Friday, January 25, 2013

The 85th Senbatsu field and initial reaction...

So the field is announced, and there are some surprises, though I did manage to predict most of the field (though with many teams secure, it's not that hard):

  • 北照 - Hokushou (Otaru-shi) - 5th overall, 2nd consecutive - B-

  • 仙台育英 - Sendai Ikuei (Miyagi, Sendai-shi) - 10th appearance, 1st in 6 years - A-
  • 聖光学院 - Seikou Gakuin (Fukushima, Koori-machi) - 4th appearance, 2nd consecutive - B
  • 盛岡大付属 - Moriokadai Fuzoku (Tohoku Memorial Bid, Iwate, Morioka-shi) - 3rd appearance, 1st in 3 years - C-
  • 青森山田 - Aomori Yamada (Tohoku Meiji Jingu Bid, Aomori, Aomori-shi) - 2nd appearance, 1st in 8 years - C
  •  山形中央 - Yamagata Chuo (Meiji Jingu Bid, Yamagata, Yamagata-shi) - 2nd appearance, 1st in 3 years
Kanto ex/Tokyo
  • 浦和学院 - Urawa Gakuin (Saitama, Saitama-shi) - 9th appearance, 3rd consecutive - B
  • 花咲徳栄 - Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama, Kazo-shi) - 3rd appearance, 1st in 3 years - B-
  • 常総学院 - Jyousou Gakuin (Ibaraki, Tsuchiura-shi) - 7th appearance, 1st in 8 years - C
  • 宇都宮商 - Utsunomiya Shougyou (Tochigi, Utsunomiya-shi) - 3rd appearance, 1st in 34 years - C-
  • 安田学園 - Yasuda Gakuen (Sumida-ku) - 1st appearance - B
  • 早稲田実 - Waseda Jitsugyou (Kokubunji-shi) - 20th appearance, 1st in 3 years - B
  • 春江工 - Harue Kougyou (Fukui, Sakai-shi) - 1st appearance - B-
  • 敦賀気比- Tsuruga Kehi (Fukui, Tsuruga-shi) - 5th appearance, 2nd consecutive - C
  • 県岐阜商 - Kenritsu Gifu Shougyou (Gifu, Gifu-shi) - 27th appearance, 1st in 18 years! - C+
  • 菰野 - Komono (Mie, Komono-shi) - 1st appearance - C
  • 常葉菊川 - Tokoha Kikugawa (Shizuoka, Kikugawa-shi) - 4th appearance, 1st in 5 years - C
  • 京都翔英 - Kyoto Shouei (Kyoto, Uji-shi) - 1st appearance - B
  • 報徳学園 - Houtoku Gakuen (Hyogo, Nishinomiya-shi) - 19th appearance, 1st in 2 years - B+
  • 龍谷大平安 - Ryuukokudai Heian (Kyoto, Kyoto-shi) - 37th appearance, 1st in 5 years - B-
  • 大阪桐蔭 - Osaka Touin (Osaka, Daitou-shi) - 6th appearance, 2nd consecutive - B+
  • 履正社 - Riseisha (Osaka, Toyonaka-shi) - 5th appearance, 3rd consecutive - B-
  • 大和広陵 - Yamato Kouryou (Nara, Kouryou-machi) - 2nd appearance, 1st in 28 years - B-
  • 関西 - Kanzei (Okayama, Okayama-shi) - 12th appearance, 3rd consecutive - B+
  • 広陵 - Kouryou (Hiroshima, Hiroshima-shi) - 23rd appearance, 1st in 3 years - C+
  • 岩国商 - Iwakuni Shougyou (Yamaguchi, Iwakuni-shi) - 1st appearance - C+
  • 高知 - Kochi (Kochi, Kochi-shi) - 17th appearance, 2nd consecutive -C+
  • 鳴門 - Naruto (Tokushima, Naruto-shi) - 8th appearance, 2nd consecutive - C
  • 済美 - Saibi (Ehime, Matsuyama-shi) - 2nd appearance, 1st in 9 years - B-
  • 沖縄尚学 - Okinawa Shougaku (Okinawa, Naha-shi) - 5th appearance, 1st in 5 years - B
  • 済々黌 - Seiseikou (Kumamoto, Kumamoto-shi) - 4th appearance, 1st in 55 years!! - C+
  • 尚志館- Shoushikan (Kagoshima, Shibushi-shi) - 1st appearance - C-
  • 創成館 - Souseikan (Nagasaki, Isahaya-shi) - 1st appearance - C-
21st Century Bids
  • Higashi-Nihon (東日本) - 遠軽 - Engaru (Hokkaido, Engaru-machi) - 1st appearance
  • Higashi-Nihon (東日本) - いわき海星 - Iwaki Kaisei (Fukushima, Iwaki-shi) - 1st appearance
  • Nishi-Nihon (西日本) - 門司学園-- Moji Gakuen (Fukuoka, Kitakyushu-shi) - 1st appearance
  • Nishi-Nihon (西日本) - 土佐 - Tosa (Kochi, Kochi-shi) - 7th appearance, 1st in 20 years
  • Wild Card 1 - 五泉 - Gosen (Niigata, Gosen-shi) - 1st appearance
  • Wild Card 1 - 遠軽 - Engaru (Hokkaido, Engaru-machi) - 1st appearance
  • Wild Card 2 - 土佐 - Tosa (Kochi, Kochi-shi) - 7th appearance, 1st in 20 years
  • Wild Card 2 - 益田翔陽 - Masuda Shouyou (Shimane, Masuda-shi) - 1st appearance
So, of the field of 32 selected via Fall Taikai play, it would appear Aomori Yamada got the snub.  But not for Sakata Minami, but Yamagata Chuo!  I find that selection a bit surprising given the fact that indeed the committee passed on Sakata Minami.  Aomori Yamada was in their game against Sendai Ikuei all the way to the end, while Yamagata Chuo waited until late to charge against Seikou Gakuin.

