa running all the way reaches 3rd safely! What a quick turn of events!!
But Anraku gest Ren to pop it up! Machida under it and makes the catch for the 1st out!
Matagawa with a hard ball at short! Usagawa there, but he can't field it cleanly! Goes to get the ball but has no play!!! 1st and 3rd with just 1 out!
Ueta with a grounder to 3rd! Morita going home... he's out by a good margin!
They're down to their final out as Sugimoto steps in.
Anraku gets ahead 0-2! Sugimoto with a fly ball to right! Oota under it and this time he will not drop it as he secures it for the 3-2 victory! Saibi will advance to the finals to win their 2nd Haru Koushien title in as many attempts!
You can tell from the players to the kantoku though that Kochi had a chance at this game. Anraku wasn't at his best and by the 2 HR's they hit, he was certainly human. Yet they were never able to take advantage of other opportunities to extend the lead or retake it. Considering it would have been their 1st appearance in a final in 38 years, they know this was the best chance they've had and it slipped away.
But give credit to Anraku for hanging in there despite definitely being not 100%. He did just enough to allow his offense (and by that I mean Yamashita) time to pull the game out for him.
Saibi got as many hits as Kochi. But it was the 4 walks but the timing of those hits that made all the difference. And so Saibi, the Shikoku 3-seed will face off against Kanto Champions Urawa Gakuin for the 85th Haru Koushien title!!
Anraku Tomohiro (Saibi) - W, CG, 2 ER, 5 H, 7 K, 0 BB
Anraku Tomohiro (Saibi) - 2-3
Yamashita Takuma (Saibi) - 2-3, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI
Sakai Yuuya (Kochi) - ND, 4 IP, ER, 0 H, 2 K, 4 BB
Sakamoto Yuuta (Kochi) - L, 3.2 IP, 5 H, 3 K, 0 BB
Doi Kouyou (Kochi) - 1-4, HR, R, RBI
Wada Ren (Kochi) - 1-4, HR, R, RBI
Ueta Shunya (Kochi) - 2-4