First of all, Takamatsu Shougyou. Should they win today, they would be just the 4th team in history to win the Meiji Jingu Tournament and then the following spring's Haru Koushien tournament:
- 1983-84 - Iwakura (Tokyo)
- 1997-98 - Yokohama (Kanagawa)
- 2001-02 - Houtoku Gakuen (Hyogo)
Ura's main effectiveness is in his offspeed pitches. His repertoire has a slider, curve and fork, but in reality it seems that his curve isn't really a curve, but a slurve. From the game footage it seems like his looping curveball actually tails away from a right handed batter, causing many a Shuugakugan batter to swing and miss.
In reality though he isn't a strikeout pitcher, but instead uses these to induce poor contact. Of course, all one team has to do is develop a strategy of going after them or to just ignore them and work the count, but so far he's been effective enough and stamina shouldn't be an issue given their fall results.
What should be of more concern is their hitting, which struggled against Horie and needed help from the other side to eventually win the game. Ura might be able to keep them in it, but the offense needs to come though one last time.
With Takashima-kantoku's retirement and the steady decline his program has faced over the past decade, the parent Chiben Gakuen has now supplanted its younger Chiben Wakayama as the more dominant red "C" in the ouen-dan.
This run has seen them go through their 4 games giving up 1 run or less thanks to their ace Murakami. The weird bit is that unlike most pitchers who work laterally in the bottom of the zone, Murakami seems to work vertically, predominantly working the upper parts of the zone. Now, if you have a team that can hit the high ball, he might be in trouble, but so far it seems to be working. It's much harder to drive something from higher in the zone, and most batters are probably well-practiced in hitting the lower pitches. He even throws his offspeed stuff (slider, curve, change fork) up as well. It might explain why batters have a hard time driving the ball.
Offensively, the team can score runs, but their last game against Shuugakukan really saw them scuffle to put any scoring opportunity together until magically in the bottom of the 9th when everything just fell together. I don't know if they will be able to hold off on Ura's slurve, but if not this could prove an equally troublesome game.
As for predicting a winner, I don't think this will be a blowout either way. Unless either ace just fatigues out I expect this to be a low-scoring affair that won't be decided until the end. Takamatsu Shougyou is either (a) under pressure because they could go Aki-Haru, or (b) under no pressure because they've in some ways gone through it in the fall facing powerhouses bigger than Chiben.
It should be a lot of fun. I just hope I get to see it all (thanks MBS).
Takamatsu Shougyou (Kagawa)
CF Anzai Tsubasa
RF Arauchi Shunsuke
SS Yonebaku Keizou
C Ueda Kyousuke
2B Mino Kousei
1B Ueda Rikuto
LF Takeuchi Hiroto
P Ura Daiki
3B Yamashita Tatsuki
Chiben Gakuen (Nara)
2B Osame Daichi
C Okasawa Tomoki
SS Oota Hidetake
RF Fukumoto Yuuma
1B Takahashi Naoki
P Murakami Shouki
3B Oohashi Shunpei
LF Nakamura Akita (#13)
CF Aoki Yuudai
12:33 - First Pitch!
Well, Anzai quick to start affairs! He lines a ball down the right field line for a double!
Arauchi lays the bunt down, Murakami spins and turns to 3rd... SAFE!!!
The throw was in plenty of time, but somehow Anzai gets under the tag! All safe! Takashou threatening immediately!!
But Yonebaku grounds right to 3rd! Oohashi has it, Anzai skirmishes back to 3rd, and that allows Oohashi to get the 5-4-3 double play! 2 out and you have to wonder if Anzai should've taken the bullet to prevent that.
Up to Kyousuke to get the timely hit. He hits a liner, but Oohashi is there again to make the quick catch! 3 out and Murakami gets his disappearing act!
Ura meanwhile is on it to start. Osame is keen to wait on the balls, but when push comes to shove, Ura's forkball catches the outside edge and he's down.
2 down, and Ura tries to sneak a fastball in, but Oota turns on it and sends it past a diving Yonebaku for a base hit.
That brings up the dangerous Fukumoto, but Ura goes high on him and he pops out to retire the side. Looks like the no rest hasn't hurt him to start.
Mino learning about swinging high, can't quite square up the ball and flies out to left center. Takeuchi draws a 2-out walk for Takashou, bringing up ace Ura who is actually not bad with the bat.
Murakami trying to blow him away, but Ura continues to foul off pitches.
He gets a hold of one! Aoki backpedaling.... makes a slight jump to make the catch! If Murakami things he can just blow fastballs by him, I think he might be underestimating him if prior games are an indicator.
After a quick out by Takahashi, Murakami is able to hold off the slurve and draw a walk. Oohashi also doesn't bite and he gets one he can line to center for a base hit. Runners at the corners for Nakamura! He hits a chopper to the right side, but Mino has to go for 2! Throw to 2nd, a bit high, relay to 1st won't be in time! Murakami scores and Chiben has the 1-0 lead!
And now Aoki slices one down the LF line... fair! Nakamura goes to 3rd on the play and Chiben threatens to take a larger lead!
