And so here we are...
It's been a topsy-turvy tournament to say the least, with the tone being set in the very first game setting the one as senbatsu champs Ryuukokudai Heian was shown the door. From there we saw two regions not known for strong baseball - Tohoku and Hokushinetsu, go almost clean through to the 3rd round. We even had a possibility of an all-Hokushinetsu final has the results yesterday been different!
In the end though, we have none of that. Instead, we have a perennial Koushien team trying to play David to one of the - if not the - most dominant powerhouses in recent years, the Goliath that is Osaka Touin.
Osaka Touin was supposed to be here - especially given the dearth of other powerhouses in this year's field. They went and routed Riseisha, they went and routed PL Gakuen.
The road here at Koushien though was anything but smooth. The Kaisei gamei, the Kendai Takasaki game, and last but not least facing a team that was trying to not only emulate, but surpass them. They have certainly been tested.
They've perhaps gotten things together at the right time versus the right opponent. Tsuruga Kehi for the first half of the game traded blows before they just plain ran out of gas.
There are consequences of course. Ace Fukushima threw 160 pitches yesterday. They did rest him for a game earlier against Yazu, where #10 Tanaka would throw a 3-hitter.
Still though, 160 pitches is 160 pitches. What will they have left? And do they feel arrogant enough to start Tanaka throwing down the challenge to Mie?
Because this is Mie's first trip to the finals, their first trip even just to the Best 4. They're in a position that they've never been in before with a chance to win the title.
Mie was tested right off the bat as they had to comeback against Kouryou eventually winning in 11. Then they had to face Oogaki Nichidai, upstart Jyouhoku, before seemingly hitting their stride defeating both Okinawa Shougaku and Nihon Bunri soundly.
They have always felt to me like the ultimate blue-collar team. Never the big-name talent, just players who put their nose to the grindstone and were never cheated in a game, no matter how the opponent.
Ace Imai Shigetarou has been through this before. He was the last line of defense against Anraku and Saibi last year, allowing 1 ER in 2 innings. This year, he has carried the team through all the games and threw around 130 pitches in his effort against Nihon Bunri, though near the end it wasn't as stressful.
I could analyze this game to death, but there's something about this Mie team that just throws all that out the window. They'll be in it for sure, whether or not they can win... well I guess we'll find out.
CF Nagano Hayato
2B Sada Taiki
SS Utsunomiya Touma
1B Nishioka Musashi
LF Inaba Ryuuya
3B Yamai Tatsuya (#16)
RF Seko Ren
C Nakabayashi Kengo
P Imai Shigetarou
Osaka Touin (Osaka)
LF Nakamura Makoto
2B Minemoto Takumi
3B Katsuki Kazuya
1B Shouzui Yuuya (#8)
RF Aoyagi Kouki (#13)
C Yokoi Yuuya
CF Mori Shinnosuke (#9)
SS Fukuda Kouki
P Fukushima Kousuke
Home Plate Umpire - Furukawa
1st Base Umpire - Tachibana
2nd Base Umpire - Ootsuki? (大槻)
3rd Base Umpire - Doi
13:00 - First Pitch!
Nagano liner back at Fukushima! He gets his glove on it, deflects it straight up and makes the catch for the first out! Bad luck there for Nagano, but a nice play from Fukushima.
Sada gets ahead 3-0 before Fukushima puts in 2 strikes. He takes an easy swing and lines a ball to center for a single. However, Utsunomiya can't do anything and grounds to short. Fukuda tries to go for the double play, but Utsunomiya beats out the throw at 1st.
Nishioka with a liner, but right at Katsuki and he makes the catch to retire the side! Some good defense by Osaka Touin, but Mie is making good contact on Fukushima's pitches early, and that is something to watch out for.
But there's a problem for Mie. Imai is maxing out at 130. Which means he's lost significant velocity from yesterday.
Nakamura with a liner to left, but Inaba - making the start today makes the catch.
Minemoto with a ball up the middle, Sada makes the stop, tries the jump throw, but it's offline and late. Nishioka snags it, but can't make the tag. Good try though.
Hit-and-run from Nishitani-kantoku! Katsuki grounds to 2nd, and working to plan Sada's only play is to 1st. 2 down though as Shouzui steps in.
Grounder to 3rd! Yamai with the great pick on the short hop! Throw to 1st low, but Nishioka makes a great pick on his end to secure the out. Scoreless through 1.
Inaba makes the most of his start! He hits a gapper to right center that splits the defense for a leadoff double!
But Yamai wastes the chance! He pops his bunt, Fukushima secures it and it's like any normal base hit+bunt scenario.
Fukushima though falling behind Seko 3-0, but then firing strikes in once again to fill the count. He ends up walking him, but it also creates the force.
