Chinzei (Kumamoto) vs. Sano Nichidai (Tochigi)
Chinzei could breathe a sigh of relief for the most part after Okinawa Shougaku won the Meiji Jingu tournament. Chinzei was still awarded a Kyushu bid, but at least it meant they didn't have to sweat it out.
Chinzei's calling card is their pitching as their offense is... to put it lightly... atrocious.
Now, over half their games were against established competition, but even then to carry an average of 0.233 is still shocking. They thankfully got walks whenever possible to boost their OBP, but when you see they have more triples (11) than doubles (8) without many SB, it does raise a red flag.
They look to be more of the traditional squad who will bunt when given the opportunity, which in this case might actually be a good thing if the team can't hit. 3 batters in the top 5 have an average under the Mendoza line(!!) and only one regular - leadoff batter Nakano Kouta has an average over 0.300.
Ace Suzaki Takurou I suppose could be considered the crafty veteran, but the peripherals have to be one of the worst for an ace. He averages a paltry 3.41 K/9 and worse yet has a 3.86 BB/9 rate. The other 2 main options - Yamashita Atsurou and Yamamoto Nozomu peripheral-wise are about the same too.
Yet this seems to work for them. My guess is that they pitch to extreme contact and let the opposition get themselves out to save the pitching - kinda Moshidora-like. Sure, Ks are the sexy thing, but it takes at least 3 pitches to record an out, which means at a minimum 81 pitches for all 27 outs. Add in the waste pitches and the like and it becomes taxing on the pitcher. If you could somehow get the batters to swing at the first pitch and get out, a pitcher could theoretically throw just 27 pitches to complete a game. It's the extreme, but illustrates the point.
Sano Nichidai might be the perfect opponent for Chinzei. They reached the Kanto super-regional semifinal having shutout eventual super-regional champions Hakuoudai Ashikaga in the prefectural final, and defeating Yokohama - who got the benefit of the doubt IMO.
But they did it without going to their bench at all, save for when reliever Inaba Kousei came into the game to relieve Tajima Daiki. The lineup isn't bad at all from top to bottom as even both pitchers can handle the stick (he apparently plays the field when Tajima is on the mound) - though they're really a station-to-station team as about half the lineup might have legitimate XBH ability. So even if Sano Nichidai gets the bat on the ball, they're not going to severely punish their opponents with a swing of the bat.
The downside is that they have 2 serviceable pitchers on the mound. Ace Tajima's 8.5 K/9 isn't as good as his ability suggests, but he still strikes out batters at a decent clip - though if he can throw in the low 140s you'd think it'd be a little higher. The better point is that his walk rate is very low - even against the tougher opponents in the super-regionals with his highest being 3 versus Yokohama. Reliever Inaba isn't as great at run prevention, but his K rate is also fairly high and he just walked 1 batter in his 9 innings of work.
This has the potential for being a very speedy game if the teams make a lot of contact and put the ball in play. Just don't necessarily expect to see a high scoring affair unless the Chinzei pitching staff truly are a house of cards.
Chiben Gakuen (Nara) vs. Mie (Mie)
Chiben Gakuen continues to bask in the sunlight in Nara now that Tenri has settled into the mass of teams below. The prefecture was weak already with just 2 schools dominating the scene, but now Chiben Gakuen stands alone, and it would stand to reason that with no competition their own level of play will suffer. This was evident in the fact that in their first real test in Ryuukokudai Heian, the offense that was there disappeared and the pitching struggled.
Ace Oda Kyouhei's peripherals aren't terrible, but given the level of competition are a bit concerning. While his BB rate is under 2, his K rate is just over 6 - certainly not dominating. In fact 1B Okamoto Kauzma, who actually worked some later games including Ryuukokudai Heian, had 6 Ks in his small 6.1 IP of work.
Offensively, they had quite a few extra base hits, however the majority of them were in-prefecture - they had none against Heian, and all 3 kinds versus a weak Youkaichi squad thus dulling the fact that their SLG stood over 0.500. They do get quite a few walks, but not like the actual average though it's not like the truth is they don't walk at all. And despite the easier competition, the bottom of the lineup is rather poor...
Mie was pretty much the exact opposite of Chiben Gakuen relative to situation. After 3 easy games, 2 of which was against former Koushien participants Matsusaka and Uji-Yamada Shougyou their next 6 games included 4 against well-known squads en route to the Toukai title before losing to well... Ryuukokudai Heian.
Mie has 1 pitcher, Imai Shigetarou. He has the inflated K numbers you'd expect, but did just about as well as Chiben Gakuen. Imai's walk rate would have been miniscule if not for 9 of his 16 walks against Chuukyoudai Chuukyou and Heian.
Offensively, the team suffers the same drought at the bottom third of the lineup, but at least the rest of them have the high batting averages. Top of the order Nagano Hayato presents the biggest threat, but he's just 1 person. And they don't really hit for power either.
To be quite honest, this actually looks like a level matchup. Mie has probably been tested more than Chiben Gakuen, but that's about the only advantage they have.
Kanto Dai-ichi (Tokyo) vs. Misato Kougyou (Okinawa)
Kanto Dai-ichi won the Tokyo super-regional without the benefit of playing any of the major players. Just Toukaidai Takanawadai and then a brow-beater versus Nisshougakushadai Fuzoku before failing late against Okinawa Shougaku.
