Monday, June 13, 2011

2011 Haru Taikai - Hokkaido Taikai

So finally we head to Hokkaido. The largest prefecture by land area, the area with the mildest summers and the longest winters. Baseball here is played year round, but not necessarily in the best of conditions. Their win % rankings place them near the bottom of both the senbatsu and Natsu Koushiens despite having the 5th most Best 8 appearances (12). There are teams here that certainly have shown themselves to be above and beyond the field in Hokkaido. Yet when they head over the Tsugaru Strait, it changes.

Hokkai, with their fall win, gets a free pass to the prefecturals though they still had to play in the regionals.

Perennial team Sapporo Dai-ichi ran into Ritsumeikan Keishou who has been a good team as of late, and fell 4-3. With that out of the way, Ritsumeikan Keishou advanced out of block play.

Elsewhere in the Sapporo regionals, Hokkai's sister school Hokkai Gakuen Sapporo bested Sapporo Nichidai to advance. Sapporo Minami barely gets in with a win over Sapporo Ootani. And while Toukai Dai-yon lost to Hokkai in their regional final, because of the free pass, they advanced as well.

Komadai Tomakomai continues to struggle getting back to prominence, though they did give Hokkaido Sakae a good run in their part of the Sorachi regionals. Hokkaido Sakae advanced.

My underdog team, Hakodatedai Yuuto, advanced out of Hakodate, while Hokushou naturally advanced out of Otaru, and the same went for Komadai Iwamizawa in Sorachi and Asahikawa Minami out of Asahikawa (though they had a close game against Asahikawa Tousen).

Rounding out the field was Wakkanai Ootani (Nayoro) , Memanbetsu (Kitami), Shirakaba Gakuen (Tokachi) and Bushuukan (Kushine).

Then the draw came out and went as follows (winners of the first round are in red):

Bushuukan (Kushine) vs. Hakodatedai Yuuto (Hakodate)-Hokushou (Otaru) winner
Wakkanai Ootani (Nayoro) vs. Hokkaido Sakae (Muroran)
Sapporo Minami (Sapporo) vs. Hokkai Gakuen Sapporo (Sapporo) - how did this draw happen?

and on the other side...

Memanbetsu (Kitami) vs. Asahikawa Minami (Asahikawa)
Toukai Dai-yon (Sapporo) vs. Ritsumeikan Keishou (Sapporo) - again, how did this draw happen?
Mukawa (Muroran) vs. Shirakaba Gakuen (Tokachi)
Komadai Iwamizawa (Sorachi) vs. Hokkai (Fall Champion, Sapporo)

Only 3 of those first round games were close. Hokkai Gakuen Sapporo was shutout 3-0, Asahikawa Minami had to rally from down 4-2 to send it into extras winning it finally in the 13th (ace Saitou pitched the entire game), and Toukai Dai-yon survived a 5-run from Ritsumeikan Keishou 8th to win 8-7.

The quarterfinals had some great games. All the scoring for the Hokkaido Sakae and Sapporo Minami game happened in the 4th inning. The edge? It went to Hokkaido Sakae 2-1. Asahikawa Minami held a 4-0 lead against Toukai Dai-yon only to see it completely evaporate in the top of the 5th. Asahikawa Minami then went on to score 5 unanswered runs to win 9-5. And finally Shirakaba Gakuen held Hokkai to just 2 runs to win 4-2.

The only non-competitive game was Hakodatedai Yuuto's as they mercy ruled Bushuukan 8-1.

The semis saw Hakodatedai Yuuto continue their run as ace Tsutsumiguchi shutout Hokkaido Sakae 3-0. And in a bit of a shocker, Asahikawa Minami couldn't put up any resistance to Shirakaba Gakuen as they were mercy-ruled 10-1 in 8 innings.

So the final was Hakodatedai Yuuto and Shirakaba Gakuen. It was all Yuuto early as they scored 2 in the 1st and 3 in the 5th to take a commanding 5-0 lead. Shirakaba's offense would finally come around in the latter third of the game, but by then it was too late. Tsutsumiguchi would re-take the hill to shut the rally down as his team wins 6-3 to take their first title in 23 years! Perhaps we'll see my team in the summer?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

2011 Haru Taikai - Hokushinetsu Taikai Final

And finally, before we head up north to Hokkaido, let's wrap things up on the mainland with the Hokushinetsu region.

Home cooking is always good. And for Niigata it was no different. 2 of the 3 lower seeds from Niigata advanced to the quarterfinals as Nagaoka Oote shocked Kanazawa and Nagano's champion Saku Chousei couldn't find an answer against Chuuetsu.

