Thursday, July 28, 2016

Natsu Koushien Qualifying - Today's Finals (07.28)

12 finals today. After today (weather pending), there will only be Kanagawa, Aichi, Osaka, and Fukuoka left to decide their champions.

Miyagi - 2100 PDT (Asahi)
  • Rifu v (S) Tohoku
This final matchup is a battle between 2 teams looking to get back to prominence. Tohoku had a 2 year span when they had Darvish and almost won it all. But the team soon afterwards fell back into the masses. Since then they would be seeded, but never able to really deliver.

Rifu came out of seemingly nowhere in 2009 when in the spring, as a 21st century team no less, they reached the Best 4 before losing to Hanamaki Higashi and Kikushi Yuusei.

Since then, they've seemed to hover in Tier 3 status, good, but not great. They had a cup of coffee in 2014, but were embarrassed by Kendai Takasaki.

Both teams have not had the smoothest of runs, but when it mattered they got the win. Rifu defeating Touryou and Tohoku outlasting Sendai Ikuei in 11 innings. You might be able to give Tohoku the advantage, but given neither has shown to be that dominating, you can probably expect it to be an even matchup.

Gunma - 1800 PDT (Not streamed)
  • ① Maebashi Ikuei v ② Kendai Takasaki
I was not really expecting this final, mostly because I thought Maebashi Ikuei's #1 seed was more of a mirage than anything else.

But I have to say, they haven't lost a game in tournament play yet in 2016. That can't last, but if they want to win it all, they'll have to. And that's a big ask.

The teams they left in their wake in the spring? Yokohama, Kanto Dai-ichi, Hanasaki Tokuharu...

...and Kendai Takasaki.

Yep, these two teams faced off in the spring prefectural final where Maebashi Ikuei made a 6-0 lead stick. Barely.

Kendai Takasaki came onto the scene in 2012 by reaching the Haru Koushien semifinal, losing to Osaka Touin. They've been trying to recreate that magic, but their results have declined. Still, they're looking to get their 3rd straight Natsu title.

Maebashi Ikuei's last 4 games they have won 3-0 or 3-1 which included a win over Kiryuu Dai-ichi 3 rounds ago. Kendai Takasaki has thrown 2 shutouts, but has not defeated a major team, beat Isesaki Seimei 3-0 in the semis, and will have to pitch on no days rest as opposed to Maebashi Ikuei's 1 day due to rainouts.

As of right now, before 1st pitch Maebashi Ikuei at least is on the level, if not will start as the favorite.

Higashi Tokyo - 2100 PDT (Asahi)
  • Kanto Dai-ichi v Toua Gakuen
Well, that rivalry final was thrown off the rails... Nishogakushadai Fuzoku wasn't able to advance out of the semifinals as ace Ooe fell apart in the late innings allowing Toua Gakuen to rally for a 7-6 win. Unfortunately for him, his legacy may be of one unfulfilled as he fails to win the summer title.

Kanto Dai-ichi had no problems with Jyoutou, as the combo of Takei and Satou struck out 12 in a 3-0 shutout. And with their rivals eliminated, they should feel that their path to the title is clear.

Toua Gakuen though will be looking for their first title in 27 years, so you can bet they're hungry. Whether they are up to the challenge is yet to be seen.

Gifu - 2100 PDT (Asahi)
  • (S) Chuukyou v Oogaki Nichidai
Oogaki Nichidai looks really strong going into the final, having shutout Shiritsu Gifu Shougyou 6-0 and whose only close game was a 7-3 win over Seki Shoukou the previous round. Chukyou did defeat last year's champs Gifu Jyouhoku 6-4 and 1-hit Nagara in the semifinal. It's about as strong as a performance one could expect, even though in reality it was a no-win situation.

Oogaki Nichidai should have the advantage here, as Chuukyou is under "prove it" restrictions.

Toyama - 2100 PDT (Not streamed)
  • ⑤~⑧ Toyama Shougyou v ①~② Toyama Dai-ichi
Toyama Dai-ichi is looking for their 2nd ever Natsu Koushien appearance. Their first one went pretty well, reaching the Best 8 before losing to eventual runner-ups Nobeoka Gakuen (Jeez, that final with Maebashi Ikuei was 3 years ago already! God I feel old...). Better yet for them is that they have run circles around the competition scoring 9 runs or more in each game. Though to be honest, it wasn't all that tough.

Toyama Shougyou will look to come back after a year's hiatus. They took out last year's winner Takaoka Shougyou in the Best 8, but did struggle a bit against Nanto Fukuno in the semifinal.

Toyama Dai-ichi probably is in line to make their 2nd appearance. And who know where they will take it given their initial foray.

