And then there were 2...
And who saw this coming? If you did, you can take over my blog because you know a heck of a lot more than I do apparently (I could also just watch games again to watch games, but I digress.)
First of all Nobeoka Gakuen. 32 year old kantoku Shigemoto Kouji let out one hell of a scream after the final out was recorded. It has been a long road, one that almost didn't happen because St. Ursula battled with them the entire game before Nobeoka finally prevailed in the 10th.
Nobeoka has been the master of the mid-game adjustment. They have scored 15 of their 21 runs after the mid-game break. If you include the 5th inning, it becomes 19 of 21 runs.
I don't know what it is either, whether they spend the first time or so through the lineup assessing the pitcher and then striking, or if they know the mid-game break could affect a pitcher's rhythm and thus are somehow able to take advantage of it when other schools can't, but 9 of their 21 runs scored were scored in the 6th.
It's so prevailing that it may have been the reason why Hanamaki Higashi tried to attack ace Yokose Takahiro early in counts to try and get a lead before the eventual strike. But changing your strategy to something you're not used to just to try and preempt someone else's strategy doesn't generally lead to victory.
The last thing you need is to give ace Yokose an easy time on the mound. Hanamaki Higashi swung themselves to 9 Ks and 2 walks with a grand total of 3 hits. But in the Toyama Dai-ichi game, he was not as effective, giving up 6 hits, 2 walks and 3 runs in just 3 IP before Ide finished it out.
If we are to believe his interview after the Hanamaki Higashi win, Yokose will start the final - and why not? His one time he came out of he pen was his worst performance.
Maebashi Ikuei gets here having dominated Nichidai Yamagata from start to finish. They took my questions regarding their ability to score runs, laughed, and tore up my sheets. It's not that they scored a lot of runs, it's just that they scored them early so as to try and demoralize Nichidai Yamagata - who showed resiliency in the game against Meitoku Gijyuku.
Arai-kantoku made a key move before the game as Takahashi Tomoya went from the bottom of the lineup to 2nd and immediately rewarded him with a 3-3 effort with a 2B, a SB and 2 runs. Driving him in is the manager's son Arai Kaito, who only went 1-3, but has a sac fly and an effective groundout showing that he knows the situation and what he needs to do.
Interestingly the former #2 batter Tamura Hayato, moved down to #8 in the order and went 2-4 with a triple down the right field line.
On the mound, Takahashi Kouna has pitched all but the first 5 innings against Jyousou Gakuin. He's not the dominating ace that you'd associate with a championship team, but he scatters hits and walks and when he does get into a pinch he shuts the door.
However, I wonder if they'll send out their ace to start the game. It is the final, so perhaps he starts and then Kitagawa comes in. But chances are Kitagawa starts like the Jyousou Gakuin game and then Kouna would come in to close it out. The risk you run is much like their game against Jyousou Gakuin, and more prominently the 2006 final replay where Kikuchi Shouta started for Komadai Tomakomai instead of Tanaka Masahiro. Waseda Jitsugyou would score the opening run in the first, knock Kikuchi out and stay ahead for the rest of the game.
We just don't know a whole lot about their bullpen, unlike Nobeoka - who has 2 other pitchers that in the event of an emergency Shigemoto-kantoku can break the glass and go to. That's a comforting thought for a kokoyakyu kantoku.
I don't think there is a clear favorite, but if it does come down to the pitching - just from what we've seen in terms of depth, Nobeoka Gakuen has the advantage.
It's time for the final! This Natsu Koushien has been very enjoyable from start to finish, and I don't expect anything less from this game either! Play ball!
Maebashi Ikuei (Gunma)
CF Kudou Youhei
2B Takahashi Tomoya
SS Tsuchiya Keisuke
3B Arai Kento
C Ogawa Toshiki
RF Itagaki Fumiya
P Takahashi Kouna
LF Tamura Hayato
1B Kusunoki Hiroki
Nobeoka Gakuen (Miyazaki)
2B Kajiwara Shouto
SS Matsumoto Masaya
CF Sakamoto Ryougo
RF Iwashige Akihito
LF Hamada Shintarou
1B Tanaka Yuuki
3B Usuda Ryou (#14)
C Yanase Naoya
P Yokose Takahiro
12:01 - First Pitch!
First pitch Kudou swings at and grounds right to Kajiwara for the first out.
Ah, and it looks like Kajiwara was injured in the last game, and he can't go. #5 Watarai comes in to take 3rd and Usuda goes to 2nd.
