Saturday, August 3, 2013

7/27 Title Games

And now for those that happened on the 27th:

Higashi Tokyo - Shuutoku (5th title, 1st in 9 years)
I realize I'm cheating in covering Higashi Tokyo, but for a reason.

Almost no one (Teikyou) was able to stop Shuutoku.

No one.

How bad was it for the field?  Well, Shuutoku in their 8 games had 2 non-mercy rule games - their 4-2 defeat of Teikyou, and the final (which has no mercy rule).

But Teikyou did have the best shot at Shuutoku.  In fact, they had the 2-1 lead through 6 innings.  But as is the case - and will always be the case until they prove me otherwise - until they can develop an ace, they will never win Koushien.  And so it was that Teikyou would give up 3 runs in the final 3 innings to fall 4-2.  That would be the best shot any team would have at stopping them.

Credit should be given though where credit is due.  All of the other seeded teams at the edges of the bracket advanced to the semifinals.  #2 Nishougakushadai Fuzoku did not dominate at all, save for the semifinal where they defeated #3 Kanto Dai-ichi who save for a narrow win over Adachi Gakuen did dominate the field  (Hope you caught all that).  And finally, Tokyo Jitsygyou who out of nowhere won their 4 games as the #4 seed location on the bracket to reach the semifinals where they, like many, got mercy ruled.

Chiba - Kisaradzu Sougou (4th title, 2nd consecutive)
Chiba breaks my heart so hard, I really don't want to talk about it.  Not that it probably wasn't expected, but that my hopes were brought up really high, only to have them crushed like a spider on the heel of someone's shoe.

Despite 171 teams playing in the Chiba taikai, out of the 16 seeded teams, 10 were able to advance to the Round of 16.  Some of the notable casualties? Choushi Shougyou, Shigakukan, and Kashiwa Nittai.

Now, the reason why I cannot be unbiased really regarding Chiba is the fact that I am unapologetic in rooting for Narashino. They're a public school who consistently does well and has been good enough to break through and get to Koushien on several occasions.

However, despite my homerism, I'm still a realist at heart (okay, pessimist).  I knew Narashino wasn't as good this year, and was a B (5-8) seed for the summer taikai.  But, they did make it into the round of 16 and that was a start.  A solid 5-2 win over unseeded Nichidai Narashino wasn't convincing, but they were still alive.  Next up was C (9-16) seed Narita.  I remember seeing the end part of that game, Narashino trailing 5-3.  Somehow, and I still can't believe it, Narashino comes back to score a pair of runs to tie the game. 3 innings later, they win the game and I'm running around at home hooting and hollering.  Perhaps it may still be their year after all.  And when they soundly defeat a Toukaidai Bouyou squad who was a bit inconsistent but still cut their way through the field, it was just one more game.  One more game to win and Narashino will get back to Koushien!

On the other side, things did not as clear.  Only Senshuudai Matsudo, Kisaradzu Sougou and Takushokudai Kouryou were left of the seeded teams.    The former and latter would meet in the quarterfinals, and A seed Senshuudai would win... 1-0.  That would put them in a matchup against Kisaradzu Sougou who had easy games versus unseeded Ryuukeidai Kashiwa and Keiyou.

In that semi Kisaradzu Sougou held the 2-1 lead going to the top of the 9th.  But top seed Senshuudai failed to give in scoring the douten run to send it into extras.  As the innings ticked off, it became clear that Matsudo's ace Takahashi looked finished.  In the 11th inning the sayonara run stood at 2nd, in the 12th he fought off a sanrui, 1 out pinch.  Then in the 13th, after yet again facing sanrui, 1 out pinch then intentional walks to load the bases (again), Takahashi almost gets out of the pinch, but with 2 down it's a full count oshidashi sayonara walk to send Kisaradzu Sougou to the finals yet again.  For Senshuudai Matsudo, it's their 3rd straight year being eliminated in enchousen.

So the finals were B seeds Narashino and defending champion Kisaradzu Sougou.  I wound up missing the game because I forgot about the early start time.

Perhaps it would have been a good thing.