Mie - 2030 PDT (Not streamed)
  • (S) Inabe Sougou Gakuen v (S) Tsuda Gakuen
Two seeded teams in the final, but neither of them are Mie. Tsuda Gakuen made sure of that by defeating them 4-2 in the semifinal despite getting just 5 hits. They now sit just one game away from reaching their first ever tournament.

Inabe Sougou Gakuen is looking for their 2nd title, and was steamrolling the field until they eked out a 1-0 win against Kaisei. Tsuda Gakuen has a lot to prove, but beating Mie is a big get for their confidence.

Hyogo - 2105 PDT (Asahi)
  • (S) Akashi Shougyou v Shiritsu Amagasaki
Well, in a prefecture littered with good private schools, all of them have fallen by the wayside, leaving us 2 schools with just 1 combined Natsu appearance, and that was Shiritsu Amagasaki 33 years ago.

And it's not like either school got a dream run either. Akashi Shougyou needed to get past Kansei (Kwansei) Gakuin, Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku and Shinkou Gakuen to get here. Shiritsu Amagasaki beat Houtoku Gakuen in the quarterfinals and that was after playing 2 games the prior 2 days because they Nishinomiya Imadzu played them to a 2-2 draw, and replayed the game the next day...

The good news for Shiritsu Amagasaki is that they appear to have 2 pitchers, Tsujii and Hirabayashi, that they seem comfortable leaning on, so the workload has at least been shared. But I'm sure recovering from 3 consecutive games has been tough...

Nara - 2100 PDT (Asahi)
  • (S) Chiben Gakuen v (S) Tenri
Big surprise here! #sarcasm

These two teams have played each other 17 times in tournament play over the last decade, and this will be the 6th time these two teams have faced each other in the Natsu taikai. That not withstanding, these two teams account for 14 of the 16 bids since 2000.

Yet, both of these teams almost didn't make it here. For Tenri, it was a 1-0 deficit against Naradai Fuzoku until 1B Yasuhara hit a 2-run sayonara HR.

For Chiben Gakuen, it was Kooriyama (who actually had one of the 2 other Natsu bids) who jumped out to a 3-1 lead with 2 HRs. But as much as they tried to repel Chiben Gakuen's comeback, a run in 4 consecutive innings tied the game at 5. The game would go to enchousen before Chiben Gakuen plated the winning run in the 10th.

Chiben Gakuen were the Haru Koushien champs, but that last game has to give you pause because Nara is not a very strong prefecture. But Tenri struggled just as much, if not more.

Wakayama - 2100 PDT (Asahi)
  • Minoshima v Shiritsu Wakayama
With Chiben Wakayama possibly on their way down, it's these two schools (who represented the prefecure in 2013 & 2014) who seem to have emerged early to fill the void.

Both breezed through the field early, but Shiritsu Wakayama has slowed down a bit though they were the team to eliminate Chiben Wakayama 10-5. There may have been some hangover as they then hung on to defeat Hashimoto 3-2 to get to the finals.

Yamaguchi - 1800 PDT (Asahi)
  • Takagawa Gakuen v (S) Ube Koujyou
Both Ube Koujyou and Takagawa Gakuen have crushed the opposition underneath their feet to a combined 79-7. The only blemish is that Ube Koujyou did have a 2 game stretch where they won 5-1 and 2-1 so maybe you could say that there may be some weaknesses there, but that's about it.

Tokushima - 2130 PDT (Not streamed)
  • ① Naruto v ② Naruto Uzushio
Naruto has made their own foothold in Tokushima, winning the last 4 titles and 5 of the last 6. Naruto Uzushio hasn't won any, but its predecessors - Naruto Kougyou and Naruto Dai-ichi - have. It just hasn't seemed to come together as one entity, though that might change today.

Both schools were not dominating like you would like - no mercy rule wins to speak of. Naruto needed runs late to win their semifinal against Tomioka Nishi while Naruto Uzushio needed extras to defeat Seikou Gakuen.

This may finally be the year that Naruto is dethroned, as you can argue that Naruto Uzushio had a more than fighting chance.

Ehime - 2030 PDT (Asahi)
  • Matsuyama Shouyou v (S) Nitta
And finally in Ehime, we are guaranteed to have a first-timer to go to Natsu Koushien. Both teams have had stints of good results, only to either get tripped up or hit the wall against powerhouse teams.

This year, both teams seemed to evade such an occurrence, though Matsuyama Shouyou almost had that against Saijyou in the 3rd round, and Nitta's offense was slowed by Touon in the semifinals. At this point I would just like to see a good match between the two.

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