Only #2 seed Hokuetsu was unable to advance, but you could easily forgive them as they faced Tsuruga Kehi and lost 1-0.

These teams would now have to face the remaining prefecutral champions. And for the most part, none of them were able to stay with them. Yuugakukan, Nihon Bunri and Fukui Koudai Fukui all advanced via the mercy rule. Again there was one exception and that was Toyama Kokusaidai Fuzoku. Tsuruga Kehi got yet another team shutting them out 4-0.

Now it's off to the semifinals where Nihon Bunri and Fukui Koudai Fukui squared off. After trading a pair of runs in the 1st, Koudai Fukui dug a 6-2 hole that they could never quite recover from. They would get within 2, but Nihon Bunri prevailed 7-5.

In the other semifinal, it was Yuugakukan and Tsuruga Kehi. Yuugakugan had the better of the scoring early going up 2-1, but in the last third, Tsuruga Kehi flipped it right around and the teams found themselves tied at 3 heading into extras. And yet again, the teams found themselves in a deadlock as each inning passed. Finally Yuugakukan broke though the impasse with a run in the 14th inning. Tsuruga Kehi couldn't reply and Yuugakukan advances to the finals!

Two familiar faces in the final, and it didn't disappoint. Nihon Bunri seemed to hold all the cards, taking the lead 1-0 in the 4th and adding an insurance run in the 8th. Up 2 with just 3 outs to go, and the now famous team seemed to be on their way.

Yuugakukan thought otherwise. They mounted a rally with 2 down in the 9th inning capped off with a bases loaded triple by Taniguchi which made the score 4-2 and completely turned the tables! Now it was Nihon Bunri who was down 2 with just 3 outs to go!

Nihon Bunri could only get back one of those runs, giving Yuugakukan their 3rd ever title and first in 6 years!

2011 Haru Taikai - Kinki Taikai Final

Remember when I said the Daishoudai Sakai-Minoshima game wouldn't be competitive?

Yeah, me neither.

Although the game did start like I thought it might. After just 3 innings, Osaka Shoudai Sakai held a 9-1 lead.

Two innings later though, the score was 10-9!

Say again?

Minoshima was able to claw to within just 1 run! And every time Daishoudai tried to pull away. Minoshima would get those runs right back!

Problem was, they could never get that one extra run...

And so Daishoudai Sakai does advance thanks to a late drop goal, 13-12. Just kidding. About the drop goal that is.

In the other game of that side of the bracket, after some early scoring that left Ritsumeikan Uji up 2-1 the score remained that way until the 9th where Ritsumeikan scored 4 to seemingly put the game away only to see Osaka Touin roar right back. However, they only managed 3 runs, and thus fell 6-4!

Moving along to the opposite side, Tenri's offense was held at bay by Oumi and ace Ishida limiting them to just 3 runs. However, opposing ace Nishiguchi was one better. Well, 2 actually as Tenri advances to the semis with a 3-1 win.

And in the last matchup between relative unknowns Han-ai and Akashi Shougyou, the Kyoto champions shut down the triumvirate staff of Han-ai 7-2.

Onto the semis and Tenri decided to sit ace Nishiguchi and instead send out Nakatani and Oonishi. No matter though, as Tenri goes to another final with a 4-1 win.

Perhaps the biggest surprise though was the other semifinal. Daishoudai Sakai facing Ritsumeikan Uji opened the game with 6 unanswered runs. Ritsumeikan immediately went into scramble mode to find a way to get back into the game. Slowly but surely they started to get those runs back, yet by the end of the 8th inning they still trailed 6-4.

Daishoudai Sakai would not let this go on any further and responded by putting up a 6-spot in the 9th to put the game out of reach. A 12-4 win later, and the #3 seed from Osaka was in the final!

In the final, Daishoudai looked to continue the theme putting up a run in the top of the 1st. Tenri found the tying run in the 4th, and then the teams traded runs in the 5th. After that though, the bats fell silent as the game got deeper and deeper into regulation. Eventually, the game would go into extras.

But not for long though. The game goes just one more inning as Tenri scores the sayonara run to take their 6th spring title and first in 16 years!

2011 Haru Taikai - Chuugoku Taikai Final

In the first round of the Chuugoku Taikai, it was a massacre for almost any team not from Okayama. Well, the teams didn't lose by a wide margin, but they lost nonetheless.

The only Okayama team to not advance was actually Soushi Gakuen. They lost to the Yamaguchi representative Ube Koujyou 1-0. Remember, if you're a low scoring offense highly dependent on your defense, you're bound to have games like this (see Seattle Mariners).