See, Narashino jumped out to a 4-1 lead after a 3-run 2nd.  Things looked good, and my earlier concerns about Narashino's pitching (from the Narita game) were waning.

But ace Matsuyama (who came in the 2nd inning) to reliever relief starter Matsumoto, faltered.  Kisaradzu would sclore 4 in the 4th to take the lead and then 1 more an inning later for a 6-4 lead.  Narashino would be scrambling after that, reclaiming one back in the 7th.

That's as close as they'd get as Chiba would be able to finish the game giving his team their 2nd straight title (and breaking my heart).

Yamanashi - Hikawa (4th title, 1st in 3 years)
Oh how I longed for Nihon Koukuu (aka Japan Aviation Academy) to return to Koushien.  But since their appearance in 2008, have kind of fallen off the map, despite being seeded several times.

This year, they were not only unseeded, but buried in the bottom of the bracket.

The early leader in the clubhouse was Yamanashi Gakuindai Fuzoku, who won 2 of the last 4 Natsu titles and posted double digit wins in their first two games.  All the other teams at least had one game where they were tested - even the other 1-4 seeds.  Toukaidai Koufu had to hold off Koufu Shougyou 7-6, Hikawa despite getting just 8 hits against Tsuru won 2-1, and Fujikawaguchiko flat out lost giving up a 4-2 lead in a 5-4 loss to Koufu Jyousai.

The only other team to have any type of blowout was actually Nihon Koukuu!  But they're not the pretty type of blowouts.  They're the ones where they just decide to outscore you, pitching be damned.  For after an innocent looking 7-3 win over Shirane, they go 13-7 and 13-6 (8 inn) there after.  Certainly a valid strategy, but one that generally doesn't work as you move up.

But, when faced with Yamanashi Gakuindai Fuzoku, they were able to get out to a 5-1 lead!  With just 3 outs to go, the Nihon Koukuu kantoku elects to move ace Tanaka off the mound for Nakano to get the last 3 outs.

Except he doesn't. He gives up 4 runs tying the game! He would get bailed out big time by cleanup batter Ishida whose 2nd hit of the game is of the sayonara variety.  Headed to the semifinals, they'd face the other top seed in their half of the bracket, Toukaidai Koufu who had to rally from down 5-2 to defeat Minobu.  Despite that close game, Toukaidai would build a 7-3 lead... only to see Nihon Koukuu score a gyakuten 6 runs in the 7th for a 9-7 win and a chance for the Yamanashi title!

Going back to the other half, upset minded Koufu Jyousai's run lasted just one more game as they fell 5-0 to Sundai Koufu.  Meanwhile, Koma was giving Hikawa fits as they led 3-0.  Hikawa though would fight back like quality teams would and win 4-3.  And in the semifinals it was a rare 9-1 blowout to move to the finals.

And so it was that Nihon Koukuu would play Hikawa for the Yamanashi title.  In the end, Nihon Koukuu outrun strategy would fail as their offense struggled against ace Yamada, only putting up more than 1 run in an inning in the 9th, when the game was already out of reach.  Hikawa wins 8-5 to claim the title.

Wakayama - Minoshima (8th title, 1st in 29 years)
With Wakayama it was always was going to be a question of how Chiben Wakayama was going to win their nth straight title (9th in this case).

Or was it?  During Chiben Wakayama's run at Natsu Koushien, they reached the semifinals once and the Best 8 three times.  However, all but one occurred in the first 3 years of that run.  In more recent years, Chiben Wakayama has seemed to weaken, even failing to win their first game 2 of the last 3 years.  It's really attributed to growing weaknesses both at the plate and on the mound.  Last year, 3 of their 5 games to the title were decided by 2 runs or less - hardly the mark of a dynastic team.

So perhaps it was no surprise then when in the 2nd round Kihoku Kougyou, behind the HR from Horita and a solid outing from ace Nakai, would dethrone the 8-time defending champions 2-1 (though perhaps the school performing the feat may have been a surprise).

Now the question was, who would take their place?

