Well, we're onto Day 5 and the end of the first round/beginning of the 2nd round. Very exciting games so far, though sometimes a bit sloppy. Still, these are high school kids, so those things are bound to happen.
With the draws on Day 4, the teams in this game know that they will play the winners of the next game. It might be a challenge, but they have to win this game first before worrying about that.
Iwakuni Shougyou defends their spring appearance in Senbatsu by winning the Yamaguchi taikai. Despite only giving up 3 runs in the entire tournament, they were at risk to losing to Ube Koujyou before scoring 4 in the 8th, then after a complete blowout of former senbatsu participant Hayatomo edged out unknown Takagawa Gakuen for their first title in 27 years!
Given the performance in the later parts of the taikai, Ganshou will be relying on ace Takahashi Yuuya. A southpaw, he only tosses in the low 130s with a slider and a slow curve. Supposedly, he's able to pitch to both sides of the plate with control, which will be a necessity considering his velocity.
The offense in their close games appears to be average, with no person really standing out. They will swing away as evidenced by their lack of walks, and we will probably see a lot of bunting to try and score the single run. Their performance at senbatsu is mixed, defeating what should have been a decent Riseisha squad, but being outmatched against Yamagata Chuo who was a 3rd tier team in Yamagata.
Gansho's opponent will be first timers Maebashi Ikuei. It must have been a down year in Gunma because many of the strong teams just didn't show up. Kiryuu Dai-ichi was nowhere to be found, Mebashi Shougyou and Takasaki Kenkou Fukushidai both lost in consecutive games to Maebashi Kougyou. The only school left was Tokyo Noudai Dai-ni who got to the finals to face Maebashi Ikuei.
Now, Maebashi Ikuei is no slouch. They could be considered on of the 3rd tier teams in Gunma and has had more success in the last couple of years. In fact, since losing to Kiryuu Shiritsu Shougyou last summer, they have lost just twice - both times to senbatsu champions Urawa Gakuin. Which, despite their poor performance here at Natsu Koushien, is very impressive.
They are not an offensive minded squad, which is fine because they have ace Takahashi Kouna. He is our first ace who might be able to light up the gun. He reportedly throws in the mid 140s and has a slider, curve and forkball. In the Gunma taikai, he almost struck out a batter an inning, but does issue his fair share of walks (~3-4 per 9 IP), so perhaps Gansho can exhibit some patience.
Despite not having much offensive production, the top of the lineup will be an issue - specifically #2 and #3 batters Kusunoki Hiroki and Tsuchiya Keisuke, so Gansho ace Takahashi will have to be on his game for 9 innings. At least they're the early game so perhaps it will be a little cooler... (But not by much...)
Iwakuni Shougyou (Yamaguchi)
RF Yokota Hiroki
SS Shigeishi Yuuji
P Takahashi Yuuya
1B Shigeoka Fumiya
C Kurisu Tooru
CF Nakamura Souichirou
LF Fujioka Masaki (#14)
3B Kamidera Yuu
2B Nakagawa Yuuki
Maebashi Ikuei (Gunma)
CF Kudou Youhei
1B Kusunoku Hiroki
SS Tsuchiya Keisuke
3B Arai Kento
C Ogawa Toshiki
RF Itagaki Fumiya
P Takahashi Kouna
LF Tamura Hayato
2B Takhashi Tomoya
09:00 - First Pitch!
Maebashi Ikuei trying to flash the glove early, slow grounder from Yokota, Takahashi flips to Tsuchiya who tries to make the throw to 1st. It's late, but inventive.
Shigeishi trying to bunt falls behind 1-2. Three-bunts, but it's up and in and he fouls it off for the 1st out!
Now Chuunai-kantoku is sending Yokota, but Ogawa fires to 2nd and he's out! Runner erased and Takahashi swings and misses on an outside slider for the 3rd out.
Kudou with a drive down the left field line, Shimizu running to the pole, dives... falls in fair! Kudou sliding in with a leadoff triple!
Chance early for Maebashi Ikuei with Kusunoku up.
Ah, but they try the squeeze and it's way outside! Kudou is run down and the runner is erased!
