And now, the stretch run...
The first game many consider as the warmup game. With the offensive power teams playing in the second semifinal, people look at this final as one where a team can say they at least made the final - though in Nihon Bunri's case they made the final in that instant classic versus Chuukyoudai Chuukyou.
Nihon Bunri has played 4 close games - even their last game against Seikou Gakuin was close until the top of the 9th. Their key victory in this run was perhaps their comeback win against Toyama Shougyou because of the comeback and the fact that Toyama Shougyou had some quality wins of their own.
Iidzuka is the only pitcher for Bunri they're willing to use it seems, so we'll see how he does in the possible last 2 games.
Mie actually played out of character in their last game. They had gone out to a 3-2 lead against Okinawa Shougaku before in character giving up 2 runs. Out of nowhere they scored 5 immediately thereafter and did NOT let Okinawa Shougaku back into the game.
Mie's record looks rather impressive having defeated 3 known participants in Kouryou, Oogaki Nichidai, and their last opponent Okinawa Shougaku.
Mie too depends on their ace Imai Shigetarou. But despite the lopsided win over Okishou, he did give up 12 hits and 3 walks and was immensely helped by the defense.
So both aces already showing some chinks in the armor and could be taken advantage of - and is the reason why I think a lot of people think the 2nd semifinal is really the final.
What's more, ace Hiranuma still looks strong as in their last game he gave up just 4 hits while striking out 10.
Nihon Bunri (Niigata)
RF Hoshi Kenta
SS Kurodai Naito
1B Kodachi Otowa (#8)
3B Ikeda Takamasa
2B Arai Makoto
C Kamakura Wataru
LF Kobayashi Masaya
CF Takeishi Ryou (#16)
P Iidzuka Satoshi
CF Nagano Hayato
2B Sada Taiki
SS Utsunomiya Touma
1B Nishioka Musashi
LF Yamamoto Youma (#10)
3B Uchida Ren
RF Seko Ren
C Nakabayashi Kengo
P Imai Shigetarou
11:00 - First Pitch!
Right off the bat, Hoshi gets Nihon Bunri's offense going with a single up the middle. The speed on the fastball though is at 130 which I think is a touch slower than in previous games.
Kurodai pops his bunt! Nakabayashi makes the catch, fires to 1st, but throws it away! It goes into left and Hoshi gets to 2nd after all!
And then he hits Kodachi! Is Imai already out of gas??
Ikeda grounder to 2nd!! Sada to 2nd for 1, throw to 1st... DOUBLE PLAY!!!
Imai's defense gives him yet another assist! And in what appeared could be a disastrous start ends up with nothing at all!
Nagano with a grounder off the end of the bat goes the other way through the infield for a leadoff single. As Sada bunts the runner along, Iidzuka's velocity appears down as well! He's down to the low-mid 130s!!
And Utsunomiya with a clean single through the left side! Nagano being waved home, throw from Kobayashi... is cutoff! Mie quickly leads 1-0!
Yamamoto with a bit of an indignant look as he gets rung up the home plate umpire on a ball that seemed clearly outside (and you wonder why the HS players and Japanese LL team pitches outside the way they do...)
Uchida grounds out to end the inning, but the drop in Iidzuka's velocity is very concerning.
Opportunities again for Nihon Bunri. Arai draws the leadoff walk and is bunted over.
But Kobayashi pulls his grounder to the left side, preventing Arai from advancing to 3rd.
Takeishi flies out to right, and Nihon Bunri can't seem to get that timely hit.
Okay, perhaps he was just warming up because Iidzuka is back in the high 130s. But he still gives up a leadoff hit as Seko singles to right. Nakabayashi moves him along.
Imai with a hard liner back up the middle, Seko scrambles back to 2nd as Kurodai goes for him, but then goes to 1st to get Imai.
And no timely from Nagano as he goes after the first pitch and grounds out to 2nd.
Change defensively as #16 Yamai comes in for Uchida.
Imai finally retires his first leadoff batter as Iidzuka flies out to right.
Hoshi though looking to make him pay! Drive down the left field line! Yamamoto going towards the foul pole... FOUL!!!
That was close.
But he's not deterred! He pulls a ball through the right side and he's already 2-2 on the day!
Kurodai trying to lay down the bunt can't, but hits a short chopper that acts like one to move Hoshi to scoring position.
Kurodai goes down and slices a ball to center! That's in for a base hit, but Hoshi has to hold up at 3rd! Nihon Bunri once again seemingly ready to jump on Imai!
But Ikeda hits a grounder to short! Utsunomiya with it, goes to 1st... and Nihon Bunri is denied again!!
Iidzuka, despite the slight velo loss, appears to have settled down. The top of Mie's lineup attacking pitches in the zone, hit into 3 groundouts in just 8 pitches.
Nihon Bunri with another baserunner as Kamakura draws a 1 out walk.
Kobayashi just turns away in disgust as he sees a fastball get called on the outside edge for strike 3! 2 down.