Tomoya looking for a pitch from Yokose, but Yokose looks to be careful around him. He walks him!
Yokose working outside to Tsuchiya, but he takes one back up the middle past Usuda into center!
Arai also working the count on Yokose, gets it full.
Single through to right! Tomoya being held at 3rd as Iwashige's throw goes right home on the fly! But still manrui for Maebashi with 1 out!
Oh no! Ogawa's swing is basically a bunt in front of home! Yanase picks it up, stands on home, goes to 1st, double play!!
Big chance for Maebashi Ikuei lost by an unlucky swing!
Watarai up, probably expecting to come in for Kajiwara, quickly grounds out to short.
Kouna falls behind Matsumoto 3-0, but comes back to fill up the count. Comes with another fastball and Matsumoto rolls one to Kusunoki for the 3rd out.
Sakamoto flies out to right and it's a 0 for both aces to start.
Maebashi having to start from scratch against Yokose now here in the 2nd. Itasaka gets a hold of a fastball, but it's off the end of his bat and he flies out to center.
Kouna ahead in the count early, sees Yokose even it up and then goes after an inside fastball and roll it to short for the 2nd out.
And Tamura too can't get level on a low fastball and grounds to short. No problem for Matsumoto and the side is retired. That first inning though has to hurt.
Kouna gets ahead quickly on Iwashige 0-2, then cant get him to chase on any of the next 3 balls. Has to put him away with a slider over the plate looking.
Hamada takes a close pitch outside for ball 3, gets jammed inside and hits a slow liner to short.
Tanaka with a grounder to the gap in short, Tsuchiya cuts it off in the gap, throws a 3 or 4 bouncer to 1st and Kusunoki makes the pick for the 3rd out!
Kusunoki slow chopper up middle over Yokose's head! Usuda ranging over, but misses handle and won't have a play at 1st! Idfield hit for Maebashi!
No bunting from Kusunoki.
Kusunoki picked off! No! He's called for a balk! Kusunoki advances to scoring position!
But Kudou can't even advance him! He goes after the slow curve but pops out to Iwashige in shallow right.
EH? 1-1 to Tomoya and he tries the safety bunt, but fouls it off! Yokose tries the outside pitch to get him to chase, but NG. Then a slow curve and he just makes a late swing to foul it off.
And so with that, Yokose goes up and in and Tomoya has no chance.
Tsuchiya with a base hit past Tanaka, but Kusunoki can't go home because it's hit to Iwashige and he fires one back home for the 3rd out.
Arai comebacker up middle! It hits Yokose and stays near the mound! He recovers, throws to 1st and that's 3 outs! Another unfortunate event for Maebashi!
あ。 Kouna hits Usuda to start the inning. Yanase lays down the bunt, but Kouna is right there on it, fires to 2nd, just gets Usuda, throw to 1st late.
Yokose bunting too. But falls behind 0-2. Does it anyways! Arai charges in throws to 2nd again, and they just get Yanase! Again late at 1st.
Watarai grounder to 1st and that's the inning. Wonder if part of the bunting strategy is to try and put stress on the defense for later?
Ogawa can't check his swing on a fastball high and is called out.
Itagaki gets around on a fastball inside and singles to left. As expected no bunting.
But there's a hit-and-run on 2-2! Ball way inside and Kouna still manages to foul it off! Yokose goes fastball down and away and Kouna can't reach out to it.
Tamura down quickly 0-2 on a curve and slider in the zone. And Arai-kantoku decides instead to send Itagaki! Throw from Yanase, not even close! Itagaki is out by a mile and the inning is over.
Matsumoto being a thorn in Kouna's side. Behind 0-2, he spoils several of Kouna's pitches and works the count full.
Ball back up middle. Tsuchiya with the great pick, turn and throw to 1st... nice play!
Matsumoto liner to 3rd, Arai puts a glove on it, but can't secure the catch! Prevents a possible double though.
And that's key! Iwashige fists one to right and it gets over Tomoya for a base hit! Nobeoka Gakuen threatening!
He gets one of the 2 outs! Hamada hits a pop to Arai, infield fly called for the 2nd out.
Kouna though can't find the strike zone on Tanaka! He walks him and it's manrui for Nobeoka!
Arai-kantoku calls time.
Usuda chopper to 3rd! Arai has to wait for it... throws to AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
His throw right off the hand is high and goes over everything!! Sakamoto already in, Iwashige comes in and it's 2-0 Nobeoka Gakuen!
