Aomori - Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei
First the slam dunk bid. That was the Aomori final where Kousei was facing potential first-timers in Oominato.
And while it was close early, in the 3rd inning it was all but over. Having expanded their lead to 4-0 and with manrui, a defensive error by Oominato scores all 3 runners, making it 7-0. They'd score 2 more that inning en route to an 11-0 win and their 4th title in 6 years. While there is always the disclaimer that past results do not predict future performance, here are their last 3 appearances at Natsu Koushien:
- 2011 - Finals - Lost 11-0 to Nichidai-san (ugh, I'm still salty about that year)
- 2012 - Finals - Lost 3-0 to Osaka Touin (how was it that they reached 3 finals and had to face Osaka Touin both times in 2012??!!)
- 2014 - Best 8 - Lost 7-2 to Tsuruga Kehi (it was Hiranuma, what do you want?)
Kita Hokkaido - Clark Kokusai
To be honest, I didn't think about Clark Kokusai other than "hey, a school with katakana in their title!". And there wasn't anything that should have tipped me off about them. Heck they started their baseball program back in 2014!!
But there must have been something, because heck even the Clark Kokusai webpage had a page for the announcement of their kantoku Sasaki Keiji (and it looks like a real press conference!).
And if you look at his resume, it isn't half bad:
- 1978 - Kantoku of Komadai Iwamizawa
- 1983 - Took the team to the Best 8 in the Spring Koushien
- 1993 - Took the team to the Best 4 in the Spring Koushien
- 2001 - Was a coach for the Japan Asia AAA team
- 2003 - Was the kantoku for the Japanese amateur team
- 2014 - Became the Clark Kokusai kantoku after Komadai Iwamisawa was shut down(!)
(I didn't know Komadai Iwamisawa had shut down! That's kinda sad.)
But it was a boon for Clark Kokusai, and why not? Sure Komadai Iwamisawa was no world beater, but he had the team consistently in Tier 2 status. So what did he do with Clark Kokusai since he took over and started the baseball program?
- 2014 Spring - Lost opening round to Takikawa Kougyou 9-0.
- 2014 Summer - Lost in 2nd round of Sorachi "A" Block to Iwamisawa Nougyou 4-3.
- 2014 Fall - Lost in 2nd round of Sorachi regionals to Takikawa Nishi 9-3.
- 2015 Spring - Lost opening round to Iwamisawa Ryokuryou 9-2
- 2015 Summer - Lost in 2nd round of Sorachi "B" Block to Ashibetsu 5-4 in 12 innings.
- 2015 Fall - Lost in 2nd round of Sorachi regionals to Takikawa Nishi 10-1.
Huh, well that's not impressive at all... Okay, so what about in 2016?
- 2016 Spring - Lost in 1st round of prefecturals 3-1 to Hakodate Kougyou.
Prefecturals? When they couldn't even win 2 in a row?
And then in the summer:
- Sorachi "A" Block - def. Iwamisawa Higashi 4-2
- Sorachi "A" Block - def. Fukagawa Nishi 11-1
- Prefecturals - def. Engaru 5x-4 (blew 4-1 lead in final 2 innings but won)
- Prefecturals Quaterfinals - def. Kushiro Kouryou 12-5
- Prefecturals Semifinals - def. Asahikawa Jitsugyou 5x-4 (blew 3-0 lead in final 2 innings but won)
The win against Engaru? Not bad. The win against Asahikawa Jitsugyou? That has my attention. Not to mention the fact that in both games, they gave up a run in the 8th, and 2 in the 9th both times to tie the game at 4-4, and then walked off in the 9th. That takes some fortitude right there.
And once you read the whole story, how fitting is it that their opponent in the Kita Hokkaido final was Takikawa Nishi - the team who they had eliminated them in the fall tournaments the last 2 years?
Would you believe that in the final, ace Hirasawatsu Toraki (平沢津 虎揮) pitched a 5-hit shutout to take the title 3-0?
Would you also believe that he was actually their SS before but became their side-throwing ace?
What the heck?
What the heck indeed! Go Clark Kokusai!
Yamagata - Tsuruoka Higashi
The Yamagata final was between the last 2 Natsu representatives - Tsuruoka Higashi looking to repeat, and Yamagata Chuo who had won in 2014...
And early it looked like your typical low scoring pitching affair. But when cleanup hitter Ooizumi hit a 2-run HR in the 5th, extending Yamagata Chuo's lead to 4-1 it seemed over.
But then the 8th came around, and it was obvious that ace Arasawa for Yamagata Chuo was out of steam, and yet he wasn't being pulled.
This despite loading the bases...
This despite walking a batter to make it 4-2...
This despite hitting a batter to make it 4-3...
Oh dear. If they're not pulling their ace, that means they don't have anyone else...
And when the CF misplays the next ball, turning tail to chase it to the wall, and Tsuruoka Higashi getting the 6-4 lead. You had to figure it was over.
But bottom 8th, Yamagata Chuo gets runners at the corners, and they have the balls to call a steal of 2nd, which works! And one grounder brought one run in. Then a grounder that looks like a double play isn't when the batter beats out the throw to 1st, and somehow we're all tied at 6!
Yamagata Chuo couldn't take the lead though, and that was bad. You have a struggling ace on the mound with no apparent backup. If history was any indication, for them to have any chance of winning, they had to win in the 9th. And while Arasawa held serve, so did Tsuruoka Higashi. And so to enchousen we went.
I couldn't tell you all that happened in the 10th because my feed had frozen up. But as I thought, Tsuruoka Higashi scores 2 in the 10th and now it seems over.
But flipping back to the game bottom 10, I see a walk, a HBP, and a single to load the bases! What?
And then there's a base hit to right, and 2 runners score! Wait. We're tied at 8-8!!
But with the sayonara run 90 feet away, Yamagata Chuo couldn't get the run home. And once again, they were in the same situation after the 8th.
And in the 11th, with runners at the corners, Tsuruoka Higashi executes the fake caught stealing, which somehow works as the runner from 3rd comes home to score, giving them the lead. That lead would expand to 10-8, and could you really expect Yamagata Chuo to come back from 2 runs down 3 times?
But then there's a walk, a HBP and another walk, and we have a manrui situation with 1 out. No way...
In that next AB though, the count goes to 3-1 and on a pitch that looks high and away, the umpire calls strike 2... Oh boy... That could have (and maybe should have) scored a run.
But the batter strikes out looking on a pitch inside and there's 2 out, setting up a P vs. P matchup to seemingly decide the game.
Arasawa though grounds out to 2nd and the game is over.
So in the end, Tsuruoka Higashi claims the title for the 2nd consecutive year, but perhaps in some controversial circumstances, and that's disappointing - to me anyways.