Nakabayashi drive to left! Nakamura going back to the fence! It falls in front of the wall! Inaba scores! Seko being waved around! Throw in... he scores!! #8 batter Nakabayashi helps out his battery mate and gives Mie the 2-0 lead!
Imai tries to help his own cause, but he fouls out to Katsuki near the camera well.
Nagano working the count as a base hit could mean a 3rd run. Count goes full...
And he walks Nagano! Creates a force, but with 2 out I don't think that was the idea this time.
Sada jammed and hits a bouncer up the 3rd base line. Katsuki makes the throw to 1st and the side is retired. Mie though strikes first with a timely double from Nakabayashi! Though 2 runs is still really meaningless at this point.
Aoyagi waiting for his pitch, lines a ball to left. Seko coming in, slides.. makes the catch for the 1st out!
Yokoi clean liner to left for a single, Inaba waits for the bounce into his mitt.
Mori chases a slider way away for the 2nd out. The ball gets away from Nakabayashi and Yokoi can take 2nd.
Imai playing exclusively away from Fukuda, but gets the count full after falling behind 3-0.
But Imai gives him too much of a strike! He lines it to right for a basehit! Relay throw in not nearly enough and it's a 2-1 ballgame!
Fukushima chases the slider as well. Nakabayashi throws to 1st to complete the play, but already Osaka Touin has one of the runs back.
Both pitchers having to work. Fukushima 36 pitches through 2 innings so far.
Utsunomiya gets the bat around on an inside fastball and puts it past Fukushima's feet into center.
Nakamura-kantoku goes for the hit-and-run, but Nishioka fouls it up the 3rd base line.
Nishioka goes down and drives a ball, but it's more of a golf swing as Mori is there near the wall for the catch.
Inaba meanwhile is on fire at the right time! He bloops a ball to left and Nakamura has no play on it. Runners on 1st and 2nd for Yamai.
Unlike Imai, Fukushima's velocity doesn't seem to have dropped. His fastball is in the upper 130s.
But Yamai is having no luck! He's jammed, chops one to 3rd and Katsuki starts the 5-4-3 double play to end the inning!
Nakamura slicer down the left field line... fair! Inaba has to run it down, but Nakamura is in with a leadoff double!
AH! Imai throws a wild pitch and the douten runner is 90 feet away! Nakamura-kantoku calls time.
Minemoto chases the slider down and away and Imai dodges 1 bullet. But still 2 to go.
And that's it. Katsuki with a fly to deep left center. The throw just goes into the infield and we're douten at 2-2!
Shouzui flies out to right, but as expected, Osaka Touin has tied the game.
Seko ball up the middle, Fukuda makes the pick, takes a couple of steps.. fires from 2nd and is there for the out.
Nakabayashi can't repeat his first AB and skies a ball to Fukuda for the 2nd out.
The bottom of the lineup this time around proves to be easy as Imai goes down looking to end the inning.
Aoyagi gets under a high fastball and pops out to short. Yokoi goes after the first pitch and drives it to center. Nagano running back towards right center makes the catch.
And Mori helicopters a swing, but merely grounds out to Nishoka for the 3rd out. Both aces get a 1-2-3 inning this frame.
Nagano on a ball just inches from the ground hits a liner to center! What the??!!
Sada with the bunt, Fukushima goes to 2nd... AHHHHH!!!
He throws it wide and Fukuda can't snag it! It goes into center and Nagano takes 3rd!
Utsunomiya overswinging at his AB when he just needs at minimum a sac fly.
But then he just goes down and makes contact on a pitch and bloops it to center! Mori coming in, but he can't get there! Nagano comes in and Mie retakes the lead! 3-2!
Nakatani-kantoku calls time...
Nishioka tries to lay down the bunt, but he pops it up! Shouzui makes the charging catch and goes to 1st to double off Utsunomiya! Big mistake, and while it's often seen, the cleanup batter bunting backfires for Mie and what was a great scoring opportunity leads to just 1 run.
Bottom of Osaka Touin's lineup trying to attack Imai early this inning. But neither Fukuda nor Fukushima can make any headway and there's 2 out.
Nakamura works the count, but chases the changeup for the 3rd out! The game going at a quick pace, and Mie holds a fragile 3-2 lead over Osaka Touin heading into the break!
Both teams certainly having opportunities against the aces on the mound. Mie though has squandered good scoring opportunities with poor bunting fundamentals. Will that hurt them later?
#5 Uchida (who apparently is injured) to hit for struggling Yamai and it pays immediate dividends! He singles to left! Seko successfully bunts him along.
Nakabayashi with a ball off the end of the bat, flies out to right. Uchida makes it to 3rd, but there's 2 out for Imai. He's quickly down 0-2...
He has to swing away, and hits one right to Fukuda. Throw to 1st and Uchida is stranded at 3rd.
