Hiroshima Shinjyou (Hiroshima) vs. Toukai Dai-san (Nagano)
Hiroshima Shinjyou can hit. No if ands or buts about it. They had double digit hits in 9 of their 12 games, and of the other 3, two games they had 9 hits, and their lowest hit total was 7 against Iwami.
The level of competition admittedly isn't strong, but even with some regression should still carry. Hiroshima Shinjyou has team speed, but despite the 25 stolen bases most of the SB were early on in the prefecturals. In fact they only stole 2 bases (both against Iwakuni) in the super-regional. However, they averaged a triple per game and by doing so carried almost has a SLG 50% higher than their BA.
Ace Yamaoka Shuuya tossed the majority of the innings for Hiroshima Shinjyou. Despite being stingy with the hits, Yamaoka does issue quite a few more walks than one would like. The strikeout numbers look about average, so despite throwing in the upper 130s he might be slightly above-average with slight control issues. Two other pitchers got more than 1 inning of work, Funahashi Kensei and Ushiroguchi Kazuyoshi, but neither were used past the prefectural quarterfinal.
I've seen Toukai Dai-san always in the mix in Nagano, but didn't realize that they had been to Senbatsu twice before. Here though, they made it all the way to the Hokushinetsu super-regional final which was good enough to get an invitation.
But there are some oddities to the numbers. For instance, despite facing some of the better teams in the super-regionals, their hit production didn't go down as you would expect. In fact, it stayed about the same. So did their extra base production as well - though really they're not a hard hitting squad. Production down the lineup is fairly consistent though oddly their cleanup batter - C Hara Yuushi batted 0.163.
Ace Takai Julian pitched in just about every game for Toukai Dai-san. In the super-regionals, facing Komatsu Ootani, Niigata Meikun and Hokuetsu, his strikeout figures increased while keeping his walk rates one of the lowest amongst all aces. Nakamura Kaisei is their main reliever, though he, along with Hirabayashi Shunta, apparently give Takai a full game break. Neither are as effective as Takai, as their K and BB rates go in the wrong direction.
I think the key matchup here will be Takai versus the Hiroshima Shinjyou offense. If his peripherals hold up they have a good chance at winning.
Imabari Nishi (Ehime) vs. Kiryuu Dai-ichi (Gunma)
Imabari Nishi, despite suffering a loss in the prefectural final, went on to win the Shikoku super-regional and defeated Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei before being routed by Nihon Bunri.
Imabari Nishi's offense is for the most part based on station-to-station work. A lot of their scoring was buoyed by strong walk rates - though in their losses their rates dropped significantly. The top of the lineup has poor BA and are walk dependent to be successful. Don't be surprised if Tagashira Kanji and Wakasa Daichi move to the bottom of the lineup.
Pitching duties apparently fall to ace Jinno Yasuhiro whose K rates overall look average, but took a hit at Meiji Jingu. He appears to exhibit good control overall, but does have off-games where he walks 5 or more batters. Not surprisingly, 2 of those games they lost. Reliever Kadota Tomoya was sparingly used, and in general used when the game was out of hand.
Offensively, the 9-1-2 batters are the weak spot for Imabari Nishi and outside of slightly higher walk rates there isn't much there. And they don't get extra base hits often either which means their runs are tied to stringing hits together.
Kiryuu Dai-ichi got by on the skin of their teeth as 4 of their 10 games were decided by 1 run. Ace Yamada Tomoki pitched every game but the Kanto Super-regional final where he would have pitched 4 times in the past 5 days, and would have been the 3rd consecutive day on the mound. As a result their team lost, so perhaps Yamada will have to carry the load.
Despite having a 2.67 K/BB rate, it is predicated by a lot of contact - given that his K rate is 4.5 per 9. He makes it work though as it doesn't affect his H rates. He doesn't throw any slower than the average pitcher, so he perhaps just specializes in inducing poor contact.
That's good because the team's offense is horrible as only 3 regulars have an average over 0.300. Furthermore they do not draw a significant number of walks and only 9 of their 81 hits went for extra bases. That would explain why 7 of their 10 games they scored 3 runs or less.