I don't see any quick tip-off as to why Yamagata Chuo would be selected, but fact of the matter is, they have the invite and are on their way come March.

Also, Tenri's welcome has worn off.  Chiben Gakuen has been taking their share, and now - for the first time in over 30 years a team not named Tenri or Chiben Gakuen goes to Koushien!  Yamato Kouryou and their ace will try to carry the flag for the prefecture.  Don't let us down!

The other shocking thing for me were the 21st Century Bids.  Engaru didn't outright get the Higashi-Nihon bid, instead the selection committee selected Iwaki Kaisei.  The fact they got the primary bid and not one of the wild cards shows that the committee really wanted to stress the Tohoku Earthquake - in addition to the Tohoku Friendship bid AND the extra Meiji Jingu bid.

Engaru still managed to get in though, thanks to one of the wild cards.

Tosa was rewarded by the committee with their 1st appearance in 3 consecutive tries at the 21st Century - and was in fact given the primary Nishi-Nihon bid.

I thought then that Moji Gakuen would be selected as the 2nd wild card, but the committee decided to go all rural and select Masuda Shouyou out of Shimane!

Since this was the final wild-card, all teams were in theory in play.  Realistically though, if I had to include Masuda Shouyou in the discussion, it would have been against Gosen and Moji Gakuen.  And it seemed like both had a better resume than Masuda Shouyou.  Especially if you consider name brand - just like Soujitsu (Waseda Jitsugyou).

But Gosen could have been hurt by the indirect fact that Tsuruga Kehi (whom they lost to in the Super-Regional) lost 2-1 in the final to first-timers Harue Kougyou.  This could have signaled a weaker Super-Regional and thus hurt Gosen's chances.

Moji Gakuen's loss to Nagaski Nichidai could also have been indirectly hurt because Nagasaki Nichidai lost convincingly to Shoushikan who in turn got mercy ruled by Okinawa Shougaku.

The argument loses steam though when applied to Masuda Shougyou themselves.  They lost to Iwakuni, who in turn was mercy-ruled by Kanzei in the semifinals.  Even a mercy-rule win over Hayatomo in between probably wouldn't have been of any help.

So, the question would be evaluating the three teams circumstances.  And the committee decided on Masuda Shouyou.

In the coming days, I'll review the teams that I did not cover in my previews.

