Sorry, a headache pretty much KO'd me during games so I wasn't able to do an update.
Anyways, we're in crunchtime now as the number of teams qualifying by the day starts to ramp up hard.
First our qualifiers. The established guard ruled the day on the 25th.
Ibaraki - Jyousou Gakuin (15 appearance, 2nd consecutive)
There were very few surprises in Ibaraki this year.
Top seed Kasumigaura almost stumbled out of the block, sort of expected for a team newly in the upper ranks, in a 2-1 win over Hokota Dai-ichi.
That would wake them up as they would outscore their opponents 22-2
thereafter to reach the semis. That shouldn't take away from their
quarterfinal opponent Meishuu Higashi who had defeated Fujishiro in the prior round as flurries of runs were scored in the final innings.
On the other part of their half was Kashima Gakuen who clawed their way through the quadrant, which included a late game pull away from #5 seed Tsuchiura Kohoku 6-4, and Hitachi Dai-ichi who survived Tsuchiura Dai-san 6-5 in the bottom of the 9th then an upset of #4 seed Ishioka Dai-ichi 7-5. The two teams would be tied at 1 until Kashima Gakuen broke out for 4 runs in the 9th for the win.
In the other half of the quadrant, #2 Jyousou Gakuin breezed through their games, and in the quarterfinals continued to roll with a mercy rule win over Mito Kougyou who respectfully got through the bracket.
Meanwhile, both #3 Shimotsuma Dai-ni and #4 Suijyou were methodically working their way through. Suijyou after a pair of mercy-rule games, took an early lead over Tsuchiura Dai-ichi 5-0 then held off to win 5-3. Shimotsuma Dai-ni you could say slowly warmed up. After a 4-3 win over Tsuchiura Dai-ni, had a better 5-2 win over Mito Sakuranomaki before blowing away Taga. The
warming up though wouldn't be enough as Suijyou's RBI by cleanup batter
Hayashi Ryou (林 涼) would be enough to send them to the semis.
Both semfiinals wound up being one-sided. Both Kasumigaura and Jyousou Gakuin cruised through to the finals.
Kasumigaura had a chance this year to finally breakthrough. In 2011, they lost in the bottom of the 9th against Fujishiro, and last year they fell in the quarterfinals. Now, prefectural stalwart Jyousou Gakuin stood in the way.
But much like 2011, Kasumigaura took the early lead with a run in the top of the first, and then even added a run in the 8th for good measure.
The pitching side seemed to be holding. Starter Ueno went short of 5 innings but didn't allow a run. Ichige came in relief and continued to shut down the favorites...
Until the 8th.
Ichige would be tagged with back to back RBI hits by Yoshizawa and Ikezawa and before you knew it the game was tied. Katano, who was part of that 2011 game, came in relief and got out of the inning.
But something was probably in the back of Kasumigaura's minds. Perhaps the shades of 2011 haunted them. Perhaps my theory of what the schools just below the "powerhouse" tiers holds true - that teams need to learn how to win the big game, to not be intimidated by their history or the history of the other teams. To just play with no abandon regardless of the opponent.
Because with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th, Kasumigaura would suffer the same fate as 2011. Cleanup batter Uchida would blast a sayonara 2-run HR off Katano to give Jyousou Gakuin their 2nd consecutive title... and leave Kasumigaura broken for 2 of the last 3 years.
Niigata - Nihon Bunri (7th appearance, 1st in 2 years)
This year may have been Murakami Sakuragaoka's best chance to win the title. Constantly exiting either in the 3rd round or the semifinals, they finally got to the title game. But Nihon Bunri stood in the way of them and the title.
Murakami Sakuragaoka looked really good in the title game, pinging Nihon Bunri for a run in the first 2 innings. And even after ace Shiina gave up a 3 spot in the 4th, Murakami pocked ace Ooyanai? Yoshinori (大谷内 睦規) for another run in the 5th and 6th innings to take the lead. However, Shiina's downfall would be the big inning. Nihon Bunri would score 4 in the 7th knocking Shiina out of the game and giving themselves a lead that just forced their opponents to get a run an inning. After a scoreless bottom of the 7th, it was all but over as Nihon Bunri won the title 7-5.
