Ikeda (Tokushima) vs. Kainan (Wakayama)
Ikeda returns back to Koushien after a long time away. But they're not the Yamabiko of Tsuta Fumiya's day.
Not even close.
Instead, they carry one of the worst team batting averages coming into Senbatsu. This despite the fact that they scored 5 or more runs in over 60% of their games.
They did that by making the hits they did have count, posting an ISO of 0.115 (which in 高等学校 isn't bad) while swiping about 2 bases per game. There's not much depth in their batting order though, which can lead to empty innings.
As for ace Nanishi Yuuto, well he could be forgiven for his performance when he was pulled after 6 innings trailing 1-0 against Imabari Nishi in the final (before the relief staff imploded). He was going on back-to-back days, and in all intents and purposes the game didn't matter. There are some questions regarding him though as he walked 7 against Seikou Gakuen (though that was a rematch so again, could be forgiven). But the K numbers probably are closer to accurate given his game against Imabari Nishi. But if Okada-kantoku has to go to someone else, you can kiss their chances goodbye.
Fortunately, they get to play a 21st century squad in Kainan. Kainan actually did make it to the super-regionals after narrowly losing to Chiben Wakayama in the final and then once again suffered a narrow loss to Riseisha in their first game.
Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of real stellar numbers out there for Kainan that would survive regression. Ace Okamoto Masayuki's best game was probably their prefectural semifinal against Kinkidai Shinguu. Even the 2-1 loss to Riseisha in the first round of the super-regional wasn't that great as he had just about as many walks (5) as strikeouts (6). He already carries a WHIP of over 1.30 which certainly will get worse here. His main backup (when used) is Takeda Kouki, and he is their equivalent of Maebashi Ikuei's Kitagawa. 5.1 IP, 0 K, 0 BB and just 2 H.
Offensively, there is a dropoff towards the bottom half of the lineup, which as mentioned before can lead to wasted innings and more pressure to score from the top half. Apparently, that falls to Okamoto himself as he drove in about one-third of their runs.
Nihon Bunri (Niigata) vs. Toyokawa (Aichi)
Nihon Bunri had a great fall campaign, working their way to the Meiji Jingu final where they looked dormy against Okinawa Shougaku before ace Iidzuka Satoshi fell apart.
Their run was a bit strange. After an easy regional play, it got much harder in the prefecturals, surviving 2 low-scoring games before edging out Niigata Meikun in the finals. Their offense picked up a tick in the super-regionals, but eventually so did their opponent's run production such that they had 2 enchousen games to win the Hokushinetsu super-regional. The offense then yet again picked up another gear at Meiji Jingu where the opposition is supposed to be harder, not easier.
While Iidzuka has one of the better K rates amongst the starters, it is inflated due to early round play. Adjusted it probably falls in line with the average. Walk rates though were about the same throughout so peripheral-wise, he's pretty average - a bit surprising for someone who supposedly can hit 145.
The wild card will be another pitcher by the name of Fujita Yuuhei. He had just one start, but it was against Imabari Nishi at Meiji Jingu. In the mercy-rule game, he gave up just 3 runs on 8 hits, while walking (and striking out) very few batters. If he can rest Iiduzka regularly in some manner it could greatly help out that side of things.
Offensively, the team exhibits amazing patience at the plate - so much so that their OBP is boosted by a full 80 points! And given the fact that they can hit for power as well (again remember the Okishou game), this has the potential to make for a formidable offense despite the fact that their BA isn't as strong.
Toyokawa played more games in the fall (15) than Nihon Bunri, yet only made it to the Toukai super-regional final. Their schedule immediately became difficult in the final third once they mercy-ruled Chuukyoudai Chuukyou in the Aichi semi-final. They faced in order Touhou, Tokoha Tachibana, Oogaki Nichidai, Shizuoka and Mie - none of them slouches by any means. Ace Tanaka Sora performed adequately, going 3-2 in that stretch with both losses happening in the finals. He probably won't pitch a shutout, but will keep his team in games. No other pitcher got any other work in during that time, so it's hard to say if Tanaka has to be relieved it'll be game over for Toyokawa.
What is surprising about Toyokawa is that like Nihon Bunri, they have a strong offense - a third of their hits went for extra bases! Note however that while the quantity of hits stayed constant, the run production decreased in their final 2 games back to normal levels.
For Nihon Bunri, Toyokawa might be one of those opponents you don't want to face. Not a well-known team, but apparently well-coached. It could be a trap for them if they're not careful.