But for now, the field is officially out and teams will hit the grounds preparing until the first pitch is thrown on March 22nd.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Handicapping the 21st Century Candidates

So the Super-Regional Finalists have been announced, 4 will be selected to Senbatsu - 1 from Western Japan (Kinki, Chuugoku, Shikoku, Kyushu), 1 from Eastern Japan (Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Hokushinetsu, Tokai), and 2 wild-cards.  Let's take a look at each of the nominees:

Higashi-Nihon (東日本)
Hokkaido - Engaru (Engaru-machi) - No appearances - Eliminated in semifinals of Super-Regionals
Engaru was nominated due to their volunteer work in the town, their acceptance of players of all abilities, and their many close calls to reaching Koushien.

If Engaru makes it, to me it will be one year too late.  Yes, they reached the semi-finals, but the scores indicate that they're not the team they were last year.  They were just 1 run away from going to Natsu Koushien last summer.  Alas, they were denied by Asahikawa Kougyou and their ace Matsugawa's final summer was over.

Taking over is a duo of Kamono Takaki (鴨野 崇希) and rookie Ooshiro Yuuki (大城 祐樹) with an occasional assist from Maeda Kazuki (前田 知輝).

It may be one year too late, but I'd like to see the small school make it.  They may be the front-runner to receive the Higashi-Nihon bid.

Tohoku - Iwaki Kaisei (Fukushima-ken, Iwaki-shi) - No appearances - Eliminated in Round of 16 of Fukushima prefecturals
Iwaki Kaisei has been nominated because they continued practicing after the tsunami despite their grounds being destroyed.  Despite that, they reached the round of 16.

As much as I know the JHBF wants to recognize the Tohoku area and stress repeatedly the earthquake, this nomination is a bit of a stretch.  First of all, Tohoku already has 4 teams.  2 normal invitations, the Tohoku Friendship bid, and the Meiji Jingu bid won by Sendai Ikuei.  I believe that will actually hurt Iwaki Kaisei's chances.

Also is the fact that while the round of 16 seems impressive, note that there were only 29 schools in the field this year.

As a result, I do not imagine Iwaki Kaisei receiving one of the 21st century bids.

Kanto/Tokyo - Hitachi Dai-ichi (Ibaraki-ken, Hitachi-shi) - No appearances - Eliminated in Quarterfinals of Ibaraki prefecturals
Hitachi Dai-ichi has had one Koushien appearance, back in the summer of 1985.  Here, they are being nominated for their 1st Senbatsu appearance.  They are being nominated for their work volunteering in areas affected by the Great Tohoku Earthquake.  In addition, this year they have reached the quarterfinals, with ace Kagaya Ryou (加賀屋 諒) narrowly losing 3-2 to the top seeded Kasumigaura.

If the selection committee is going to pick a team because of a link to the earthquake and tsunami, I would actually imagine it to be this one.  The committee would like to give opportunities to teams that have perhaps not been to Koushien, but at the same time would like those teams to be competitive.  Hitachi Dai-ichi could fit that criteria.

Hokushinetsu - Gosen (Niigata-ken, Gosen-shi) - No appearance - 3rd place in Niigata prefecturals, eliminated in first round of Super-Regionals
Gosen was nominated due to the help they provided in clearing snow during the winter months, as well as other volunteering efforts as well as focusing on academics.

Gosen has done well in recent years, and this year they narrowly lost to Niigata Kenou Kougyou 2-1 in the semifinals, then went to defeat Niigata Meikun to advance to the Super-Regionals where they lost to eventual runner-up Tsuruga Kehi in the bottom of the 9th inning

It's possible that Gosen gets nominated due to their performance.  All their games were decided by 2 runs or less.  They may be looked at as a team that can play up (and subsequently down) to their competition.

Tokai - Toyokawa (Aichi-ken, Toyokawa-shi) - No appearance - 2nd place in Aichi prefecturals, eliminated in first round of Super-Regionals
Toyokawa was mainly nominated due to their recent performance in the Natsu taikais as well as their active outreach in the area.

Toyokawa's performance this year included a 2-1 win over Chuukyoudai Chuukyou.  But they lost in the finals to Touhou 9-0, and collapsed late to Shizuoka 3-seed Hiryuu 5-4.

It is true that they have done well, reaching the semifinals last summer and the quarterfinals this summer.  But because of the nature of kokoyakyu, success like that does not translate to future years (see Engaru).  That's because people graduate leaving the team to fill in the gaps.

I do have some information on the ace Moriguchi Rentarou (森口 練太郎) who throws in the high 130s with a curve and two-seamer.

The fact that he has a video is a plus, but I'm a bit skeptical on their prospects still.

