Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The field is set, who are the favorites?

With Fukui-ken qualifying the last team in Fukui Koudai Fukui, the field is set.  Some teams such as Hanamaki Higashi (Iwate) and ace Hamada, Yokohama (Kanagawa), Takasaki Kenkoudai Fukushi (Gunma), and Kyushu Kokusaidai Fuzoku (Fukuoka) are markedly absent.

Who's left, who's new, and more importantly, who can challenge for the title?

Title Favorites
Osaka Touin (Osaka) - 6th appearance, 1st in 4 years
With the Haru Koushien champions qualifying, albeit with a late scare as they almost punted a 10-1 lead in the final against Riseisha, Osaka Touin has to be considered the front-runners to win and thus achieve haru-natsu renzoku yuusho, or spring-summer champions.

But the exact reason they almost gave up that lead, is the same reason they may not be able to win.

In the spring, Fujinami was able to hold out until the end.  But I said back then that in the spring the weather is much, much more favorable.  Come the summer, the heat and humidity would be much less accommodating.

And as mentioned, in the Osaka taikai he couldn't finish out the final game and had to turn it over to reliever Sawada to close it out.  There's no doubt that they'll have to lean on Sawada more if they wish to be the 7th ever spring-summer champions.

Osaka Touin has been known for their offense.  Nishitani-kantoku's management of the pitching staff will be key to victory.

Kousei Gakuin (Aomori) - 6th appearance, 2nd consecutive
While we're at it, let's look at the bridesmaids for the last two calendar Koushien tournaments - Kousei Gakuin.

When I saw them in person, there was nothing about the team that stood out, and when they were annihilated in last summer's final against Nichidai-san, I figured that'd be the end of that.

Instead, they replaced ace Akita with Kanazawa, qualified for Senbatsu this year, and reached the finals before losing to Osaka Touin 7-3.

Then came the Aomori taikai where they had 2 scares right off the bat against Misawa and former powerhouse Aomori Yamada.  Once they cleared those two, the path to the final was much easier.

The pitching for Kousei Gakuin is deeper, but not as strong.  2B/P Jyouma has been used interchangably by Nakai-kantoku which will be a great help in keeping the arms fresh.  The offense isn't as strong, but is still very solid.  They have become a good all-around team from a prefecture not known for contending baseball teams.

Nichidai-san (Nishi Tokyo) - 15th appearance, 2nd consecutive
As much as I dislike Sanko, you have to give them their due - they were the dominating team last summer, and in the Nishi Tokyo final, they trailed 1-0 to Kousei Gakuen before Kousei crumbled giving up the game-winning double to the wall.

Sanko despite almost losing in the final, gave up just 3 runs in 7 games. Despite losing Yoshinaga, Saitou has taken over as the ace number, with Ooba as their main reliever and has done a great job.

Offensively, the first 4 games saw them post double-digit runs in 3 of them.  But against the tougher competition - Hino, Souka and Kousei Gakuen, they won 3-0, 3-1 and 2-1.

So it will be interesting to see how the offense reacts to a good pitcher, especially if they draw one in the early going.  But the opportunity to be a repeat champion is good motivation in and of itself.

Title Contenders
Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi) - 8th appearance, 2nd consecutive
Sakushin Gakuin was another, "Oh, that's nice they got to the semifinals" team before losing to Kousei Gakuin.  They then made it to Senbatsu as well and got to the 2nd round before giving up a 1-run lead in extras to Naruto.

Sakushin profiles to be a poor man's Kousei Gakuin. Not as good of an offense, and a pitching tandem of Tsutsui and Mizunuma that is not as strong as Kanazawa-Jyouma.  But with a rather weaker field then usual, a favorable draw could get them back to the semifinals.

Aikoudai Meiden (Aichi) - 10th appearance, 1st in 5 years
Aikoudai Meiden almost didn't make it like Nichidai-san. Down 2 runs to Touhou in the final, Touhou crumbled giving up the lead, the 2nd of which was due to a passed ball.  Meiden would win in 11, and be yet another team to make both Senbatsu and Natsu Koushien this year.

Hamada is certainly more than an average pitcher, but he's almost all alone on the mound.  Azuma is the reliever Kurano-kantoku would go to, but from his usage is not that trusted.

Meiden's offense is also a weakness.  As witnessed against Touhou and earlier against Aichi Sangyoudai Kougyou, the offense can disappear leaving Hamada to try to carry the team - much more than the usual.

Dark Horses
Urawa Gakuin (Saitama) - 11th appearance, 1st in 4 years
After 3 years of unable to reach Natsu Koushien, they finally book their tickets here in 2012.  They were here in the spring, and reached the quarterfinals, and were 3 outs away from defeating eventual champion Osaka Touin, but ace Satou Takuya couldn't close the door.

Up until that moment, Urawa Gakuin was just like any other team in Saitama - underwhelming.  For as big as Saitama is in population, it has NEVER won a Natsu Koushien tournament.


