Ryuukokudai Heian makes a quick turnaround from Natsu Koushien by qualifying for their 3rd consecutive Senbatsu (and their 39th overall!). They had a poor showing, falling to Kasukabe Kyouei in the first round 5-1, so have they improved since then?
Well, first of all, par of the reason why they lost was that the starter Harada-kantoku chose for that game, Motouji Reiji, completely cratered out of the blocks. #10 Takahashi Keiji (高橋 奎二) was sent in and pitched 6.2 innings of shutout ball while striking out 8 and allowing just a pair of hits and walks.
Takahashi now has become the staff ace. He can throw in the mid-140s with a slider, curve, and changeup. And unlike last year, Harada-kantoku does not appear to have a backup plan. Like Ritsumeikan Uji's Yamashita, Takahashi was also thrown out there for every inning of every game. Unlike Yamashita, his numbers look at least more normal. His K/9 rate is just a shade under 8, and his WHIP sits at a tidy 1.13.
At the same time though, their level of competition looks a bit softer. They played Tier 3 schools Kyoto Shouei and Kyoto Seishou and blew them out. And as mentioned in the previous article, they narrowly beat Ritsumeikan Uji 2-1 to win the prefecture. Things started well in the super-regionals as well when they shutout Osaka Shoudai Sakai. But then they played a close game against Kita-Ootsu (who did not make the field), and then were beaten soundly by Tenri.
On offense, the team batted an almost even 0.300. More promising to some extent is that their ISO sits at 0.141. Of the 8 starting numbers who played all 8 games, half batted over 0.300 though 2 were in the 0.310s. Their best hitter is cleanup hitter 1B Nishikawa Hirotaka (西川 寛崇) who batted 0.379 with 3 doubles and 3 triples. At the same time, 2 of the 3 batters hit under 0.240. The doubles are good because it might suggest that they have gap power, but that's not a guaranteed assumption.
Heian's prospects, directly compared to fellow participant Ritsumeikan Uji, looks better. But I'm not sure on the whole how much better. Takahashi as he was last year shutout Kasukabe Kyouei, and you have to assume there is improvement. But the loss to Tenri with just 1 run to show for it is not good. Of course, in a single game elimination format, all it takes is one bad game so perhaps there are excuses. But they draw Urawa Gakuin first, and that's not good at all. If they can win that game, the bracket opens up all the way to the semifinals, but this is a very high hurdle to clear first up.