Nishi-Nihon (西日本)
Kinki - Shiritsu Horikawa (Kyoto-fu, Kyoto-shi) - 1 appearance - Lost in Round of 16 of Kyoto prefecturals
Horikawa has been nominated due to the fact that they reached the round of 16 despite being considered more of a top-class educational institution.

Horikawa advanced out of the regionals, but was eliminated in their first game of the prefecturals by Ritsumeikan Uji 8-7.

I cannot find any more information on that, so it's really hard to gauge based upon so little information, but I don't believe they will get a bid.

Chuugoku - Masuda Shouyou (Shimane-ken, Masuda-shi) - No appearances - Shimane Champion, eliminated in first round of Super-Regionals
Masuda Shouyou has been to Koushien before, though under one of the merged schools (Masuda Sangyou).  In 2006, they merged with Masuda Kougyou to found Masuda Shouyou.  They were nominated due to their sportsmanship throughout the fall taikai, as well as the school receiving an award in recognition of being one of the top schools for career education.

This was Masuda Shouyou's first ever Shimane fall title.  However, this title did not involve facing some of the major players out of Shimane, and rallied in the semifinals and finals to take the title.  They lost in the first round to Iwakuni, Yamaguchi's 3/4 seed 3-0.

Yanai Yuuto (柳井 祐斗) is the staff ace, though Terado Masashi (寺戸 雅) often comes in relief.

Again, there is little information that I can find right now.  Masuda Shouyou may have won their first fall title, but I don't think they'll get selected either.

Shikoku - Tosa (Kochi-ken, Kochi-shi) - 6 appearances - Kochi 3rd place, eliminated in first round of Super-Regionals
This is the 3rd consecutive time that Tosa has been nominated out of Kochi, and the 1st that they've reached the final selection stage.  They were nominated due to their strong showing in recent years - reaching at semifinal stage all but one time since 2010 (and that time they lost in the quarterfinal stage), as well as their academic focus.

For this fall, Tosa had finished 3rd in the Kochi prefecturals, losing to Kochi but beating Kochi Minami to advance to the Super-Regionals where they lost to Tokushima Shougyou in the first round.

Kyushu - Moji Gakuen (Fukuoka-ken, Kitakyushu-shi) - No appearances - Fukuoka runner-up, eliminated in 2nd round of Super-Regionals
Moji Gakuen is the merger of Moji and Moji Kita, and finally reached the Super-Regionals for the first time in 55 years.  They were nominated because of the fact that they developed shorter, more intense practices so students could focus on academics.

That Super-Regional loss was a 6-5, 13 inning loss to Nagasaki Nichidai which included Moji Gakuen scoring 4, the giving up 4 in the 10th inning.

Doi Naoki (土井 直樹) is the ace who endured all 13 innings, 4-run 10th, sayonara run and all.

The quality loss to Nagaski Nichidai in the Super-Regionals gives them probably the inside track to the Nishi-Nihon bid.

I believe the four 21st century bids will go as follows:
  • Nishi-Nihon -  Moji Gakuen (Fukuoka)
  • Higashi-Nihon - Engaru (Hokkaido)
  • Wild Card 1 - Gosen (Niigata)
  • Wild Card 2 - Tosa (Kochi)
From 2009-12, only 1 team has been selected that had not advanced out of the prefecturals - Sumoto from Kyoto.  Kyoto is one of the more competitive prefecutres, so I assume that all teams selected will have advanced to their respective Super-Regionals.

That eliminates Iwaki Kaisei and Hitachi Dai-ichi and Shiritsu Horikawa.  Iwaki Kaisei is penalized also by the fact they received an extra bid.  Shiritsu Horikawa is penalized by Kyoto having 2 teams already in the field (by my projections at least).

Of the remaining 6, Toyokawa and Masuda Shougyou have the weakest resumes, and thus we have the 4 above.

Of course, the selection committee can make it a point to emphasize the Tohoku region by selecting either Iwaki Kaisei or Hitachi Dai-ichi, but I think the Tohoku friendship bid takes care of that.  If they do, Iwaki Kaisei will go for one reason only - Seikou Gakuin has basically ruled Fukushima, and here's a chance for someone else to go.

IF Iwaki Kaisei is selected, it will sadly be Tosa who is pushed out - despite the 3 straight nominations.