Sakushin Gakuin in terms of competition probably has the strongest resume having defeated 2 Kanto schools. Ace Imai has pitched all innings so far, posted the following lines:
- 8/12 vs Jinsei Gakuen - CG SHO, 5 H, 13 K, 2 BB
- 8/18 vs Hanasaki Tokuharu - CG, 2 ER, 6 H, 10 K, 4 BB
- 8/19 vs Kisaradzu Sougou - CG, ER, 6 H, 7 K, BB
Now, there were signs that Imai perhaps was reaching the end of his tank against Kisaradzu Sougou. If not for them running themselves out of innings, it's possible Sakushin Gakuin isn't here now. Now, he was pitching on back-to-back days, so it can be understandable. But, he's only got one day to rest before this game - how much he's got in the tank will be key. He might be able to get through this game, but the final could be another story.
Offensively, it's all about SS Irie. He's hit a HR in each game so far, joining a very short list of players to do so:
- 1979 - Kagawa Nobukyuki (Nami Shougyou)
- 1985 - Kiyohara Kazuhiro (PL Gakuen), Fujii Susumu (Ube Shougyou)
- 1990 - Matsumoto Kengo (Ube Shougyou)
- 2001 - Harashima Masamitsu (Nichidai-san)
- 2008 - Hagiawara Keigo (Osaka Touin)
He's 6-12, with 5 RBIs, 0 Ks and 1 BB. If I were Meitoku Gijyuku, he would not get a pitch to hit, no way no how. This especially since the bottom of the Sakushin lineup is a combined 6-30! Walk him and take your chances elsewhere.
Meitoku Gijyuku I had written off as one of the weaker version of this team. And while they are here in the best 4, they were fortunate to have one of the weaker schedules, defeating Sakai who had a long absence between appearances, and Kadena who were first timers. The only win they could hang their hat on was Naruto, who in the round prior defeated Chiben Gakuen.
The team has used predominantly 2 pitchers, ace Nakano Yasutoshi and #10 Kanatsu Tomoyasu. Neither though are all that dominant. The Naruto game aside where Nakano struck out 8 and walked 3, the pitchers combined for just 5 K's and 4 BB's in 17 innings of work. Now, they did yield just 12 hits in the three games they worked, but if you look at their results as a whole, including their loss in the spring to Ryuukokudai Heian, and you have to have reservations about their staff, successful as they have been.
Offensively, the team's been all over the place, but the one seemingly consistent batter is C Koga Yuudai who is 7-12, but with just 1 RBI. This despite the fact that he has batted 5th, and then last game 4th in the lineup.
It's still hard for me to believe that Meitoku Gijyuku is a contender, even here in the Best 4. I still expect Sakushin Gakuin to reach the finals provided that Imai isn't gassed.
Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi)
- def Jinsei Gakuen 3-0
- def Hanasaki Tokuharu 6-2
- def Kisaradzu Sougou 3-1
RF Yamanoi Ryuuga (山ノ井 隆雅)
1B Irie Taisei (入江 大生)
CF Kobayashi Koutarou (小林 虎太郎)
2B Fujino Yuusuke (藤野 佑介)
LF Ikari Taisei (碇 大誠)
3B Shinozaki Takashi (篠崎 高志)
C Ayugase Kazuya (鮎ケ瀬 一也)
P Imai Tetsuya (今井 達也)
Meitoku Gijyuku (Kochi)
- def Sakai 7-2
- def Kadena 13-5
- def Naruto 3-0
LF Nishimura Shun (西村 舜)
1B Nishiura Souta (西浦 颯大)
C Koga Yuudai (古賀 優大)
RF (18)Taniai Yuuto (谷合 悠斗)
3B Ookita Kaito (大北 海斗)
SS Takamura Kazushi (高村 和志)
2B Imai Ryousuke (今井 涼介)
P Nakano Yasutoshi (中野 恭聖)
10:03 - First Pitch!
Nakano certainly not blowing by hitters, gets a bad break when Yamanoi's grounder to 1st is missed by Nishiura and deflects past Imai into right. Yamanoi steals 2nd, leaving 1st open, and Nakano doesn't give in, doesn't give Irie a pitch to hit and walks him instead on a 3-2 pitch inside.