There's very little room for leeway with this team, but Imabari Nishi might be a good opening round matchup.
Ooshima (Kagoshima) vs. Ryuukokudai Heian (Kyoto)
Island school Ooshima gets to Koushien after some strong attempts in recent years. While they only reached the prefectural semifinal, there are some promising parts to the team - mainly ace Fukunaga Kakeru. Although he threw less innings than his counterpart Maeyama Yuuki, he displayed strong K rates (just over 10 per 9) . Maeyama is certainly the weaker half, claiming a rate more than half that, but despite that they threw 3 shutouts - though admittedly they did give up 7 runs in their keynote game versus Shounan.
Offensively, the team certainly had strong performances with 5 players averaging 0.400 or better, but given the small sample size and opposition, is due for major regression. This already when the team doesn't get many extra base hits.
Heian being their first opponent is a double edged sword for the 21st century team. The triumvirate of pitchers led by Nakata Ryuuji each have their own problems. Nakata has the strongest K/BB rate, but has a slightly lower K rate and has thrown the fewest innings of the 3. It would appear he is the closer for the team. Takahashi Keiji, who started the majority of the games in the super-regional and at Meiji Jingu has thrown the most innings, but his K rate stands at a paltry 3.6, and his BB rate is about the same. And finally Inudzuka Takaya has the strongest K rate of the 3, but his walk rate is slightly worse than Takahashi. So Harada-kantoku tries to patch the three together to make a complete game. Which for the most part seems to work, but does give their opponents a fighting chance.
They can do this because their offense is strong. 6 of their 9 batters hit better than 0.333 and 1 in every 4 hits went for a double. There is little regression given that with the exception of their super-regional quarterfinal game they scored 5 or more runs. Of course, in their last 4 games, their opponents almost did the same. And thus is the double edged sword.
Yokohama (Kanagawa) vs. Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei (Aomori)
And now the final matchup, the one that I was exacerbated about when it was drawn. An undeserving Yokohama (in my opinion) versus the hard-luck Kousei.
Yokohama was not their normal dominating selves this past fall, though one could argue that their competition made it that way, even against lesser competition their scores appeared no different.
Ace Itou Masashi carries the load for Yokohama. He doesn't really stand out with the exception that his walk rates are consistent from game to game, but is one of the higher rates of all the aces (slightly over 4). That is mitigated though by the fact he gives up fewer hits. Reliever Oda Shunsuke got very small work in, but they were in closely contested games, which is a bit strange for someone who was rarely relied upon.
Offensively, there is nothing particularly special about this squad. The bottom of the lineup has holes within it, and the team doesn't take many walks nor especially hits for extra bases or steal bases. This would explain the low, but consistent run production (In all games, they scored anywhere from 3-6 runs).
Kousei may have found their ace during the fall tournament. While Satou Shun wore the ace number, it would eventually be in number only as Nakagawa Masashi were handed the reins of the team as he exhibited great control keeping his walk rate around 2 per 9. Only 1 of the other 4 pitchers used had a walk rate less than 4 and that wasn't even Satou. The problem will be when Kousei starts to go on back-to-back days as Nakai-kantoku didn't let Nakagawa go on the mound for his 3rd straight game in 4 days.
Offensively, Kousei's weaker batters are spread throughout the lineup, but mitigate the damage by drawing walks. Though the offensive numbers are strong, in their 2 bellwether games against Hanamaki Higashi and Imabari Nishi their hit totals went down and they scored a grand total of 3 runs. Not surprisingly, they also garnered just 1 walk in those games as well.
First round predictions
- Hiroshima Shinjyou (Hiroshima) lost Toukai Dai-san (Nagano)
- Imabari Nishi (Ehime) def. Kiryuu Dai-ichi (Gunma)
- Ooshima (Kagoshima) lost Ryuukokudai Heian (Kyoto)
- Yokohama (Kanagawa) lost Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei (Aomori)