Kumamoto - Kumamoto Kougyou (20th appearance, 1st in 4 years)
Buntoku had been to Koushien twice before, both summer appearances. And they performed very well in recent years, losing in the 3rd round or the quarterfinal game. This year though they would have to defeat Kumamoto Kougyou, who had been to Koushien quite often in the 2000's, but was quiet so far in this decade. Still, they have a much bigger history at Koushien than Buntoku.
Once again, it was the underdog who jumped out ahead with a run in the bottom of the first. Kumamoto Kougyou would respond quickly tying the game in the 2nd. Forward to the 5th inning and an error would help Buntoku take a 4-1 lead. Ace Honda seemed to make that lead stick... that is until the 8th where with 2 down and runners on 2nd and 3rd, Nishiyama and ace Yamashita would deliver back to back hits to tie the game.
The game would stay tied until the 10th where Kudou, who entered the game as a PH earlier, would deliver what would end up being the game winning RBI to give Kumamoto Kougyou their first appearance in Koushien this decade.
And now for our final games today.
When play finally started in Iwate it became clear that being a seeded team didn't mean a whole hill of beans. 3 seeded teams failed to get past their first game! Kurosawajiri Kougyou, Touno and Morioka Shiritsu all fell flat. Even Moriokadai Fuzoku narrowly beat Morioka Nougyou 5-3 in their opener. Senshuudai Kitakami fell one round later to Kuji Kougyou 6-4.
With one exception (Fukuoka), the schools who upset the seeded teams joined the remaining seeds (who had no trouble at all) in the Best 8.
Oddly enough, all 4 seeded teams were facing no seeds in the quarterfinals.
Morioka Dai-yon and Hanamaki Higashi handled their games easily over Fukuoka and Kuji Kougyou respectively, Ichinoseki Gakuin not surprisingly struggled with Kamaishi Shoukou but won 5-4, and in a bit of a surprise Mizusawa played to a 2-2 draw with Moriokadai Fuzoku! However, a replay generally favors the favorite and true to form Moriokadai won 8-3 in the replay.
So the semifinals would feature Moriokadai Fuzoku facing Ichinoseki Gakuin, and Morioka Dai-yon squaring with Hanamaki Higashi. Ichinoseki Gakuin fell flat once again, providing little resistance to Morioka Dai-ichi, while Hanamaki Higashi gritted their way with a 2-run 8th to get past Morioka Dai-yon and ace Nagasuzu 4-3.
And while they had to wait a day due to rain, familiar foes in Moriokadai Fuzoku and Hanamaki Higashi will face off for the Iwate title.
As much as Tenri has disappointed me over the years, so has Haguro in Yamagata. In fact, they stooped to a new low. Earning the #1 seed, they promptly lost their first game 3-1 to Tsuruoka Higashi.
The 4 seeded teams to reach the semifinals may not have been high seeds, but they are established strong teams within the prefecture.
With top seed Haguro out of the way, #6 Nichidai Yamagata was able to easily win their 3 games to reach the semis. They will play #3 seed Sakata Minami who needed no help, outscoring their opponents 37-3.
On the other half, #2 seed Kunori Gakuen has been better as of late, but doesn't have the experience it seems losing in the 3rd round 2-1 in 14 innings to Shinjyou Higashi. They would face #5 Yamagata Chuo for the right to be in the semis. And while they made a great rally, a 7 run deficit was just too much to overcome as they fell 7-6. #4 seed Yonezawa Chuo was in dire straits after ace Satou surrendered 3 runs to Toukaidai Yamagata in the final 2 innings. But amazingly down 7-5, his team rallies for 3 runs for the comeback victory!
So two veterans on one side of the bracket and two hopefuls on the other. Both semifinal games expected to be very close affairs.
