Urawa Gakuin (Saitama) - 2nd straight time a school goes haru-natsu?
Ok, I panned Uragaku for the longest time back in Senbatsu (Haru Koushien). But Ojima Kazuya (小島 和哉) proved me wrong time and time again - and laughed all the way to the title.
As much as I still may have my doubts regarding him as an ace, you have to be special if you can throw a perfect game. Yes, that's right, Ojima in the quarterfinals against Saitama Heisei went 27 up, 27 down. That's saying something.
It looks like his stuff hasn't changed. Still has a change and a screwball to go with the normal slider and curve. Reports have him in the low 140s but I don't necessarily buy it especially since smaller stadiums seem to have faster radars.
And the team is on a roll - the last tournament game they lost was in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Meiji Jingu Tournament against Harue Kougyou. The most runs Ojima's given up in a game during that timespan? 2 - against Toukaidai Bouyou in the Kanto Spring Super-Regional Tournament.
If he continues to pitch like this, despite not being a "fireballer", watch out. We may have back-to-back Haru-Natsu Renzoku Yuushou (spring-summer champions).
Speaking of which...
Osaka Touin (Osaka) - 6th ever back-to-back Natsu champion?
Osaka Touin had a chance in the spring to be the first ever 3-time calendar consecutive Koushien champion. But injuries to key players - Mori Tomoya (森 友哉) and Kinden Takuya (近田 拓矢) crippled their offense as they fell to Kenritsu Gifu Shougyou.
Now, both of the lynchpins are back, and the offense is chugging along as good as new. Their weakness is probably back to where it was before Fujinami - their pitching. Ace Kuzukawa Tomoya (葛川 知哉) and reliever Amimoto Kousuke (網本 光祐) are definitely above average, but nothing about either stands out.
But if one or both of them can be good enough, Osaka Touin may just defend their title. This is a short blurb, on a title contender, but when you talk Osaka Touin, the story is generally the same - 打て、打て、打て!
Saibi (Ehime) - Can Anraku carry the team all the way?
The story of Anraku Tomohiro (安楽 智大) has been well heard of, 232 pitches in his first game, velocity dropped immensely by the final due to flat out fatigue.
Now it would be just a matter of if Saibi could give Anraku another chance at Koushien this summer this year. And with the exception of a scare against Kawanoe which required a late-game comeback, Anraku pitched all but 2 outs in his team's run to the title.
Saibi has the opposite problem of Osaka Touin. Great pitching, average offense. We saw it at Senbatsu, the offense on average scoring 3-4 runs a game. That's not bad, but it's not dominating either. They will need to avoid the "bad day" as Anraku can't carry the team if the team can't score.
Which brings us back to Anraku himself. Certainly he won't suffer the same workload early as he did at Senbatsu, but it's possible he could play 4 of the last 5 calendar days of the tournament. He's throwing faster than ever, reportedly hitting 157 on the gun - but as perhaps he may have learned, hitting the high numbers on the gun doesn't mean a whole lot if you can't deliver when it really matters. If Anraku's stamina can hold up under the summer humid heat, Saibi may just challenge for the title yet again - and this time win.
Nichidai-san (Nishi Tokyo)
For those that know me and my coverage, I really don't like Nichidai-san. My fellow colleagues would say, "Why don't you like them? I like X player, and Y player - they're really good". Well, to be honest they ruined my 2011 Natsu Koushien trip by defeating both Kanzei and Narashino.
But before all that went down, Nichidai-san and Osaka Touin to me epitomizes the one thing about kokoyakyu I really don't like. Strong teams with pedigrees will continue to accumulate talent at the expense of weaker schools. There is no parity in kokoyakyu - quite the opposite in fact.
But regardless of my feelings toward them, Sanko I have to begrudgingly admit can be a title contender. The only reason why I don't have them in the upper tier is two-fold.
First, the team was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the fall taikai to Souka (though they did avenge that with a 7-0 victory in the summer) and second, outside of Hino - and no offense to them it's a bit of a stretch - they did not face a quality opponent towards the title. So the gaudy 75-9 score they accumulated is a bit inflated.
However, they did get a chance to play Urawa Gakuin in the Kanto Spring Super-Regionals, and though they lost 2-0, ace Ooba Ryoutarou (大場 遼太郎) limited Uragaku to just 4 hits while racking up 10 on Ojima. The top half of the lineup is especially dangerous for teams that are not careful.
Shuutoku (Higashi Tokyo)
Tokyo for as big as the field is was barely contested this year. Shuutoku almost as easily blew through the field. Their only close game was their 5th round game when they had to play Teikyou. But as Teikyou is wont to do, their pitching failed them later allowing Shuutoku to tie and eventually win the game. And while the score in the final versus Nishougakushadai Fuzoku looked rather ugly (13-6), the game was never really in doubt.
Looking at the pitching staff, there is ace Nishibayashi Kenshin (西林 賢人) and reliever Yusa Kazuki (遊佐 和輝). Interestingly in that game against Teikyou, CF Iino Shouta (飯野 周太) started the game (not well mind you) with Yusa coming in relief for 7 innings. That is an interesting call for a team to make knowing you're playing in a key game. Does that mean that Shuutoku has two pitchers they can call on? Not sure, but if they do it may help their chances.
I have to admit, Yokohama is kind of like the teams I described when talking about Nichidai-san. They have represented Kanagawa 7 times (including this year) since 2000. In their prior 6 Natsu appearances, they have reached the quarterfinals and semifinals 2 times each though recently they haven't been as successful.
Yokohama's road to Koushien at least by name was probably one of the hardest. Starting from the Round of 16, they played in order:
- Yokohama Hayato - 2-run 6th gave them the final 3-2 margin
- Toukou Gakuen - Lack of offense plus pair of HR's from Takahama Yuuji (高浜 祐仁) and Asama Daiki (浅間 大基) spell doom for heralded ace Matsui.
- Toukaidai Sagami - Sagami's pitching has not been the same, and yielded all 7 runs in the 6-8 innings for the mercy-rule loss.
- Hiratsuka Gakuen - While not a powerhouse, Hiratsuka is actually one of the best "3rd tier"* teams out of Kanagawa and did only lose to Yokohama 3-0.
From my fellow kokoyakyu sources #3 and #4 batters Asama and Takahama were ironically labeled "Matsui-killers" and did in fact cause his downfall. Who knows if the articles and discussion got to both sides' heads.
The only problem with Yokohama is that their offense looks a bit below average, despite the HRs in the Toukou Gakuen matchup.
On the mound is ace Itou Masashi (伊藤 将司), who apparently has a twitter account if you want to send him your best wishes. A lefty, he apparently throws in the mid-130's which would put him in the Ojima range.
What seems to perhaps benefit Yokohama is that at least 7 of their starting 9 are 2nd years! For a school such as Yokohama that has such a big pool of players to draw from, to predominantly use 2nd years means a lot. And since they theoretically have one more year of chances at Koushien, they may be able to play with nothing to lose - because they don't. That's scary - and something you cannot measure.
To be honest, outside of these 6 teams I don't know who else could really be a challenger for the title. Sure, there will be other teams who will go deep, but if they run into any of these teams they will certainly be an underdog.