I am so happy we have this final! I was expecting the exact reverse, but for one day, the 高校野球 gods decided that the small team (sort of) has their day.
Now given, both of these schools are private, and Tsuruga Kehi has been a strong team as of late. But they're not Osaka Touin, they're not Yokohama, they're not a major metropolitan team. We have a school from the Hokushinetsu region that hasn't won since...
The last time a Hokushinetsu school won either Koushien was Gifu Shougyou (Now Kenritsu Gifu Shougyou).
They won the 1935 Natsu Koushien, then the 1936 Haru Koushien.
And as for Hokkaido?
The only team to ever win (in either Koushien) was Komadai Tomakomai back in 2004-5, and oddly Tanaka Masahiro's team in 2006 was the team to lose the final. As mentioned yesterday, the closest a Hokkaido team has to winning was Hokkai back in 1963 when they reached the final and lost to Shimonoseki Shougyou (Yamaguchi).
Man, a Chuugoku and a Hokkaido team in the final? Those days are long gone.
But now we have a Hokushinetsu team and a Hokkaido team. YAY!
Tsuruga Kehi has hit their stride at the right time. Their first 3 games had a combined winning margin of 5 runs, and 3 of those runs was against Naradai Fuzoku. The other two were against the Tohoku champs Sendai Ikuei and the Tokai champs Shizuoka.
And then against Osaka Touin?? 2 innings and 2 grand slams later, and the game was OVER.
And if they defeat Toukai Dai-yon, that will be 3 super-regional champs defeated. It's like the Meiji Jingu tournament all over again. Except this time Hiranuma is not hurt, and looks to be stronger than ever.
Toukai Dai-yon has had the cinderella run. They have reached the final scoring no more than 3 runs in any game. They were on the verge of losing against Matsuyama Higashi in the 2nd round. They shutout Kendai Takasaki. They limited Urawa Gakuin to just 1 run.
And now they're here in the finals! Albeit an hour late due to the rain. Crowds have stayed away sadly, and so the atmosphere won't be as strong for a final as it could be.
Toukai Dai-yon (Hokkaido)
SS Tomita Yuuki
2B Kanemura Kousei
RF Yamamoto Kouhei
C Ogawa Kouhei
1B Sou Kangi (#7)
LF Shiota Gen (#13)
P Oosawa Shiiya
3B Tachibana Susumu
CF Watase Taiki
Tsuruga Kehi (Fukui)
3B Shinohara Ryou
2B Nakai Kidzuku
SS Hayashinaka Yuuki
P Hiranuma Shouta
CF Yamamoto Kouta
RF Matsumoto Teppei (#17)
1B Ueda Ryouya
C Kamon Yuusuke
LF Kinoshita Shougo (#9)
13:30 - First Pitch!
Grounder to 2nd and Nakai can't quite get his footwork down and can't field the ball! Official scorers give a single.
Sac bunt. KAMON throws it away! All safe and Tomita goes to 3rd. Toukai Dai-yon with a big chance!
Kanemura steals 2nd without a throw!!
Oowaki-kantoku not doing the squeeze, and Yamamoto strikes out.
Ogawa not making the same mistake, hits a fly to right. Tomita tagging up, relay throw on a rope... Just safe! Toukai Dai-yon take advantage of the unforced errors and lead 1-0!
Sou gets hit! That's not like Hiranuma at all.
Hiranuma finally gets out of the first striking out Shiota on a slider. Could've been worse, but still not the way you want to start.
Shinohara ready to start the counterstrike as he singles past Kanemura into center. Nakai showing bunt, but gets ahead 2-0. Does actually attempt to lay it down, but rolls it foul towards the 1st base batter's circle.
Lots of attention to Shinohara, but Oosawa is behind Nakai 3-1. The bunt is still laid down.
Huh, Oosawa hits Hiranuma on his right knee. The American cynic side of me wonders about that.
Intentional or not, Yamamoto with a single through the right side! Shinohara will score and we're back on even terms! 1-1!
Azuma-kantoku trying to start his running game, but Yamamoto is thrown out easily. Side retired, but level game!
Toukai throwing punches! Oosawa with a poke into center for a base hit.
Tachibana flubs the bunt! Hiranuma with a great sliding catch, and Oosawa is a dead duck! 2 down!
Another HBP from Hiranuma? Did that really hit Watase?
Oowaki has nothing to lose with the top of the lineup, so he sends Watase! Throw is in, no call, Watase losing his balance... OUT!