And because Okayama Gakugeikan won the consolation game against Kurashiki Shougyou, there were no rematches in the semis.

So it was that 1st place Sakuyou had to face 4th place Kurashiki Shougyou. While Sakuyou had won the prefecturals, it was Kurashou that had the experience. And boy did it ever show. Kurashou took the reins early and never let go, mercy ruling the boys from Tsuyama 9-0.

Okayama Gakugeikan looked to make it a rematch in the final, but first had to get past the rogue team in the semifinals. But Ube Koujyou was persistent. While Gakugeikan had the 1-0 lead, they continued to fight and eventually broke through, scoring 2 runs in the bottom of the 8th to steal the lead away and send the Okayaman boys home.

In the finals, it would be Ube Koujyou that would strike first with a pair of runs in the 4th. However, they couldn't make that lead stick. Kurashou would score a run in bottom of the inning, then explode for 4 in the next. That would be all they needed as they win just their 2nd title with their first being 2 years ago.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

2011 Haru Taikai - Tohoku Prefecturals

As everyone is well aware, the Great East Japan Earthquake devastated the Tohoku region, destroying many seaside cities and killing thousands and displacing many more.

As a result, it was decided that the Tohoku Taikai would not be held. Furthermore, for Miyagi-ken and Fukushima-ken, their spring tournaments would be cancelled. However, the Natsu Koushien qualifying will go on not too long from now.

All the other prefectures though managed to get their tournaments done, so we'll take a tour of those areas.

Aomori has regional brackets where a certain number of teams qualify for the prefecturals. Those teams plus the fall winner, Kousei Gakuin, make up the full field. The elephant in the room, Aomori Yamada qualified, as well as pet favorite Hachinohe Koudai Dai-ichi.

Unfortunately for Hachinohe Koudai Dai-ichi, they would have to play Kousei Gakuin in the 2nd round, and was shutout 8-0. But then, facing Hachinohe in the next round, they found a team who wanted to take revenge on the team that eliminated an area school. Well, not really, but nevertheless Hachinohe pulls off the upset 5-2.

With the only major competition to Aomori Yamada gone, the path was clear to the title. But while facing what seemed like no-name competition, showed some cracks defeating Touou Gijyuku 5-0, then Towada Kougyou 2-0 to reach the finals.

Their opponent in the finals would not be Hachinohe though. They faced Misawa in the semifinals and fell behind immediately and could never recover, losing 9-4.

So it would be the David's Misawa versus the Goliath's Aomori Yamada. And early on, Misawa's ace Kikuchi held his own, yielding just one run through the first 6 innings. However, the offense could never get started and the stress of holding that one run lead was too much. Aomori Yamada put up two 3-spots in the next 2 innings to win 7-0 taking their 8th title and first in 3 years.

Hachinohe would salvage a 3rd place finish with a 9-8 win over Towada Kougyou.

Much like Aomori, Iwate had regional bracket play to determine the prefectural participants.

Here, we find teams from cities and towns that suffered severe damage from the tsunami. Teams from Kamaishi, Kuji and Miyako participated in the tournament, even though for some schools like Miyako Kougyou and Miyako Shougyou, their schools were flooded themselves and students displaced to other schools in the meantime. Now those two schools didn't advance, but in a way it's helping them move on after the disaster.

The winner from the fall, Morioka Chuo, couldn't advance out of regional play, losing first to Morioka Kougyou, then Morioka Dai-san in the loser's bracket. Meanwhile, the other Best 4 participants, Hanamaki Higashi, Moriokadai Fuzoku and Ichinoseki Gakuin all managed to advance.

Unfortunately for one of these schools, their exit would be early as Hanamaki Higashi and Moriokadai Fuzoku drew each other in the first round. Hanamaki Higashi prevailed 3-1 and had a clear road to the finals, though they almost stubbed their foot against Iwaizumi eking out an 8-7 win.

On the other side Ichinoseki Gakuin was also making their way to the finals, but then they faced Mizusawa and the woes for the school continue as they fall 2-1.

In the finals, Hanamaki Higashi held a hold on the game right from the get-go trailing 1-0 only because Mizusawa was at-bat first. A 10-4 win gives Hanamaki Higashi their 5th title and first in 2 years.

Akita's regionals saw a lot of the regulars make it. Akita Shougyou of course, as well as my hard-luck team from this prefecture Honjyou, not to mention the other hard-luck team Meiou. Haru Koushien participant Oodate Houmei also advanced.

The bad luck continued Meiou as they were paired up with Honjyou in the 2nd round. Honjyou advanced with a 3-0 win. They continued on a collision course with Oodate Houmei unto which they fared the collision much better with an 8-1 win to the finals.