The 2nd out comes when Kobayashi hits a dribbler to the right side. Imai's only play is to 1st, but a base hit could score 2. That job is for Fujino now and he's certainly battling, taking a 1-2 pitch just outside, and then barely making contact on a similar pitch.
Makes contact! Down the RF line... FAIR!! It's just fair as both runners will easily score! Fujino at 2nd and Sakushin Gakuin up 2-0! Nakano tried to jam him inside, but Fujino gets the bat in front and makes a great timely hit!
But come the bottom of the inning, there are immediate concerns. While Imai strikes out Tachibana to start off the inning, the control seems to be lacking. And in fact he walks Nishimura.
Nishiura takes some time to come out for his AB as his foot was stepped on on the final play of the top of the 1st. His response is to attack the first pitch and drive it down the RF line foul.
But instead Mabuchi-kantoku calls for the hit-and-run! Nishiura on a 1-2 pitch lines a single to right, and it's runners at the corners for Meitoku Gijyuku! Throw in another walk to Koga and it's manrui, one out!
1st year Taniai has a chance to bring his team level.
He get a fastball down the middle, but it's a grounder to short! He runs to 2nd for 1, throws to 1st... and it beats out a diving Taniai! 3 outs! Imai survives the 1st, but he'll still have 8 innings to go...
Bottom 2 and Ookita not getting message. He's swinging away and flies out to right. Takamura though does stay patient and gets a walk, that's Imai's 3rd BB already. Imai showing bunt, but while the bottom of the lineup is struggling you can't give a struggling pitcher outs.
And he does swing! Grounder back up the middle! AH! Yamamoto makes a great diving stop! Tags 2nd for 1, throw to 1st... not in time! But an excellent play by the SS!
Nakano does his best at the plate, but eventually Imai strikes him out looking and the side is retired.
Now, Sakushin perhaps recognizing the situation they're in, are going for it. Yamamoto single to right bobbled by Taniai (who's not having a great game so far) and Yamamoto takes the extra base. Yamanoi singles to right and it's runners at the corners.
Irie still doesn't get his HR, grounds to 2nd. Imai can't get the ball out of the glove and as a result can only get the runner at 2nd while a runner scores. 3-0.
That failure proves costly. Kobayashi hits a fly ball to right, Taniai goes back, but misplays the ball and it's off the wall. Irie had to hold up thinking it was caught and ends up only at 3rd. Not a good game for Taniai...
And now Fujino with a ball deep to left center, and that's off the wall. Both runners score and it's 5-0.
Meitoku gets one of those runs back when Nishimura booms a HR off Imai to left. 5-1.
Nishiura gets hit, and Koga gets a fastball middle and gets a base hit the other way. 2 on for Taniai.
But he takes just one pitch outside before attacking a similar one and popping out, essentially killing the rally.
Sakushin Gakuin snuffing out any possible resistance left goes back to back doubles by the bottom of the lineup no less to start the 4th. Toss in there a couple more hits from Yamanoi and Kobayashi and you have an 8-1 ballgame and Nakano KOd.
And almost to add insult to injury Fujino lines a ball right at new P Kanadzu and he has to basically use survival reflexes to not get a ball planted in his face.
Meitoku gets a run back thanks to an error and sac fly, only to see that evaporate immediately in the top of the 5th with a triple for Shinozaki and a sac fly of their own. 9-2.
Sakushin continues to add runs with 1 in the 6th, while Imai is relieved and sent into the field which is really smart given the score. #10 Ugajin comes in to pitch.
Now, Ugajin does put the bases loaded with 1 out yielding 3 straight singles, but he comes right back to strikeout a game Wakiya on a slider inside, then Ooktita gives a ball a ride, but falls short of the warning track.
The game finally winds down with Irie of all people taking the mound, throwing low-mid 140s heat. and a mid-120s slider. Sakushin Gakuin cruises to the final with a 10-2 win.
And it seems inevitable really. I never though Meitoku Gijyuku was a contender, but in that first inning they could have set the tone if they were to level the score. They didn't and it was pretty much over from there.
Still, they got to the Best 4, easy road or not. Give them credit for getting here, but it was about as far as they were going to go.