Kona can't find the outer half on Yanase and he walks him to load the bases again for counterpart Yokose.
Single to right! Tanaka scores! Usuda coming home, throw from Itagaki... in time!
But Nobeoka extends the lead to 3-0! That's usually death for the opponent, but how will Maebashi respond?
Tamura with a ball to left! Hamada running back to the wall! Still running... Looking up!!
That's how they respond. #8 batter Tamura with a leadoff HR and it's 3-1!
Kusunoki with the safety bunt. Bobbled by Yokose! He has no play!
Kudou with a base hit to the right side! Kusunoki taking 3rd and the douten runner is in scoring position!
That's going to be it for Yokose! Shigemoto-kantoku sends in #11 Ide in relief.
Tomoya lays down the perfect squeeze and the defense is caught off guard! Ide can only go to 1st and it's now 3-2!! And the douten runner is at 2nd!!
Oh? What's this! Ide walks Tsuchiya on 4 pitches! Pinch for Nobeoka!
And now he's 3-0 to Arai!
Arai with one off the bat, but it's looks like he got it caught at the end of the bat and flies out to center! Kudou was halfway and did not tag up! 2 down!
Ogawa ahead in the AB, works the count full...
Single through to right! Kudou rounding 3rd... he scores with no throw!
WE'RE DOUTEN AT 3-3!!!
And that's it for Ide! Shigemoto-kantoku scrambling as #10 Nasu comes in.
No help! He walks Itagaki on 4 straight and it's manrui for Maebashi Ikuei! Shigemoto-kantoku calling time, anything to stop the bleeding.
And it works! Kouna hits a grounder to 3rd. Watarai goes to 1st and the inning is finally over, but not before Maebashi counters to tie the game!!
Two quick outs from the top of the Nobeoka order. Watarai pulls one right to Kusunoki for the first out, then Matsumoto tries the drag bunt to the right side with no success.
Sakamoto with a line shot that tips off Kouna's glove and up the middle to center for a base hit!
But Kouna shuts the door with a slider up and in and we're at the break!
In a surprising development Nobeoka strikes earlier than expected, only to give it right back with interest as they're on their 3rd pitcher! The pitching advantage has disappeared for Nobeoka! How will it play out!
Tamura, with a ball off the end of the bat, back to Nasu for the 1st out.
Nasu with a rare K as Kusunoki goes after a fastball down and in. 2 down!
Kudou with ball off end of bat, drives it the other way all the way down the line and hits off the top of the padding in front of the foul pole! He's in with a double!
Tomoya grounder to short, Masumoto can't field it cleanly! Goes to 3rd...
Kudou caught rounding 3rd too far and Matsumoto alertly goes there for the out! Side retired!!!
Once again Kouna falls behind a batter 3-0, this time Hamada, gets back to full and hits comebaker to Kouna for the first out.
He gets ahead of Tanaka and gets a flyout to left.
And it's a 1-2-3 inning for Kouna post-break! Usuda weak grounder to 2nd and the side is retired!
Tsuchiya with a rip down the right field line... FAIR!! Takes a hop to the wall, and Iwashige fumbles with the ball at the wall! Tsuchiya in with a 3B and Maebashi Ikuei has a great scoring chance!
Arai scorcher up the 3rd base line... FAIR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Tsuchiya comes home and Maebashi Ikuei has the 4-3 lead!!!
Ah, but Arai-kantoku tries to steal a base, and Arai's attempt is about as bad as Itagaki's earlier. 1 out...
And now Ogawa goes down swinging on the slider for the 2nd out.
Working to Itagaki, he can't seem to find either the outer or upper parts of the zone and he walks Itagaki!
AHHH!!! Wild pitch from Nasu gets under Yanase and Itagaki advances to 2nd!
And now behind 1-2, Kouna works the count full and works another walk from Nasu! That brings up Tamura...
Ball back up middle, Usuda caught leaning the wrong way, dives... makes the stop! Takes it to 2nd for the out, but Maebashi has the lead!
Nobeoka looks to be in trouble. Yanase with a regular grounder to 2nd. Nasu goes down on high away fastball...
And Watarai swings and misses on the forkball! They must be in red alert mode now!!
It's a 1-2-3 inning for Nasu as he settles down getting Kusunoki to fly to right, Kudou a routine grounder to 2nd, and another fly to right by Tomoya. He's trying to give his team a chance to get back in the game.