Ace Haketa Akihito split time with Abe Takeshi, but they couldn't be 2 more different pitchers. Haketa averaged slightly more than 8 K/9, though probably exaggerated, but the walk rate north of 5 is rather troubling though it might not be that bad. He doesn't throw particularly hard either, so he just appears to be an ace with perhaps control issues. Abe on the other hand, threw just about 30 innings but has single digit strikeouts and walks. In fact, he pitched the entire Toukaidai Takanawadai game and gave up no runs on 7 hits, with no Ks and no walks!
Offensively, the team has the usual weaknesses at the bottom of the lineup with Yonezawa-kantoku using his bench early and often. But there is no power in the bats, and their walk rates declined as they progressed. If the JHBF saw Kanto Dai-ichi's resume they mat have then surmised that there was no way Nisshougakushadai Fuzoku was worthy of making it - though that I think is a false correlation.
If Okinawa Shougaku is considered one of the front-runners for the title, then Misato Kougyou - having put the only blemish on their record, you would think also should be considered a fellow contender.
Misato Kougyou in making their first appearance did it on the backs of ace Iha Tomokazu and his backup Nagamine Tsubasa. Iha's K numbers suggest a strong pitcher with a ~9 K/9 rate, but adjusted for competition, probably sits more around the 7 range. Walk rates are about average, and are fairly consistent. Nagamine strikes out less batters (~4.5 K/9), and gives more free passes (about the same), but he also gives up less hits (3.6 H/9) suggesting that he goes out of the zone often with batters either chasing or waiting.
However, Misato's offense appears to be very weak as after #4 batter Hanashiro Wataru, the offensive production drops off dramatically. In fact, 2 batters - Miyagi Ryouta and the aforementioned Hanashiro account for 10 of the teams 14 extra base hits. Add in #2 batter Nishikuratou Shou's 2 doubles, and that's almost all of the team's pop.
That lack of diversification in offensive output is a huge red flag. The pitching and defense looks solid enough (they had just 4 errors in all their games), but if the opposition can work around the 2-3-4 batters then Misato Kougyou may be in trouble. This has the makings of a close low-scoring game with both offenses struggling to get traction.
Chiben Wakayama (Wakayama) vs. Meitoku Gijyuku (Kochi)
Chiben Wakayama makes yet another Koushien tournament, a testament to the strength of the school and kantoku Takashima Hitoshi and to be fair the relative weakness of the rest of the prefecture. Unlike Chiben Gakuen, which might already be suffering from the dearth of talented teams with the fall of Tenri, Chiben Gakuen has continued to reach Koushien and still have some modicum of success.
Though perhaps they too are finally starting to feel the effects of such. The most glaring weakness has been the pitching. In recent years, they have gotten by with what could be considered average pitching - and this year has been more of the same. Takashima-kantoku used 7 pitchers in his 12 games, though in the super-regionals they focused on 2 of them - ace Azuma Yuusuke, and reliever Nakano Rei. Azuma's K rate of 7.2 is rather low considering the competition they faced, while his walk rate of 5.7 while perhaps a little inflated is still too high. Nakano's peripherals are worse wherein his walk rate (4.5) is higher than his K rate (3).
Offensively, Takashima-kantoku appears to switch members in and out of the lineup looking for something that will kick-start the offense. The bottom of the lineup isn't completely ineffective, but as for the rest he has put in 2 supposed catchers - starter Osa Issei and backup Nishiyama Touma to help generate offense. They draw some walks, but the MO for this team seems similar to Takashima's more recent teams.
That's probably some relief to ace Kishi Jyunichirou of Meitoku Gijyuku, because while his team has made Koushien, he has done so without the benefit of his offense. That seems odd given the fact that his team has the highest batting average of all 32 teams (0.387), but they did not face anyone of note until their semifinal game against Imabari Nishi where they got a whopping 3 hits.
They're certainly not as bad as that, but they're certainly not as good as the 0.387 suggests. They make a ton of contact, but are a station-to-station team though the try to supplant with some speed as evidenced by the 7 triples in 7 games - 3 of which by leadoff batter Ootani Yuuki, and averaging 2 SB per game - 6 of which by their cleanup batter Tada Tougo, and 4 by their last batter Oonishi Kazumasa.
Kishi is still as advertised, using his excellent control to stymie the opposition - Imabari Nishi got just 7 hits in their 4-0 win, and Kishi never gave up more than 3 walks in any game. None of the other pitchers got any work in after the first 2 games so you figure it'll be Kishi or nothing.
The entire game I think will rest on Meitoku Gijyuku's shoulders. Kishi will have to keep the opposing offense down in the hopes that his own offense can muster the offense necessary to advance. Good pitching can give you a better chance of winning, but like the Mariners have shown, you can't win a game scoring 0 runs.
First round predictions
- Chinzei (Kumamoto) lost Sano Nichidai (Tochigi)
- Chiben Gakuen (Nara) lost Mie (Mie)
- Kanto Dai-ichi (Tokyo) def. Misato Kougyou (Okinawa)
- Chiben Wakayama (Wakayama) lost Meitoku Gijyuku (Kochi)