It wasn't going to be Kihoku Kougyou.  Despite handing the ball off to Nakai with a 3-2 lead through 4, he would give up 4 runs (most importantly 2 in the 9th) to fall 6-5 to Wakayama Higashi in the block final (remember that Wakayama has 4 blocks which then redraw for the semifinals).

Realistically, the team that has risen most to challenge Chiben Wakayama in recent years has been Minoshima.  In first started in their first appearance in any Koushien in 19 years, where they went to the quarterfinals of the 2009 senbatsu before losing to eventual champions Seihou.

Of course, that was 4 years ago and they haven't been back since.  The team has suffered through fits of inconsistency, but over the past year split a series with them with both games going by the final of 2-1.

Some inconsistency remained as put up a rather average 4-1 win over Kenritsu Wakayama Shougyou in the 2nd round.  But they still advanced out of their block.

The other would-be contenders would be seeded Minabe out of Block B, and surprise team Hidaka Nakatsu who after a strong 2 games upset seeded Kinkidai Shinguu then held off Minabe Ryuujin 9-6 to advance out of Block C.

The semifinal draw would not be kind for Wakayama Higashi as they drew Minoshima and proceeded to fall 8-0.  For Minabe, a 5-run first helped provide a cushion for starter Matsuda as they would defeat Hidaka Nakatasu 8-5.

And so Minabe would be the final opponent standing between Minoshima and their first appearance in almost 3 decades. Sadly for Minabe, they were not able to put up a fight and lost 10-1.  A bit of a sad way to lose in the final, but congrats of course go out to the new champions Minoshima!

Tottori - Tottori Jyouhoku (3rd appearance, 2nd consecutive)
Despite just having 25 teams, it was not good to be a seeded team.


Because 3 of the 4 seeded teams - Yonago Kita, Iwami, and Kurayoshi Sougou Sangyou, all lost in their first games!  Yonago Kita was soundly defeated by defending champs Tottori Jyouhoku (who wasn't seeded!), Iwami was done in by a sole RBI from Yonago Shouin's Tsuchie, and despite more chances for Kurayoshi Sougou Sangyou thanks to walks from Tottori Nishi's ace Mastuoka,  Tottori Nishi would get to reliever Sawada as he entered in the 10th for the sayonara victory.

Tottori Jyouhoku's only challenge on their way to the final was in semifinal opponent Kurayoshi Higashi.  Ace Uehara struggled in the game, giving up 3 runs after his team had just taken a 2-0 lead.  But reliever Fukuiwa would clamp things down for Tottori Jyouhoku as they would eventually get to Higashi ace Tamagawa for 3 more runs, knocking him out of the game.  Itou would clamp things down there after, and Kurayoshi Higashi would get a run off of Fukuiwa in the 8th... but Uehara would come back in the 9th and close it out for the 5-4 win and a spot in the finals.

On the other half, the 2 prior champions to Tottori Jyouhoku wound up advancing through the brackets.  2010 champion Yazu had no problems reaching the semis with 2 sound victories.  Conversely, 2011 winner Tottori Shougyou needed 2 runs in the bottom of the 9th to defeat Tottori Ikuei 3-2, and then after blowing a 3-0 lead to aforementioned Tottori Nishi, scored 2 in the bottom of the 8th to win 5-3.

Perhaps playing from the lead was something Tottori Shougyou was unable to do this year, because in the semifinal, they had a 4-1 lead over Yazu heading to the top of the 9th.  There Yazu would score 5 runs to take a 6-4 lead, leaving Tottori Shougyou almost no time to rally.  Indeed they would fail to come back and Yazu would be in the final.

In the final, Yazu and Tottori Jyouhoku would trade blows several times, leaving the teams tied at 2 after the first 3, then again at 5 after 7.  However, reliever Kamatani for Yazu would break down in his 5th inning of work giving up 3 runs in the 8th inning.

That would prove to be too much as Tottori Jyouhoku would claim their 2nd consecutive title.

Tokushima - Naruto (8th title, 2nd consecutive)
In Tokushima there seemed no clear front-runner for the title.  Even the top tier teams struggled at some point in the tournament.