Matsumoto with a pop fly to Tsuchiya for the first out.
Ah, but Sakamoto works a walk! Douten runner on base!
Iwashige ball back up middle! Tsuchiya with an awkward toss to 2nd for 1, Tomoya's throw to 1st...
Kusunoki stumbles after contorting to make the catch and the 6-4-3 double play ends the inning!
Nasu starting the inning off with a 4 pitch walk to Tsuchiya.
And now he's behind Arai 3-0! Shigemoto-kantoku gives a couple of words to Nasu from the bench...
Strike 1... and a fly ball! Hamada camps under it for the 1st out.
Tsuchiya takes off for 2nd! Throw from Yanase... hits Tsuchiya and bounds into left! Tsuchiya takes 3rd with a key insurance run!
Ogawa up to try and get the run in.
Nasu laboring out there as he goes from ahead 1-2 to a full count.
Ogawa dribbler back up the middle! Nasu blocks it with his arm, and keeps the runner at 3rd! Goes to 1st and there's 2 down!
Itagaki works count full after taking a just low strike at 2-2...
Gets the walk!Runners at the corners now for Kouna!
Grounder to short! Matsumoto goes to 2nd for the force and we're headed to the bottom of the 9th!
Kouna after getting ahead 0-2 to Hamada throws 3 straight balls... and then hits him! Douten runner on and Arai-kantoku calls time!
Tanaka liner down the left field line... FOUL! Shigemoto-kantoku gives him a smile and a clap for good effort.
Tanaka ball back up middle for a base hit! Runners on 1st and 2nd no out for Nobeoka Gakuen!
#13 Nozaki to hit for Usuda...
Pops it up! Tamura under it in shallow left center for the 1st out!
Yanase up now looking for timely.
Hit-and-run! But Yanase pulls it just foul!
Pops it up! Ogawa scrambling to the Nobeoka dugout, slides... makes catch!!! 2 out!
And now it's P vs. P as Nasu steps in!!
1-1, Kouna goes 141 to get strike 2 on Nasu!!
Fork outside, emergency fouled off by Nasu!
Kouna with his arms in the air as he strikes out Nasu to win the game! Maebashi Ikuei in their first ever Koushien appearance wins the 95th Natsu Koushien tournament!
And in the hardest part of Natsu Koushien, the losing team is crying at the loss given their opportunity. Even Shigemoto-kantoku is crying... that's hard to take, but I loved the emotion he showed. It made it feel like he cared as much about it as the players. And I bet it makes the players play hard for him as well.
It's hard. It's the hardest part about Koushien, the fact that these kids may have their only shot at Koushien just to fall short. Whether it's in the first round, in the Best 8, or in the finals, to lose and have to deal with your emotions and the reporters and the loss. It's something the media can easily capitalize on. But remember, these are just high school kids that fight with their teammates throughout the year, throughout 3 years, working for this goal. Only 49 get the chance to come here, and only 1 can be the champion.
Kudou Youhei - 2-5, 2B, R
Takahashi Tomoya - 0-3, RBI, BB, K
Tsuchiya Keisuke - 3-3, 3B, R, 2 BB, SB
Arai Kaito - 2-5, RBI
Ogawa Toshiki - 1-5, RBI, 2 K
Itagaki Fumiya - 1-2, 3 BB
Takahashi Kouna - 0-4, K, BB
Tamura Hayato - 1-4, HR, R, RBI
Kusunoki Hiroki - 2-4, R, RBI, K
Takahashi Kouna - CG, 3 ER, 7 H, 5 K , 3 BB, 2 HBP
Kajiwara Shouto - 0-0 (Removed after 1st batter due to injury)
Watarai Akihiro - 0-4, K
Matsumoto Masaya - 1-4
Sakamoto Ryougo - 2-3, R, BB
Iwashige Akihito - 1-4, R, 2K
Hamada Shintarou - 0-3, HBP
Tanaka Yuuki - 1-3, R, BB
Usuda Ryou - 1-2, RBI, HBP
Nozaki Kouji - 0-1
Yanase Naoya - 0-3, BB
Yokose Takahiro - 1-2, RBI
Ide Ichirou, - 0-0
Nasu Ryouto - 0-2, 2K
Yokose Naoya - 5+ IP, 3 ER, 8 H, 3 K, BB
Ide Ichirou - 0.2+ IP, 0 R, H, BB
Nasu Ryouto - 4.1 IP, 3 H, 2 K, 5 BB