Osame though flies out to left to end the inning, but Murakami's walk comes around to score!
Takashou still struggling a bit with looking vertically as well as some of them just can't level one of those pitches. Arauchi gets a 2 out double down the right field line, but not much else.
On the other hand, the 2-3-4 batters for Chiben in their 3rd all make solid contact, sending balls deep to left and center. You have to wonder if they're already sizing up Ura's pitches.
It really looks like Ura is avoiding the fastball as his velo may be down from yesterday. As a result, while he can strike out Murakami on a forkball on the outside edge, he either gives up a basehit if he turns to the straight (like in Oohashi's AB) or they start sizing it up, like the 3rd inning and Nakamura's flyball to center.
Tough luck for Oota to start the 6th, ball takes a bit of a high hop and he can't field it cleanly. E6 and Ura bunts him over for last batter Yamashita.
Once again though, Murakami plays the higher part of the strike zone and Yamashita and Anzai can't make anything out of it. 3 outs and more frustration on the bench of the Meiji Jingu champs.
Ura manages to hold serve to the break, but his offense needs to unlock the mystery of Murakami and quick.
Kyousuke gets a 2 out double to deep right center. Murakami then walks Mino to bring up Rikuto, whom he gets this time with a slider down. Murakami is allowing baserunners, but when it might hurt him less.
The innings continue to tick away, but Takashou just can't get their bat to make solid contact and they're quickly running out of time.
Anzai with a grounder to the right side. Takahashi with it, but Anzai beats him to the bag! Leadoff single and where we are in the order, this might be their best chance. Arauchi bunts him over.
And Yonebaku lines a ball to center! Anzai given the green light!! Aoki's throw home... not in time!! The captain gives his team life as we're all tied at 1-1! And with Yonebaku at 2nd, it's a great chance!
And then I see both Kyousuke and Mino go after the high pitches again, and both are unable to make anything out of it... Still, what matters is the game is tied!
But will it stay that way? One out, Osame hits a ground ball right at Rikuto and it deflects off him and towards center! Mino is out of position, and Osame bolts for 2nd! Anzai holding back, charges and throws to 2nd.. OUT!!!
Osame tries to take 2, but Anzai perhaps baiting him gets him out and the early chance is lost! That's a shame because Okasawa bloops a ball over Yonebaku for a single!
Oota with a ball to 3rd, and the hop eats up Yamashita! The ball goes to left and with Takeuchi's throw to 3rd, allows Oota to take 2nd!! Will that cost them?
Fukumoto chopper to 3rd. Yamashita has this one! He throws to first, but the throw is wide! Rikuto goes for the tag....
Somehow, he just gets Fukumoto on the leg as he's diving past him and they get the 3rd out! Oh man....
Rikuto looks to give Takashou the lead in the 9th as he singles to center! He's bunted over, but can the bottom of the lineup deliver the final blow?
(Follow the twitter feed, this is going too fast.)
Here's how it all went.
After Rikuto's base hit, they bunted him over hoping that they could get a base hit. But Murakami plays an audible, pitching away and inducing bad contact. Ura on the other hand, completely goes into boss mode in the 9th, sending it into extras.
In the 10th, both teams would get a chance to win the game. Anzai gets a single through the right side, and with his speed you had to bet he could steal. And as I thought that he did. Arauchi though couldn't bunt him over, and instead of three-bunting, he swings away and flies out. After that Yonebaku and Kyousuke both try to get base hits, but Murakami goes back up again in the zone and both fly out to end the threat.
For Chiben, it was Nakamura who singled to center. Aoki couldn't bunt him along, actually tried the three-bunt, but failed. Kosaka-kantoku goes for the bunt again looking for the one-timer, but Okazawa meekly grounds out to 2nd to move the game to the 11th.
Rikuto gets a one out single to center, but Nagao-kantoku elects not to bunt the runner over for his own one-timer. Once again, both batters fail to deliver.
To the bottom of the 11th, and after 2 quick outs, Takahashi singles back up the middle past Yonebaku. At that moment I was trying to swipe into my phone to make sure to play no-doubles defense.
And again, as I thought that, Murakami blasts a ball to center. Anzai has speed, but not enough this time as it goes over his leaping glove. That all but seals their fate as Takahashi slides in to give Chiben Gakuen the 2-1 sayonara victory, their first ever Koushien title.
It seemed like something preventable, but perhaps it was lost in the strategy, much like the 1st inning and maybe the 10th inning. For Takamatsu Shougyou, this was a grand opportunity to claim the title for their own, but alas it was not to be. Ura certainly is a great pitcher, but as is always the case with one-and-done scenarios anything can happen.
So it's instead the parent Chiben Gakuen who rises above its younger school to take up the mantle. While they certainly are the big dogs in Nara now, I'm sure people will pay attention to Murakami's pitching style and we will have to see come the summer if they have the same success again.
I will try to go back and watch the games that are available to see if there's any more information to gather for the summer. Until then I may have other things in store, time depending.