But interestingly, the game between Sakata Minami and Nichidai Yamagata almost was a blowout! After a 5-run 1st by Nichidai it looked rather bad for the defending champs. But they were not defending champions, nor representative 5 of the last 10 years for nothing. They would claw back to within 2 runs by the 4th inning. However, that would be as close as they would get as Nichidai would put up a pair in the 7th to put the game out of reach winning 8-5.
In the battle of Chuo schools, Yamagata Chuo was marked as the favorite - especially since they were able to reach senbatsu earlier this year. But Yonezawa Chuo was not fazed at all. For each time Yamagata was able to get to ace Satou early on, his offense would come right back to level the score. Finally in the 8th, Yonezawa was able to pull ahead as Kusano delivered a timely hit on reliever Ishikawa. Satou was almost able to close it out, but gave up the douten run in the bottom of the 9th. Yonezawa brought them on the precipice of the finals again with a run in the 10th over ace Takahashi (who returned back to the mound), but once against Satou was not able to keep the lead.
Wouldn't you know it though, Yonezawa would do it again in the 11th. Kouchi, easily the man of the game, got his 3rd RBI with his 3rd hit of the game. This time, Satou would finally pitch a clean inning to win the game and send the team to the finals.
Toyama went surprisingly smoothly if you were a top seeded team.
1-2 seed Toyama Shougyou was actually upset by Himi in their 2nd game 4-2 in 12 innings. Himi almost pulled off the double upset, but Jige was unable to hold, resulting in a 2-1 loss to Sakurai. The only other seeded team to lose prior to the quarterfinals was Takaoka Shougyou who fell 6-4 to Takaoka Dai-ichi.
Otherwise, fellow 1-2 seed Toyama Dai-ichi, and 3-4 seeds Tonami Kougyou and Shin-Minato were able to reach the semis. Toyama Dai-ichi blowing through the field, Tonami Kougyou having a little resitance, and Shin-Minato just getting by Tonami Kokusaidai Fuzoku 2-1.
Shin-Minato would narrowly lose to Sakurai 3-2, while Toyama Dai-ichi would mercy rule Tonami Kougyou in 5 innings. Suffice it to say that the title appears to be Toyama Dai-ichi's to lose.
So, the final shouldn't have been a surprise really. The Hokushinetsu region was represented by 2 teams from Fukui, so why wouldn't Tsuruga Kehi and Harue Kougyou reach the finals?
Well, for Tsuruga Kehi, their draw included possible games against Fukui Koudai Fukui and Fukui Shougyou, and that is no easy task. They got through Fukui Koudai Fukui 5-1, but wound up stumbling against Fukui Shougyou 5-1. With the major competition out of the way, a routine 5-1 win over Fukui Nourin put them in the finals.
What about Harue Kougyou? They were admittedly the weaker team it seemed despite winning the Hokushinetsu region last fall.
Well, they've survived by the skin of their teeth. Literally.
First up, Keishin. Tied 1-1 going into the 9th, they get the sayonara run off reliever Kitada to advance. Then was Sabae. Despite getting out to a 3-0 lead in the first, Sabae would tie it at 4 by the 6th inning. This game would go into extras before Harue Kougyou would again deliver the sayonara blow in the 11th by cleanup batter Ono.
Finally, Tsuruga Kougyou. Ace Hirata was able to limit their opponent for 4 hits through 10 innings as Kinoshita finally delivered the game winning sac fly to send them to the finals 1-0.
So, despite being at Koushien this spring, Harue Kougyou looks to be the underdog against Fukui Shougyou.
Gifu was rather scratch as well. The top 8 seeds advanced to the block finals with the only exception being C Block top seed Mashita Seifu. With their early exit, Chuukyou breezed through to the block finals to face Nagara.
In A Block, Oogaki Nichidai continued their roll through by defeating a surely depleted Teikyoudai Kani squad who needed a sayonara 2-run HR by to rally to defeat Seki Shoukou 6-4 in the bottom of the 9th.