Takeishi can't do anything either as he grounds to short. Utsunomiya's throw is high and takes Nishioka off the bag, but he gets the tag on despite a minor collision.
Yamamoto's struggles at the plate continue as he chases a slider away for the first out.
Yamai with a chopper just outside of Ikeda for a base hit.
Seko singles to left! Uchida heading for 3rd, and Kobayashi's throw is cut off! Mie threatening big time against Iidzuka!!
Nakabayashi lays down the squeeze and Iidzuka has no play at home! He has to go to 1st and Mie leads 2-0!!
Imai with a chopper in front of the plate, he thinks it's a foul ball, but Kamakura pick it up and goes to 1st for the 3rd out, but Mie is slowly extending their lead.
Nihon Bunri needs the break to regroup and fast, because they're completely scuffling at the plate.
Iidzuka hits a ball right back to Imai for the first out. Hoshi gets retired for the first time on a slider, and Kurodai quickly chops one to short for an easy play from Utsunomiya...
But they can still play defense! Already 1 down, Sada hits a ball to the left side - Kurodai makes a great running pick and throw for the 2nd out!
It's not a complete clean inning though as Iidzuka hits Utsunomiya.
Nishioka with a chopper out in front of home and Kamakura fields and throws for the 3rd out.
We hit the break and both teams have had their opportunities. However, Mie has been the one to capitalize on them so far building a 2-0 lead. Can Nihon Bunri regroup to mount a comeback?
The only concern for Mie is that Imai is already at 84 pitches.
But he seems to be getting better. He goes changeup inside on Kodachi for his 3rd K.
Ikeda grounder up 1st base line past a diving Nishoka into right! He's booking it and gets his double!
Arai can't deliver a base hit and can only move him 90 feet with a short chopper up the 3rd base line. 2 down and they need a base hit from Kamakura.
But he hits a grounder to short! Utsunomiya gets rid of it quickly, but it takes what seems like infinite bounces before Nishioka can glove it for the 3rd out! Bunri again shutout!
Nakamura-kantoku has seen enough of Yamamoto and sends in #7 Inaba to hit.
Sadly for him, that spot seems to be a black hole has he strikes out swinging!
Yamai grounder to short, Kurodai runs that one down too! Throw to 1st, AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Kodachi for some reason can't secure the ball and the inning continues!
Nakabayashi with a single to left!
And now things really going wrong as Iidzuka walks Imai to load the bases!!! And for Nagano no less!
Nagano, chopper, through the left side!! Seko scores! Nakabayashi being waved in! Throw home... not in time!! Captain Nagano comes through again and gives Mie a 4-0 lead!!
Sada grounds out to short, but Mie may very well be on their way to the final!!
Nihon Bunri trying to fight as Takeishi fights of a pitch to right for a base hit.
But Iidzuka hits a grounder right to 2nd! Sada starts the 4-6-3 double play and just like that Bunri is down to their final 6 outs!
Mie fine to leave things as is, go down in order to speed up the game.
#18 Matsubara now in LF for Inaba.
But Nihon Bunri just can't hit themselves out of the funk. Hoshi and Kurodai are quickly retired before Imai issues his 3rd walk.
After ball one to Ikeda, Nakamura-kantoku calls time.
Ikeda a drive to left! Matsubara going back! Still going!
But he stops in front of the wall and makes the catch for the 3rd out! Ikeda can only look out to left as he turns back to his dugout... Mie is just 3 outs away from the final!!
Yamai drive to left!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME??!!
As if to say to Ikeda, "That's how it's done!" he blasts one to about the same place, but the difference is that his ball leaves the field! 5-0 Mie!!
Seko grounder to the gap in the left side, but Kurodai runs that one down too!! Throw to 1st, just not in time to get Seko, but man this guy can field his position.
Nakabayashi bunts him along for Imai to try and add on even more.
But Iidzuka strikes out both Imai and Nagano to retire the side. Still, his team is 3 outs away from elimination...
Imai with a drive to center, but Nagano is there for the catch.
Kamakura flies out to right, and they're down to their final out!
Kobayashi grounds out to 3rd! Yamai to 1st, and Mie advances to the final!!
What a performance by Mie! Even through Imai gave Nihon Bunri opportunities the defense was all but perfect as Imai would pitch a shutout! Not only that, but the offense took advantage of the opportunities it was given - and that was clearly the difference as it put Nihon Bunri on the defensive early.
It's really sad for Nihon Bunri. I really like both of these schools in general and it was sad to see that one of them had to lose. And their players can't help but cry at the fact that they fell one game short of the final. I'm sure that they also remember that final when they almost completed the comeback, and how it would be great to head there once more and revenge that final.
But sadly it is not to be. Nihon Bunri has to be one of the stronger teams out of the Hokushinetsu region annually, and I really do hope one day they get that title.
For Mie, their time is now. They are in the finals, and while the odds are certainly stacked against them, they have the chance, and that's all they can ask for.