Defending champion Naruto even suffered from it as well.  Despite the first round bye and 6-2 opening win over Tomioka Nishi, they played a Tokushima Kagaku Gijyutsu squad who blew a 5-run lead to Awa only to win 10-8, then down 3-0 in the bottom of the 9th, came back to tie off Jyounouchi ace Yanagimoto and then win in 10.

In that game Bandou would be stung for 4 runs in the 7th, falling behind 4-2.  However, Naruto would recover quickly scoring 3 in their 7th and 2 more for good measure in the 8th to win 7-4.

The next challenge would be Naruto Uzushio, who blew past their first 2 opponents before hitting resurging Ikeda.  They slowly were able to overcome a 5-run 3rd, getting to every one of Ikeda's 4 pitchers they would throw out there, winning 6-5.

Both pitching staffs would be rocked early, with Naruto taking a 6-5 lead after 2.  From then on though, Bandou would keep Uzushio at bay just enough to make that lead stick winning 8-7 for a spot in the finals.

On the other side, many teams were under the banner of survive and advance.  For Seikou Gakuen, after an easy first round, ace Tokuda almost let a 4-1 lead slip away against Anan Tousen, but won 4-3.  After that, they trailed Aratano 5-2 before scoring 4 runs in the final 2 innings to tie the game up at 6.  Aratano reliever Fukuzumi was anything but, relinquishing the 5-1 lead then giving up 5 more in the 10th for an 11-6 loss.

They would face a Kawashima team who beat Tokushima Kita in the opening round 3-1, upset powerhouse Tokushima Shougyou 3-2 in the next round, and then if that weren't enough, outlasting Komatsushima 4-3 in 13 innings!

Interstingly enough, the semifinal game would be a cakewalk compared to their previous games.  Ace Ueda would make a 4-run 4th stick, giving up 3 runs on 7 hits for a 5-3 win.

But for Kawashima, facing Naruto for their first title would be a lot to ask.  Indeed, after giving up 5 runs in the first two innings, it was a formality thereafter.

Ehime - Saibi (4th title, 1st in 5 years)
All eyes in Ehime would be on Saibi and ace Anraku.  Given his performance at Senbatsu, many were eager to see him at Natsu Koushien.

Jyoukou-kantoku continued to take no chances, throwing Anraku out there in every game save for the last two outs of their win against Matsuyama Chuo.  Saibi would outclass their opponents early with Anraku giving up just 1 run on 11 hits while striking out 29 in 20.1 IP.

So the question would be, who could challenge them?

Well, #4 seed Tanbara actually got shutout by Imabari Kita 5-0.  Filling the gap would be Kawanoe, who themselves had 3 mercy rule games to meet Yawatahama in the quarterfinals.  And despite just 1 run on 5 hits, the tandem of Oonishi and Doi would give up just 3 hits and strike out 16 Yawatahama batters to win 1-0 to meet Saibi.

In that semifinal, a timely hit by Takahara and an error from Saibi gave Kawanoe a 2-0 lead.  Meanwhile, Oonishi and Doi were shutting down the Saibi offense and things started to look bleak.

But Kawanoe's kantoku had pulled Oonishi after 2.2 IP, and Doi was trying to finish the game.  But Yamashita blasted a HR in the 8th to pull them within 1.  And in the 9th, he would relinquish the lead with RBI hits from Kaneko and Hayashi Kanya.  Senba would get the last 2 outs of the inning, but the damage had been done.  Anraku closed it out for the win.

So, who would be the last barrier between Anraku and Natsu Koushien?

Well, despite Tanbara's loss, both #2 Imabari Nishi and #3 Matsuyama Seiryou both marched towards the semifinals.  Both though faced a different challenge in the quarterfinals.  Imabari Nishi played Touon and despite getting just 4 hits, won 2-0.  As for Matsuyama Seiryou, instead of a pitching affair they were in a brawl with Niihama Higashi using 5 runs in the 6th and 7th to win 13-9.

So #2 and #3 would meet to face Saibi.  Ace Kanno for Imabari Nishi would give them a 1-0 lead with his only hit of the ballgame.  But it would be all he would need as he pitches a 3-hit shutout to move to the finals.