Moving on to B Block, and Kenritsu Gifu Shougyou got a big scare as they trailed Gifu Dai-ichi 2-1. But they get to ace Koshikawa with a run in the 8th, then the sayonara run in the 9th to advance to the block finals. They would face a Minokamo squad who like Teikyoudai Kani, rallied for down 6-3 with 7 unanswered runs in the 7th and 8th off off Kanou ace Gotou for the win.
Yet Minokamo was game for the vaunted Kengifushou. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead right off the bat. Ace Asano would try to hold the lead for the rest of the game, but would surrender the lead after giving up a run in the 4th and 5th. The final blow would be in the 7th as cleanup batter Takenaka would deliver the gyakuten timely hit to win 3-2.
As mentioned in Block C, Chuukyou breezed through to face a Nagara team that had two close calls. Nagara would put up a fight, but found themselves playing a game of catchup they couldn't win following a 3-run 5th. Chuukyou would advance out of the block 7-5.
And finally in Block D, both Shiritsu Gifu Shougyou and Toki Shougyou would actually have a little difficulty getting through the block. Both only had one mercy rule victory, and both needed to survive a close game against a no-name opponent (sorry Hida-Takayama and Oogaki Minami).
The block final would go to Shiritsu Gifu Shougyou as they would put up at least a run in 8 of the 9 innings defeating Toki Shougyou 14-8.
In the semifinals, Block D and Block C would play, leaving Blocks A & B to play in the other semi.
Chuukyou was game for Shiritsu Gifu Shougyou, taking the lead in the 6th with a timely hit from 2nd pitcher Takagi. However, his lead would not last long as he would relinquish runs in the 7th and 8th innings giving Shigifushou the 2-1 win.
The other semifinal was not as competitive. As much as perhaps people wanted an all-Gifu Shougyou final, ace Fujita just did not have it against Oogaki Nichidai. A pair of runs in the 1st turned out to be enough as they pulled away 5-1.
So it will be Shiritsu Gifu Shougyou and Oogaki Nichidai in the final.
Shimane looked to have two powerhouses barreling towards the final. One one side Kaisei, who barred through their 3 games going just 17 innings. On the other, Risshoudai Shounan, who wasn't as dominant, still got through their 3 games with relative ease (though against Matsue Kita in their 3rd game they had just one outburst in the 7th for the 3-0 win).
Standing in Kaisei's way to the finals was Iwamichisuikan. They worked their way through the bottom of the bracket all the way to face seeded Hamada. In that quarterfinal game, Iwamichisuikan would put Hamada behind the 8-ball early and often. Despite Hamada tying the game in the 5th, the constant pressure on ace Miura would be too much. 4 runs in the final 3 innings sealed Hamada's fate.
In the semifinal, Iwamichisuikan's Tanabe would outpitch Kaisei ace Onda with cleanup batter Nishida delivering the fatal blow with a HR in the bottom of the 8th. Iwamichisuikan would advance to the final game with a 2-1 win.
Risshoudai Shounan's opponent would be Matsue Shougyou. Having upset Masuda Shougyou, ace Masumoto would outlast Matsue Nourin's Aoyama and and Kadowaki to win 8-5 in 13 innings. An easy win over Masuda Higashi set up the semifinal matchup.
While taking the early lead, Masumoto would get rocked in the middle innings leaving Matsueshou trailing 4-1. His offense would rally in the next 2 innings to tie the game, but bottom 9 Shimozono would deliver the sayonara hit for Risshoudai Shounan to move on to the finals where Iwamichisuikan awaits.
Oddly enough, it was better to be a lower seeded team than a higher seeded team this year.
1-4 seed Okayama Jyoutou was the first to fall, being shutout by Kouyou 4-0. Okayama Rikadai Fuzoku would be next to fall one round later, with a 6-2 loss to Kurashiki Kougyou.
However, neither would advance to the best 4. 5-8 seed Kanzei, who was not challenged up until that point, would pull away from Kouyou late to win 5-2. As for Kurashiki Kougyou, while Koujyoukan did suffer a scare from Takahashi Nisshin, ace Fukushima would throw a 4-hit shutout to eliminate the challengers.