On the other side Akita Shougyou looked to be on the easy road to the finals. In the semis though they face Oomagari Kougyou and found themselves in a battle. They fired the opening salvo with a run in the 2nd, only to see Oomagari fire one right back in the 3rd. The teams then were locked in a stalemate, neither team able to break through. Meanwhile the game continued on, through the 7th, through the 8th, past the 9th and into extras. And it continued yet still through the 11th, 12th innings. At this point it becomes the team who has something left that wins. In the 14th inning, that would be Oomagari Kougyou where Takahashi would get the sayonara hit to finally end the game 2-1.

So Oomagari Kougyou would face Honjyou. And after a 14 inning affair, would they have anything left? Well, they sent out RP Katou to start the game, which meant that while they didn't have their ace, they at least had depth at the position. In fact, Oomagari Kougyou opened the scoring in the 3rd with a run. 2 innings later though, Honjyou tied it up.

1-1 again, heading towards extras. For Oomagari Kougyou this couldn't look any worse - outside of outright losing of course. 2 extra inning games in as many days?

Well, they came together and decided that they had had enough. Bottom 9, Oomagari Kougyou rejects the notion of extra innings and scores the sayonara run to give them just their 2nd title (their first being 5 years ago).

In looking at the recent history of Yamagata, the team that has primarily dominated the prefecture has been Sakata Minami. This despite the fact that Nihon Yamagata appeared for a 2-year stint and went all the way to the Best 8 in 2006. That and my irrational hope for Haguro to come back to prominence despite realizing that they've only been to Koushien twice and I happened to see the one appearance where they came from nowhere to reach the semifinals of the 77th Haru Koushien.

So of those teams whom all advanced to prefectural play, Haguro was the first to fall losing to Nihon Yamagata 4-0. Perhaps it's about time I let them go off into the sunset.

After that game, Nihon Yamagata marched right on to the finals with dominating wins over rival university school Toukaidai Yamagata and Yamagata Kougyou.

Sakata Minami and last year's summer participant Yamagata Chuo meanwhile were on their own march towards a semifinal matchup. In that semifinal, Yamagata Chuo made a statement that their summer title wasn't just a fluke, building a 6-0 lead.

And then something happened. I don't know if the Yamagata Chuo players realized they were 3 innings away from defeating the most dominating team in the prefecture, or if ace Yokoyama was just worn out, but in the 7th Sakata Minami scored 5. With the lead just 1 run and 2 innings left to go, the momentum immediately shifted towards the favorites. Eventually they would score a total of 8 unanswered runs and stun Yamagata Chuo 8-6.

So it was that the two stalwarts in the prefecture would square off yet again, this time for the spring title. Once again, Sakata Minami would fall behind as Nihon Yamagata put up a pair in the 2nd inning. They wasted no time though this time around, coming back with 3 runs to take a 3-2 lead. Nihon Yamagata could never find that equalizer, instead merely pulling back within 1 after Sakata Minami added an insurance run. Yet this was just Sakata Minami's 4th spring title and 1st in 3 years.

2011 Haru Taikai - Toukai Taikai Final

Well, the short Toukai Taikais are done, and the winner wasn't who I expected.

As expected, Oogaki Nichidai defeated Shizuoka Shougyou but only by the margin of 2-0. Aichi Meisei wound up being no match for Komono losing 11-1 in 6 innings.

And in the semifinals - Komono threw 4 pitchers at Oogaki Nichidai, but to no avail losing 7-0 in 8 innings.

Chuukyoudai Chuukyou was surprised by Oogaki Shougyou. They attempted a 9th inning rally, but lost 2-1. Meanwhile, the hit and miss offense of Tokoha Kikugawa continues as Inabe Sougou Gakuen sends them home in 7 with an 8-1 win.

In the semifinal, the two teams stayed scoreless until the final 3 innings in which ISG took a 4-0 lead.

But it all went wrong for ace Okabe and the boys from Mie. Daishou somehow finds a way to not only find 4 runs, but the winning 5th run, all in the top of the 9th! Daishou comes from behind in spectacular fashion to set up an all Gifu final!

Of course, this is also a rematch of the prefectural final in where Daishou was routed 11-3.

But this rematch went differently. Oogaki Nichidai struggled to get their offense going, but managed to plate a run in the 3rd. Daishou was not facing ace Kassai to start, and finally took advantage in the 5th scoring 2 runs and taking the lead. By the time Kassai entered the game, it was too late. Daishou added an insurance run in the 7th, winning 3-1 as ace Morikawa goes the distance giving Oogaki Shougyou their 1st ever spring title!