Why the heck is that?  I mean, they have the 5th biggest population by prefecture.  The 4 bigger ones - Tokyo, Kanagawa, Osaka and Aichi - all have won a Natsu Koushien, but Saitama has not.

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Saitama is so close to Tokyo, so close to Kanagawa.  If you were a good baseball player in middle school, you were probably recruited by teams down south.  Why play for a team locally when you can go to a prestigious school such as Nichidai-san, or Waedsa Jitsugyou or Teikyou?

Urawa Gakuin in the Saitama taikai gave up just 2 runs.  Ace Satou was responsible for one of the two (Yamaguchi Rui gave up the other).  They did defeat Seibou Gakuen and last year's representative Hanasaki Tokuharu.  But because it's still in prefecture, despite the impressive results, it doesn't prove anything.

They batted 0.361 in the spring and 0.350 this summer, but the question will be whether they can string the hits together, or if Satou and Yamaguchi will can hold up if they don't.

And so Urawa Gakuin enters the 94th Natsu Koushien, with a good performance in the spring to perhaps portend things in this summer.  But they'll probably need things to fall their way for it to happen.

Urasoe Shougyou (Okinawa) - 4th appearance, 1st in 4 years
This is just Urasoe Shougyou's 4th ever Natsu Koushien appearance, but apart from their first appearance where they lost in the first round, they have reached the semifinals in 1997 (losing to Chiben Wakayama) and 2008 (losing to Tokoha Kikugawa - I remember that game and the 9-run 2nd by Kikugawa and how happy I was!).

The appearance had been somewhat in coming as outside of a surprising loss to Chuubu Shougyou last summer in the 3rd round, they had reached at least the quarterfinals in other taikais.

This time around, their road to the title saw them face such well-known schools as Kounan, Kadena and in the final - Urasoe Shougaku.  And before that final against Urasoe Shougaku, they outlasted cinderella Maebara, who had their sights on their first ever title.

I don't have a lot of information on Urasoe Shougyou other than they faithfully use a tandem of pitchers - Miyazato ? (宮里 泰悠) and Teruya Hikaru (照屋 光).  Teruya is a fireballer, able to hit 150+ on the gun. I can't find a whole lot on Miyazato, but the tandem seems to have worked.

It will be interesting to see what happens on the big stage.  Will they be able to continue the successes at Koushien?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

How hard is it to win Koushien?

I'll have updates on teams that have qualified for Koushien soon enough, though if you follow my twitter account on the left side of the page, you'll see I've updated it quite a bit.

Anyways, in having discussions with a fellow kokoyakyu fan, his last team he was rooting for which was still alive, Houtoku Gakuen (Hyogo), was eliminated today.

I've seen my fair share of teams eliminated - Narashino (Chiba), Seihou (Nagasaki) and Kanzei (Okayama) just to name a few.  And even if some of our teams make it, their chances of winning it all are very small.

So, just how hard is it to win Natsu Koushien?

Well, it all depends.  First, you have to get there, which means winning the prefectural title.  As with Koushien itself, it's a single-elimination tournament.  But not all tournaments are created equal.

If you're in a metropolitan prefecture such as Nishi/Higashi Tokyo, or Osaka, or Kanagawa, you're one team in a field easily over 100.  That means you're going to have to win 7, even 8 games just to win the title.  In that time, if you're not one of the established schools in the region, you're going to face at least one of them en route to the title.  Rarely if ever you do you not.  Even if you're one of the more than above-average teams, this statement still applies.  Imagine having to face Kokushikan, then later Teikyou.  It's enough to make any team want to quit.

And even if you're one of the established teams, you're probably going to wind up butting heads with another established team.  Or, you could get tripped up in a random game on the way there.  Or a key player could get injured/sick.  Such is the life of single-elimination.

You'd think it might be better to go to a rural prefecture where the competition may not be that strong and create a super team.  Deanna argued that Risshoudai Shounan from Shimane was that way, and she was right.

However, you may want to choose your schools wisely.  For instance, in Nara the duo of Chiben Gakuen and Tenri account for just about 80% of the prefecture's bids (16 and 25 respectively out of a possible 52).  And only 5 different schools have won the title.


And if you take the top 3 schools (adding Kooriyama), the last time a school not aforementioned won... was 1969.

That's a long time.

Wakayama is worse.  Counting from Chiben Wakayama's first Natsu Koushien appearance back in 1987, out of the 25 years the title was awarded, Chiben Wakayama has won 19 of them.

By themselves they have won almost 80% of the past quarter century's bids from Wakayama.

In other words, in more rural areas, there are generally a select few schools who create roadblocks to all other schools trying to qualify.

But the biggest problem in say moving to a rural region to try and qualify for Koushien is that in general, rural prefectures don't win Koushien.