In the other 2 quadrants, 1-4 seed Kurashiki Shougyou would face a surely tired 5-8 Okayama Higashi Shougyou squad. They wound up playing Mizushima Kougyou to a 6-6 draw, then just survived in the replay 2-1, then won another 1-run game against Sakuyou.
Perhaps the close games helped Okayama Higashi Shougyou because ace Nogami made a 3-2 2nd inning lead stick to advance the team to a semifinal match versus Kanzei.
And finally, 5-8 Okayama Kyousei was no match for 1-4 Tamano Kounan. Despite a small hiccup versus Mimasaka, where they just managed 1 run on 8 hits, they blew out Kyousei 10-0.
In the semifinals, the bottom of the order would stake Kanzei ace Kodama to a 2-0 lead as Tobe and Ichihara get back-to-back timely hits. Kodama would make that lead stick winning 3-2.
The other semifinal was rather bizarre. First Koujyoukan would go out to a 3-1 lead. Fukushima would hold that score until the 7th and 8th when Tamano pulled within 1, then tied the game. Reliever Satake would come in to try and keep the game level, but wound up giving up the gyakuten run to send the top seed to the finals.
What's so strange about that? They did it on just 4 hits.
Kagawa's top 4 seeds this year did not seem like the usual suspects (with the exception of top seed Jinsei Gakuen). #2 Kotohira and #3 Tadotsu both were teams that had not fared well, but for some reason had success in the spring. Only #4 Marugame Jyousei made some sense as they have been one of the betters teams in prefecture.
And things played out like you expected. Sort of.
Kanonji Chuo gave Jinsei Gakuen a proper fright, but reliever Nakayama kept the score at 4-3 in the final 6 frames. After that Kagawa Tousen Takamatsu actually led Jinsei into the 2nd half of the game, but reliever Yoshinari couldn't maintain the 3-1 lead. A pair of runs in the 7th and 8th spelled their downfall.
So Jinsei Gakuen as a seeded team made the semifinals. They would wind up being the only seeded team to do so.
After getting by a tough 1st round draw in Sangawa, Marugame Jyousei slid past Iiyama to reach the quarterfinals. There they would face an Eimei team who had beaten an unknown Shido team 1-0, then jumped on reliever Matsumoto for Sanbonmatsu who proceeded to fritter away a 7-2 lead and then take the loss in the 10th. Eimei wound up being up for the task, routing Marugame Jyousei 8-1 in 8 innings.
Things were even worse on the other half. Tadotsu, despite just 5 hits, was able to defeat Takamatsu Nishi 2-1 in the bottom of the 9th. But against Takamatsu Shougyou in the next round? Annihilated in 5 innings 10-0.
And Kotohira? Don't even ask. Takamatsu Minami limits them to just 1 run on 3 hits as they "upset" the #2 seed 4-1.
So who would jump on the opportunity? Well, Takamatsu Kita game Takamatsu Minami a job well done, defeated them 5-3, and then 4-hit Shoudouhima to advance to the Best 4. Marugame, despite needing to comeback against Ootemae Takamatsu's relief corps in game 2, took out Takamatsu Shougyou 5-2 to move themselves on the hill.
Semifinal 1 pitted the two heavyweights Jinsei Gakuen and Eimei. The aces traded donuts for the longest time before Nakayama caved and allowed the first run in the 7th for Eimei. Doi would come in relief for the 8th, but gave up 2 more runs. All seemed lost for Jinsei, but Eimei's ace Akagawa cracked in the bottom of the inning. A 2-run timely hit by SS Nishimaru, and another RBI from Oonishi tied the game at 3. Fast forward to the 9th, and Nishimaru would get one more crack at Akagawa. Sure enough, he delivered the sayonara hit to score Shinohara and send Jinsei Gakuen to the finals.
The 2nd semifinal was not exciting at all sadly. Takamatsu Kita was definitely the odd man in the bunch, and well... Starter Horie would not even finish the first inning as Marugame scored 11 runs in the 1st inning. They would win 11-0 on 5 hits and 8 walks...
So it's Marugame and Jinsei Gakuen in the final.