I think he may have been safe, but was waiting to Watase to steady himself. When his foot came off the bag, out he went.
Oosawa the first ace to have a clean inning. Ueda and Kamon both try to hit the deep ball, but fly out to left.
There are a lot of HBP this game! After 2 quick outs, Hiranuma hits Yamamoto! That's 4 HBP, 2 apiece!
Oowaki-kantoku tries the hit and and run, but Ogawa strikes out.
Kinoshita hangs in there, and from a 1-2 count draws a walk! No bunting from Shinohara, but he swings on the first pitch and pops it up! He fouls out for the 1st out, and now Nakai is squaring to bunt.
He's in trouble though as he falls behind 0-2, and pops out.
More trouble for Oosawa as he walks Nakai! Now Hiranuma gets to the on-deck circle!
Oosawa is able to paint the outside corner and strike out Hayashinaka! 2 out, but Hiranuma gets to bat.
Grounder to 2nd! Kanemura boots it! Hurries, throws, in plenty of time. 3 out.
Toukai batters making Hiranuma work. First 3 batters go at least 7 pitches deep. Oosawa doesn't get a single, but does get a 2-out walk.
Unfortunately that's all they get.
Yamamoto (Kouta) with a blooper to left! Kouta sees the fielders ease up and breaks for 2nd! Throw is high and late! Oh dear!
Mastumoto bunt, and Oosawa spins to throw to 3rd! Its wide and all safe!
Comebacker by Ueda! Oosawa has it! Goes to 3rd again!!
As if to compound the error he tries again thinking he has Kouta hung! Manrui!
Oosawa needs time, badly.
First pitch hits Kamon! But no dead ball as he didn't try to move away.
SANSHIN! Kamon can only hold his breath as that curve supposedly hits the bottom of the zone. One down, and a long way to go.
He throws out the curve again and Kinoshita is over and in front of it! Foul tips it into Ogawa's glove and there's 2 outs! Can he do it?
Count goes to 1-2 on Shinohara!
Not biting on the curve this time.
Grounder to short! Tomita goes to 3rd!!
He's done it! Oosawa gets out of a manrui, no out jam!!!! ありえない！！！
Pressure's on now. Toukai Dai-yon playing for 1 run as after a Tomita single, Oowaki-kantoku calls for a bunt. Yamamoto strikes out meekly though, so nothing doing.
The game seems to be heading to a stalemate status where both teams struggle to gain traction. Oosawa almost has a 1-2-3 inning before the break, but Kanemura boots a ball on a Hiranuma grounder and the inning continues.
Now Hiranuma goes to take 2nd! Throw from Ogawa not in time!
But Yamamoto hits a comebacker to Oosawa and he goes to 1st for the 3rd out. Oosawa holds serve and we hit the break in a tie at 1. Both pitchers have settled down since the 1st and have been able to keep putting up bagels. Who will break first?
First pitch from Hiranuma is a single past Nakai to right! Sac bunt follows of course.
Shiota hit by Hiranuma! That's his 4th!
And Oosawa takes 2nd without a throw! The Tsuruga Kehi continues to be concerned about the double steal.
No matter as Tachibana foul tips into Kamon's glove and Toukai Dai-yon strands 2 more runners in scoring position!
Tsuruga Kehi is desperate to get runners. So much so that Ueda tries a bunt for a base hit, but is out by a good margin. Oosawa just needs 4 pitches to get his 3 outs! That's not good at all.
Watase blooper to center... Nakai chasing it as others converge, but it falls into the triangle!
Tomita bunting. NOT BUNTING!
It's a buster swing and he puts it right through the middle for a base hit! Big chance in the lucky 7!
Now they bunt, and that passes. 2 chances to get the runner in.
Yamamoto gets jammed! Nakai coming in, can't make the catch, but it's so hard to tell the runners have to stay! 4-3 and there's 2 outs.
Hiranuma's out of the jam! Ogawa grounds out to 3rd and 2 more runners are stranded! How is this going to affect the morale of the Hokkaido champs?
Kinoshita wth a leadoff walk! Azuma-kantoku going for it as #15 Kurisu is sent in to run.
Shinohara chases the high fastball! 1 down.
Nakai grounder to 2nd moves the runner to 3rd.
But Hayashinaka swings on the first pitch and it's a can of corn! Kouhei is there for the 3rd out!
#7 Mori comes in to play RF, Matsumoto shifts to LF
Sou with a fly to right center, Kouta over to get it.