Imabari Nishi would try to implement a rotation of Kanno and Ishigaki on the mound for the finals, but Kanno was rocked right off the bat for 4 runs in 1+ innings of work.  While the rotation would give up just 1 run thereafter, it was too late.  Anraku would allow Imabari Nishi to pull within 2, but that would be as close as they would get, meaning that Saibi and Anraku would return to Koushien once again!

Kochi - Meitoku Gijyuku (15th title, 4th consecutive)
It was not business as usual in Kochi, despite the 2 teams who wound up in the final.  Not sure what is going on, but it almost signifies a loss of talent among the upper teams.

Why do I say that?  Well, Tosa lost right off the bat to Kochi Minami 6-0.   Now, one might say, "that's not terrible, Tosa was a decent team sure, but not one who was one of the powerhouses."

Sure, I could go with that, but following that Kochi Shougyou lost in the 2nd round after ace Uemoto collapses in the 8th inning, giving up 3 runs to Kochi Nougyou and losing 3-2.

"Okay, Kochi Nougyou got lucky in one inning.  Still not necessarily a big deal."

Well, what about the fact that while Kochi and Meitoku Gijyuku did manage to advance, their victories were not as sweeping as one might think?

Kochi's 2nd round win over Kochi Nishi 7-1 was helped by a 4-run 8th.  Meitoku actually trailed Kochi Kougyou before a 5-run 6th distanced themselves enough to win 7-3.  Move onto the quarterfinals, and Kochi started reliever Sakai against Sukumo Kougyou.  Having just gone up 4-0 through 7, Sakai falters almost giving up the entire lead.  Ace Sakamoto has to come in to shut the door advancing 4-3.  Meitoku had no such luxury facing Okou, who is probably on the same level as Tosa.  Kishi though gives up 2 early runs leaving them to chase.  And while a 2-run 5th would be enough, it would be just enough as Okou would keep it close falling by the same 4-3 score.

Now, both teams would actually win their semifinals with relative ease (at least compared to the games above).   Nakamura would fall to Kochi 5-1, while Kochi Chuo (who in their 2nd round game against Yusuhara trailing 3-0 going into the final 3 innings would score 10 runs to send the game into enchousen, winning 1 inning later!) would be shutout by Kishi & Ogata 6-0.

Kochi would turn to Sakai again to start the game against Meitoku Gijyuku and ace Kishi.  And while he was able to go head-to-head for a little while, he would give up a run in the 5th and another in the 7th.  That would be all Kishi would need, though he survived the 9th to win 2-1 and give his team their 4th consecutive Natsu title!

Fukuoka - Jiyuugaoka (1st appearance)
When block play finally ended on the 14th, the likes of Jiyuugaoka, Kurume Shougyou and Teikyou Dai-go all joined the field in the 2nd stage.

In the second stage, the story early on was Moji Gakuen.  Facing unknown Fukushou, they fritter away a 3-1 lead in the last 2 innings, head into extras, and down 4-3 in the 10th they score 2 to win.  Then against Fukuoka Koudai Jyoutou this happened.  Talk about comeback kids.

It perhaps looked like they'd do it again in the semifinals against Nanchiku, tying the game late and going into extras.  Nanchiku for their part, had just upset Higashi-Fukuoka.  But when Doi gave up a run in the 11th, Moji couldn't find anything left in the tank as they fell 3-2.

On the other half, everyone who advanced had blowouts save for Jiyuugaoka who had to play Kurume Shougyou and escaped with a 5-3 win.  After that was a quarterfinal game against Jiyuugaoka.  And much like Moji Gakuen had done in the 2nd stage, they staged a comeback in the bottom of the 9th for 2 runs to send Teikyou Dai-go home falling short yet again.  Their opponent in the semifinals would be Kyusandai Kyushu who mercy-ruled Tobata and Yuusei to get there.  Still, against a upper level team, they would fall short losing 6-1, setting tup the final matchup.

And perhaps as expected Nanchiku would give up quick runs early and was not in contention.  Jiyuugaoka would go on to win 9-1.  What surprised me the most was that it was their first ever title!

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