- Imabari Nishi (Shikoku) vs. Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei (Tohoku)
- Nihon Bunri (Hokushinetsu) vs. Ryuukokudai Heian (Kinki)-Mie (Tokai) winner
- Komadai Tomakomai (Hokkaido) vs. Kanto Dai-ichi (Tokyo)-Okinawa Shougaku (Kyushu) winner
- Hakuoudai Ashikaga (Kanto ex Tokyo) vs. Iwakuni (Chuugoku)
- Hokkaido - Sapporo Ootani
- Tohoku - Aomori Yamada (I think the JHBF would still overlook Hanamaki Higashi)
- Kanto/Tokyo - Narashino/Kasumigaura/Kendai Takasaki (they just need either region to win)
- Hokushinetsu - Chikyuu Kankyou
- Tokai - Shizuoka
- Kinki - Sanda Shousei
- Chuugoku/Shikoku - Takigawa Gakuen (they just need either region to win)
- Kyushu - Souseikan
Imabari Nishi (Shikoku) vs. Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei (Tohoku)
Imabari Nishi appears to be back after a year off. They did defeat Kishi and Meitoku Gijyuku, but it could be a case of where the pitcher remains but the offense is weaker. Plus, there is the 5-2 win over an unknown Sakaide team who won Kagawa as well
Kousei, as they are now called, completely annihilated the Tohoku field including wins over Sendai Ikuei, Sakata Minami and Hanamaki Higashi before handling an unknown Touryou squad to win the title. Now, much like Meitoku Gijyuku, both Sendai Ikuei and Hanamaki Higashi had a completely new starting 9, so despite their Natsu Koushien appearance, you cannot take too much from it. But the fact that Kousei won so convincingly is a big plus (the 2-1 win over Hanamaki Higashi can be discounted because they always play tough no matter what the roster).
Advantage: Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei
Nihon Bunri (Hokushinetsu) vs. Ryuukokudai Heian (Kinki)-Mie (Tokai) winner
The opening round game between the neighboring super-regions is a tough one to handicap. Yes, Ryuukokudai Heian did win their 5th title defeating Koushien caliber teams such as Oumi, Chiben Gakuen, Riseisha and Chiben Wakayama.
But Shiga (Oumi) was weak in general, Nara (Chiben Gakuen) is apparently going through some reorganization of some sort as Tenri has fallen by the wayside and Chiben Gakuen has not taken over to dominate as one would have thought, Osaka (Riseisha) apparently has a power vacuum at the top that is waiting to be filled, and Chiben Wakayama may be on the sunset of it's run.
That's not to say Mie isn't without its own question marks. Yes, they defeated both Shizuoka Shougyou and Chuukyoudai Chuukyou, but they also had to come back to defeat unknown Toyokawa to win the final. And Chuukyoudai Chuukyou hasn't been the same since they won the title.
Advantage goes to Ryuukokudai Heian just because of the level of competition, but Kinki has performed poorly and Mie is generally up for a challenge.
The winner faces Nihon Bunri, who had an easier time against Tsuruga Kehi and Cinderella Toyama Dai-ichi before having to walk off twice versus Chikyuu Kankyou and Toukai Dai-san (both Nagano schools!!).
And therein lies the rub. Despite the early success the close victories against Nagano, who themselves are seemingly going through a low part in their cycle, means that Nihon Bunri doesn't look as good.
Advantage: Ryuukokudai Heian
Komadai Tomakomai (Hokkaido) vs. Kanto Dai-ichi (Tokyo)-Okinawa Shougaku (Kyushu) winner
Okinawa Shougaku won Kyushu despite having to revamp most of their roster from the summer. This after they seemingly made improvements from the spring. Thing is, their list of teams they defeated does not seemingly instill confidence in their prospects.
Kanto Dai-ichi claims the final spot after a very tight game against Nisshougakushadai Fuzoku. Oddly, Kanto did not go with ace Abe on back-to-back days. This won't be a problem for the first two games, but will be thereafter. Abe shut down the Nisshougakusha offense once he came in, so I do expect the same against Okinawa Shougaku.
The winner faces Komadai Tomakomai, who wins Hokkaido - but once again not convincingly with 1-run victories over Toukai Dai-yon and Sapporo Ootani.
Kanto Dai-ichi may get out of this part of the bracket, but if they go to their bullpen it doesn't look too good.
Advantage: Kanto Dai-ichi
Hakuoudai Ashikaga (Kanto ex Tokyo) vs. Iwakuni (Chuugoku)
Kanto seemed to have a fair amount of parity as half of the super-regional games were decided by 2 runs or less. That and the finalists were actually the runner-ups in their prefecture!!
The names may have been "brand" names, but they weren't really anywhere to be seen in the past year. And those that were - Yokohama, Chiba Keizaidai Fuzoku, Jyousou Gakuin were eliminated right off the bat.
Iwakuni won a Chuugoku Super-regional that was littered with new names. Now, they did not encounter any issues up until the final where Hiroshima Shinjyou put up a late fight which is a plus. Problem is, we don't know how big of a plus it really means considering the strength of the Chuugoku region in general.
Advantage: Hakuoudai Ashikaga
Right now, of all the qualified participants, perhaps Kousei has the best resume. Oddly enough, I actually think that Kanto/Tokyo will not win the Meiji Jingu tournament simply because it would let a brand team get an invitation - that is unless the committee picks Kasumigaura.