Uchida, despite the injury will stay in to play 3B...
Minemoto with a clean single through the left side.
Katsuki not bunting, but he hits it right to short! Utsunomiya to 2nd for 1, throw to 1st as Minemoto slides in... DOUBLE PLAY!!!
Sada hanging in there makes the throw to 1st as Katsuki dives short to 1st! 2 out!
(Cue Docomo mushroom sliding into first...)
Shouzui tries to check his swing, but makes contact with the ball and hits it right back to Imai! He goes to 1st and the side is retired!!
Nagano proving his worth as a leadoff batter as he gets his 2nd base hit to center! 4 quality ABs so far today!
Hit-and-run!! Nagano takes off on the 0-1 pitch, Sada swings and misses, but Yokoi airmails the throw!
Sada further helps the throw as he just throws the bat at the ball and hits it to the right side advancing him to 3rd.
But it's a pitchout!!!!!
Utsunomiya has no chance to foul it off and Nagano is run down! 2 out!
Oh, is Nakamura-kantoku trying to give Osaka Touin a chance? He's playing traditional 高校野球 which is completely failing him! It's when he lets his players play that they do their best.
Utsunomiya does draw the walk. But Nishioka lines out to Nakamura in deep left for the 3rd out.
Aoyagi leading off the inning, tries to appeal for a dead ball that clearly wasn't. But head ump Furukawa confers. No dead ball is given, but it seems strange.
He eventually draws a walk. Yokoi bunts him along.
But Imai seems to be affected as he hits Mori...
And now Fukuda singles to center! Manrui for Osaka Touin!
Nakamura-kantoku calls for time...
Fukushima does the best thing he can. He avoids the double play at least by striking out swinging and rotates the lineup.
Nakamura jammed, bloops one to center! Nagano charges in, dives... but can't make the catch! 2 runs score and Touin takes the 4-3 lead.
Minemoto grounds out to Imai, but Touin does take the lead with just 2 innings to go.
Mie though is playing desperate. Inaba, Uchida and Seko all fly out and they'll be down to their final 3 outs.
Apparently that is it for Imai on the mound for now. He goes to RF as #12 Mori replaces Seko and takes the hill.
Katsuki starts him off with a single to center. Shouzui bunts him along.
Now #11 Setoue comes in to pitch for Mori, and #18 Matsumura comes in for Inaba to play LF.
And he hits Aoyagi...
Settles down a bit, fires a couple of strikes and gets Yokoi to pop up to center. Nagano charges in... makes the running catch for the 2nd out.
He then fires 2 strikes in to Mori.. and he pops it up! Matsumura with the catch and the side is retired.
But it's Osaka Touin that has the 4-3 lead going into the 9th...
And it's the 8-9-1 batters up for Mie. Nagano may get to bat with 2 outs...
Nakabayashi completely different from last inning's ABs. Tries to take pitches, drives a ball to center and Mori is there for the out.
Imai will stand in to hit, despite his poor BA.
But he fouls off pitches staying alive...
And singles up the middle to set it up for Nagano.
Nagano with a liner to left and that's in for a single. Imai as the douten run is in scoring position.
Nakatani-kantoku calls for time.
Now Nakamura-kantoku goes with a PH? #13 Suzuki stands in to hit for Sada.
Suzuki too eager perhaps chases the changeup inside and there's 2 out.
Utsunomiya grounder to short, Fukuda throws to 1st, and a diving Utsunomiya can't stop the inevitable. Osaka Touin claims the title with a 4-3 win over Mie.
I'm sorry, but while my alliances are clearly against Osaka Touin, I
wouldn't have minded them winning because well... they're Osaka Touin
and they're a powerhouse, and etc. etc.
But I have
issue with this win. Yes, Mie did themselves no favors during the game.
The failed bunt in the 2nd... the failed squeeze in the 7th. If Mie had
just played the game straight up - especially in the 7th, they could
certainly be in a better position.
I can't really get
over the dead ball request that Aoyagi made in the 7th though. It
clearly wasn't a dead ball, he knew it, but he got the umpires to confer
and it wound up throwing off Imai's rhythm as Osaka Touin would score
the douten and gyakuten runs.
And as I was clearly reminded, the saying goes, "You play to win the game."
Sure, of course you do.
I would rather it be done the right way. One that doesn't require
seemingly underhanded tactics. I'm no optimist, let me tell you -
otherwise why would I be thinking this? But when I first started
watching 高校野球, it was because I thought the premise was pure and
As you've read my thoughts on it in recent years, I have found that that vision is far from reality.
I see the interviews going on with Fukushima and Nakamura, they are
crying because they won. And of course there can only be one winner. But
more often than not, like in real life - it's the big cats that
generally rule the day.
Life isn't fair, and I know that. It's just sad to think that it applies to the extent that it does here.