Houtoku Gakuen (Hyogo) vs. Okinawa Shougaku (Okinawa)
The hometown 9 have their work cut out for them - facing the 2-time Kyushu fall champions who seem to have gotten better over the past year.
But as mentioned before, outside of the prefectural quarterfinal against Akashi Shougyou they blew through to the super-regional without any problems. It would be in those super-regionals that they would be tested - first by unknown Kinkidai Hokuyou, then by Fukuchiyama Seibi and Chiben Wakayama.
What bodes well for Houtoku is that their offense has been fairly successful throughout, buoyed by a very high walk rate - 4 to 0 in that Fukuchiyama Seibi game where they won 1-0. The team itself is not a power-hitting team, instead finding holes where they can hit for doubles. #4 batter Kishida Yukinori has 7 of the teams 21 doubles. However, the offense is not even throughout the lineup so it's possible they can experience droughts.
On the mound, ace Nakamura Makoto strikes out batters at a slightly below-average clip (adjusted for competition), but is extremely stingy with the free passes sporting the lowest walk rate of all the starters. That's good, because with the low K rate, opponents may get a good chance to get the bat on the ball so there's some margin of error for him.
Okinawa Shougaku has been improving over the past 2 years, but has yet to put the run together when the time comes. Yes, they won it all in the fall but it won't be considered a success unless they do it here at Senbatsu.
The strange part is that their offense, despite scoring a lot of runs later on in the fall taikai, the bottom half of the lineup suffers - though they make up for it by drawing more than their fair share of walks.
Hakuoudai Ashikaga (Tochigi) vs. Touryou (Miyagi)
I'm actually surprised that this is Hakuoudai Ashikaga's first trip to senbatsu. I'm sure I probably saw it somewhere before, but didn't really realize it until now.
Hakuoudai's run is puzzling to say the least. They defeated many established teams en route to the Kanto title and would have won their first game at Meiji Jingu if not for errors late. And yet, none of the peripherals suggest that they should have done it. Now, it's possible facing those established teams meant that their numbers are not inflated compared to other schools we may see - so let's take a look.
The team as a whole batted under 0.300 in their 11 games. But only the bottom 2 of the lineup can be considered holes. The team doesn't hit for power, nor steals bases. They don't really take walks, but don't strike out a ton either (they actually had more walks than Ks). On the whole though, they would score enough to win the games.
Ace Higa Araki does not appear to be anything special, but they do not appear to hold any weak points either. This considering that he throws a bit slower than the average (upper 120s, possibly lower 130s). He's not generally left on the mound for the entire game, as Hasegawa Keita and Ooshita Seiichirou came in relief. Hasegawa has lower rates across the board (K, BB and H), while Ooshita has higher rates across the board.
No matter who Touryou faced, I think they'd have an uphill battle. First of all, their pitching might be the worst of all the 32 teams in the field. First year ace Satou Kouga, facing a weaker schedule carried a pedestrian ERA of 2.84. Some of that could be attributed to the fact that he is a first year ace. But he doesn't throw particularly fast (high 120s-mid 130s), strikes out batters at an average rate (not adjusted for competition), and has one of the worst walk rates among all starters (even adjusted for competition). Off note - that game where they defeated Tohoku had 25 combined walks... in a regulation game!!
Satou is paired with fellow 1st year Okamoto Kouki... who is even worse on the mound. He doesn't even average 4 K/9, which is also lower than his BB/9 rate (4.64)! And while the "break in case of emergency" pitcher certainly would be worse, Hayasaka Tomoki walks more than 7 batters/9 and has given up a run and a half per inning... Let's hope it doesn't get to that point.
Offensively, they look rather strange as it's not the bottom of the lineup that struggled, but the middle of the lineup (#2 batter Kudou Kakeru, #4 batter Kobayashi Issei and to a lesser extent #6 batter Shiraishi Masatsugu). The average doesn't look stellar given the competition, but they do take more walks than the average team. They don't steal bases, but managed to average a triple per game.
So Satou will have to do his best to make it not a blowout as I think Hakuoudai Ashikaga will be relieved to have an easy matchup for a change.
First Round predictions
- Ikeda (Tokushima) def. Kainan (Wakayama)
- Nihon Bunri (Niigata) def. Toyokawa (Aichi)
- Houtoku Gakuen (Hyogo) lost Okinawa Shougaku (Okinawa)
- Hakuoudai Ashikaga (Tochigi) def. Touryou (Miyagi)