With the chance gone, Kusunoku goes down swinging on a slider away (natch).
Tsuchiya with a deep drive to right, Yokota sprinting back to the wall... makes the catch just before he catches the wall for the 3rd out.
Much less eventful for Kouna as he catches Shigeoka on an outside slider, and both Kurisu and Nakamura ground out to Tomoya for the 3rd out. (Too many Takahashi's this game!!)
Fellow Takahashi ace Yuuya also pitching with a fast tempo. Arai whiffs on three fastballs for the first out.
Ogawa chases the first pitch and with one arm flies out to left.
Itagaki works the count full, but grounds out to short.
In fact, both pitchers working very fast. But now that I'm really caught up, turns out that Kouna doesn't throw as fast as the reports said. In fact, he's pretty average in the high 130s with the very occasional low 140.
And he walks his first batter in Fujioka to start the 3rd. Chuunai-kantoku has Kamidera bunt him along for last batter Nakagawa.
Also, Kouna is flying open with his delivery, leaving everything outside to a LHB.
But he does catch one in the inside corner to punch out Nakagawa for the 2nd out.
Yokota gets ahead 3-0, but doesn't like taking the walk, swings and misses on a full count fastball away to end the inning.
Kouna first pitch lines a single to left. Arai-kantoku has him bunted to 2nd by Tamura.
Tomoya unable to get the timely, chasing a low slider for the 2nd out.
Kudou goes for the slow curve and lines one to right! Kouna being waved home! Relay from Shigeoka...
Kurisu beautifully blocks the plate and tags Kouna for the 3rd out! Great play from the Gansho defense!
Shigeishi can't catch a break so far as he's called out on a failed check swing.
Yuuya becomes the 7th K victim caught looking at a fastball right down the middle.
And Kouna isn't fast, but his control is very good, striking out Shigeoka on a slider. 8 K's already and he just struck out the side!
Yuuya trying to catch up on the Ks gets Kusunoku chasing a high fastball.
Tsuchiya with a ball back up the middle, Yuuya actually kick saves it up in the air! But it goes way up and by the time Nakagawa can get it, Tsuchiya is safe at 1st.
Now Tsuchiya takes off for 2nd! Arai swings and misses on a low slider for the out, but Kurisu shows the ball first for the K then throws to 2nd allowing Tsuchiya to slide in safely!
But there's 2 down and Yuuya just needs one out.
Ogawa though with a drive to right center! Nakamura running back, dives... but it's just out of his reach! Ogawa rounding 2nd, slides into 3rd with a timely RBI triple! Maebashi Ikuei leads 1-0!
Itagaki grounds to 2nd, and Nakagawa makes it a little interesting when he can't field it cleanly.
Gansho's batters continue to struggle against Kouna.
Kurisu swings and misses on a slider for the first out...
Nakamura works the count full, but a forkball inside freezes him...
And can you believe this, he strikes out the side again when he hits 145 on the outside corner to get Fujioka!
Yuuya still doing well outside of that triple. Kouna goes down swinging for the first out.
Tamura with a drive to right center. Nakamura and Yokota converge, Nakamura calls him off....
AND HE MISSES IT!!
Nakamura leans back and it's behind him!! Tamura going all the way onto 3rd on the complete misjudge!
Tomoya up to try and get the run in...
SQUEEZE!!! Tomoya just bunts it away, but \I've never seen someone leap that far to bunt a pitchout away...
But this time Tomoya misses and strikes out! Tamura is hung up and run down 2-5 to retire the side! That's 2 failed squeezes now and Gansho maintains the one run deficit as we head into the break.
But against Maebashi Ikuei ace Takahashi Kouna... one run might just feel like 10.
The K parade continues! Kouna and Ogawa play the old rope-a-dope as Ogawa feigns outside and Kouna puts a 142 fastball right over the plate for his 9th straight K.
Perhaps to break up the K's Chuunai-kantoku has Nakagawa do a safety bunt. He's out easily 1-3, but it stops the demoralization (maybe).
Yokota the only one able to hit Kouna with another ball back up the middle that just eludes Tomoya.