IT FALLS IN! He had me fooled! And maybe that was the point!
But the ball bounces away from Kouta and that allows Sou to reach 2nd!
Bunt and Hiranuma goes to 3rd! It's in time. NO!
The slide knocks out the ball and he's safe! Shinohara pleads his case, but to no avail! And in the meantime Shiota takes 2nd!
But it's a pitchout! No chance from Oosawa to make contact and Kehi's done their homework from yesterday! Shiota is rundown and there 1 out!
Toukai Dai-yon tried to go to the well twice, but got burned! And now Oosawa is rung up on an inside fastball! 2 down!
Hot grounder to the right side! Ueda smothers it! Goes to 1st and there's 3 out!
They take the bat away from Oosawa and it backfires! We're still tied and all the momentum is with Tsuruga Kehi!
Hiranuma with a walk. Another sac bunt.
Matsumoto with a deep drive to left! Shiota giving chase!!!
MATSUMOTO'S DONE IT AGAIN!!!
2-run HR gives his team the definitive 3-1 lead!!
I'm not sure there has been one person offensively that has done more for their team than Matsumoto.
The side is retired, but that's doesn't matter! Tsuruga Kehi is just 3 outs away from the Senbatsu title!
Not going away yet! Watase with a single through the right side!
BUT A BUNT? YOU NEED 2 RUNS!
It's successful, but why??
#17 Sakemoto to hit for Kanemura.
No chances for the pinch hitter! He goes down swinging!
And that's it! Yamamoto hits one back to Hiranuma! Goes to 1st and they've done it! Tsuruga Kehi has won the Senbatsu title 3-1 over Toukai Dai-yon!!
I need a moment. Be back after ending ceremonies.
Ok, there's time beforehand.
First off, I want to tip my hat to the losers Toukai Dai-yon. You do not know how hard it is for a team from Hokkaido to be competitive. In a scene where teams practice almost all year round, teams in Hokkaido have to deal with snow. That doesn't make for ideal conditions. Yes, they're just as rural as other prefectures, but Hokkaido is it's own place, much like Okinawa, but without the success.
I still do not know how they did it, for 7 innings they held one of the most dangerous teams to just 1 run. Hiranuma didn't even have a base hit. Sadly it can take just one pitch to decide a game. And that 1 pitch went to the man of the past 2 days. The man that was even more dangerous than Hiranuma, Matsumoto Teppei.
And so Hokkaido is denied again. But congratulations to the team that helped get their prefecture there for the first time in 50+ years. You were truly worthy of reaching the game, now matter how you managed to do it.
Tsuruga Kehi has been well deserving of winning the title. Hiranuma is an ace in his own regard, but this time around he has his teammate to thank.
Funny thing is, I wonder if he was in the doghouse. After going 3-4 and a HR short of the cycle against Naradai Fuzoku, he went 0-3 against Sendai Ikuei and was benched against Shizuoka only coming in as a defensive replacement. Though that may have had to do more with the handedness of the pitcher more than anything else.
And then there's the Osaka Touin game. Oh dear lord the Osaka Touin game.
3-4, 2 HRs, 8 RBIs and a broken Osaka Touin ace.
And in the final, just one hit.
One, 2-run homerun that gives his team the title. I'm not sure one person not on the mound has had a better 2 days than him.
The ending ceremonies are going on, and when the captain Miyazaki picks up the runner-up banner for Toukai Dai-yon, you can tell he's holding back. And you can tell that the rest of them are holding back too. One of them can't and is already crying. Chances are, they won't get another chance like this again and that this has slipped them by. If you're Osaka Touin, you can say we'll get back in the summer and revenge our failures. Toukai Dai-yon may be able to say that they can get back, but cannot say with any certainty that they will be able to revenge this loss.
That's why this final restored my faith in 高校野球 if even for a little bit. Two schools from regions who have not had total victory got a chance to do so. While it's unrealistic to think that every school out there who plays has an equal chance every year, I always hope that those schools that get here have some modicum of success.
But as this year has shown, there is a gap between schools, between regions. And I have no illusions that that gap will probably not get any narrower anytime soon. And that's why I generally root again the major schools who time and again compete for the title. It's why I loved the Maebashi Ikuei - Nobeoka Gakuen final 2 years ago. And it's why I was happy to see this final.
So the books are closed until the summer where 47 schools will battle it out for the big prize, the Natsu Koushien title. No doubt we'll see some of those teams here again. But for all it'll be a long road back.