And in a desperate attempt to get the runner in scoring position, Yokota is sent to 2nd, but Ogawa's snap throw gets him by a good margin for the 3rd out.
Yuuya doing what he can to keep his team in it.
But Tschiya drives an outside pitch to right center that Yokota has to play off the wall for a double.
Yuuya gets Arai for the 3rd time as he pops up to Shigeoka for the 3rd out.
Shigeishi actually putting up a fight against Kouna, fouling off several pitches.
Hits a high chopper! Tsuchiya charging in... waits... makes throw to 1st to get Shigeishi for the 1st out.
Yuuya now checking in with a ball past Kouna for a base hit!
Hm... I wonder if Kouna's control is going away as he falls behind Shigeoka 3-1. Does fire one in to fill up the count though.
Chuunai-kantoku calls for the hit-and-run! But Shigeoka fouls it off.
And he doesn't bite on the slider and there's runners on 1st and 2nd for Ganshou! Arai-kantoku calls for time.
Ganshou's batter exhibiting patience as Kurisu also gets ahead 3-1.
Grounder to 2nd! Tomoya to 2nd for one, Tsuchiya sees no play at 1st, but fires to 3rd as Yuuya is of the bag! But the ball gets away from Arai! Yuuya heads home! Throw home.... OUT!!!
Yuuya not able to come home on the errant throw and Kouna gets out of the inning!!! A bad break turned good, then bad all in a matter of seconds...
Well, at least the blown play hasn't affected Yuuya.
After an infield popup by Ogawa, Itagaki gets his first hit with a single through short. But when Kouna hits a ball to 3rd, Kamidera goes to 2nd and Nakagawa goes to 1st to complete the double play to end the inning.
Kouna getting back on track with a 143 fastball inside that just twists Nakamura for the K.
Fujioka playing the waiting game, sends the 2-0 pitch into center for a base hit!
But bad luck for Ganshou again as on a hit-and-run Kamidera hits one back up the middle! Tsuchiya right at the bag taps it and throws to 1st for the double play to end the inning.
Yuuya doing everything he can to keep his team in it. After a popout from Tamura, he gets Tomoya and Kudou to chase for a 1-2-3 inning...
Now he has to turn it over to his offense, which in this case might include himself.
Last batter Nakagawa up first and he is swinging away.
He hits a chopper over Kouna! Tsuchiya ranging to 2nd, fires to 1st and gets a diving Nakagawa! Not sure if running it out would have helped anyways.
Yokota swings and falls over, but hits a ball to center! Kudou coming in, but it falls in for a base hit!
Eh??! Shigeishi buntinga and fouls it off! Really??!
Yes, really! He does it again, but fouls it off and he's behind 1-2! It seems to be off now though as he takes a ball way outside.
Fastball inside, Shigeishi jammed, but fouls it off...
And fouls off another fastball...
Grounder to 3rd! Arai to 2nd for one, Tomoya to first... double play!!! Game set!!
Yuuya can only look on as the double play strands him on the on-deck circle and his team falls to Maebashi Ikuei 1-0...
Maebashi Ikuei's ace Takahashi Kouna spins the first dominating performance of Natsu Koushien, pitching a complete game shutout striking out 13. His control was excellent.A timely hit by Tsuchiya being the difference in the ball game.
Gansho certainly had their opportunities late as they got hits off of Kouna, but just couldn't get the timely when they needed it. And so their Koushien ends perhaps a little early.
Takahashi Kouna (Maebashi Ikuei) - CG, SHO, 5 H, 13 K, 2 BB
Ogawa Toshiki (Maebashi Ikuei) - 1-3, 3B, RBI
Tsuchiya Keisuke (Maebashi Ikuei) - 2-3, 2B, R
Kudou Youhei (Maebashi Ikuei) - 2-4, 3B
Takahashi Yuuya (Iwakuni Shougyou) - CG, ER, 8 H, 9 K
Yokota Hiroki (Iwakuni Shougyou) - 3-4
Fujioka Masaki (Iwakuni Shougyou) - 1-2, BB