If we take say the Heisei Era, 1989 to present, and count the regions where schools won, you'd find the following:
  • Hokkaido - 2 (Minami Hokkaido)
  • Tohoku - 0
  • Kanto (ex Tokyo) - 3 (Kanagawa, Gunma, Ibaraki)
  • Tokyo - 5
  • Hokushinetsu - 0
  • Chuubu - 1 (Aichi)
  • Kinki - 6 (Wakayama & Osaka - 2, Hyogo, Nara)
  • Chuugoku - 0
  • Shikoku - 2 (Kochi & Ehime)
  • Kyushu - 3 (Saga - 2, Fukuoka)
  • Okinawa - 1
So 15 of the 47 regions have won Koshien in the past 23 years.  But almost half reside in the major metropolitan regions of Tokyo & Kinki.  None have come from Tohoku, Hokushinetsu or Chuugoku which combined represent 15 prefectures.  20 prefectures have never won a Natsu Koushien title, and of the 10 that have won just one - half won their title on or before 1962.

That means that 25 of the 47 regions have not won a title since 1962.  That's just about 50 years of futility by over half of the prefectures.

The hill is indeed very hard to climb.  And in just under 2 weeks time, they'll all start their trek to the top.  For some, it may be easy.  For most, it will be unattainable.  But like all other sports it's why we play the games - because hopefully, anything can happen.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Natsu Prefectural Updates (through 7/16)

Almost all remaining prefectures kick off play this weekend, especially those that have much fewer teams due to being so rural.  On the other hand, Okinawa's already punched their ticket.

Awarded Bids
Okinawa (Urasoe Shougyou, 4th appearance - 1st in 4 years)
Speaking of Okinawa, I'd like to start there first.  All 3 main favorites advances in Okinawa Shougaku, Itoman and Urasoe Shougyou - though the latter two not by as much of a comfortable margin as they'd like.

The 4th game, the one I was interested in, Maehara vs. Chinen turned out to be a great game.  Maehara scored their run in the first and it held until the bottom of the 9th when Chinen tied the game up.  It would not be until the 13th inning when Maehara would break the deadlock as Yagi closed the door for the win.

That would set themselves up with a tough semifinal matchup against Urashou.  Before that though, Okinawa Shougaku and Itoman faced off, and it was a close game until Shougaku scored 5 in the 6th to break it wide open.  They'd advance with an 8-2 win.

I'm pretty sure this time around Maehara was fooling no one as they squared off against Urashou.  Maehara kept up with Urashou, tying the game each time they scored in the 4th and 5th innings.  As a result, Maehara went into their 2nd straight extra inning game.  And as the game continued it would seem to be harder for Maehara to win as they had played a long game prior.  But as the game got closer to the 15th inning, they might at least be able to force a draw.  However, relieve Maetoku in the 14th inning couldn't last any longer and Urashou scored the sayonara run.  A great run for Maehara, but they fall short in the semifinals.

And so it's two familiar faces in the finals, Okinawa Shougaku (alma mater of Higashihama) versus Urasoe Shougyou.  Okinawa Shougaku looks to be the favorite to win, but it is the championship game, and anything can happen.

And the game was hotly contested from the start.  Okinawa Shougaku twice tried to take the lead early, but Urashou rallied both times to tie the game.  Another trading of runs in the middle made it 5-5.  It wasn't until the bottom of the 8th when Urashou took the lead for the first time - when it mattered.

Round of 16 or further
Kita Hokkaido
The 14th signaled the first games of the prefectural bracket.  None of the big names were slated to be first, but that doesn't mean that there may not be something interesting to see.  Takikawa Kougyou and Obihiro Nougyou advanced with little issue, but it was Furano's game against Kitami Hakuyou that was eye opening.

You see, they scored 10 in the first en route to an 11-1 win in 5 innings.  Now that was with the help of 9 walks from the Kitami pitchers, so that has to be taken into account.  However, at this stage it should still be noted.  The only problem is that they're not going to see a quality team until arguably the semifinals should Engaru make it.   It will be interesting to see how they stack up, because I'm pretty sure they're going to make it there at the least.

Engaru, for their part defeated Kushiro Kougyou 6-0 to advance to the round of 8.

But play yesterday just made the prefecture up for grabs.  The two favorites in the field, Komadai Iwamizawa and Shirakaba Gakuen, both lost!!  Bushuukan and Obihiro Sanjyou, both above-average teams in the prefecture, led wire-to-wire winning 3-2 and 2-1 opening the door for everyone!  The new leaders in the clubhouse have got to be Furano and Engaru given their performances so far.

Minami Hokkaido
With Otaru Suisan receiving the bye, the first day of the prefecturals determined the 1st half of the quartefinalists.  No surprises so far as prefectural regulars Sapporo Ryuukoku, Sapporo Nichidai and Hokkaido Sakae all advanced.

Hanamaki Higashi is the team to beat, and their first two games, winning 12-0 and 9-1, indicate that they are indeed in form.  The question is, who in the rest of the Round of 16 can be a possible challenger?

Well, there's always Ichinoseki Gakuin it seems.  Two strong games as well, but they never seem to live up to what I think they should be.  Should they face Hanamaki Higashi, it'd be in the semifinals.  The only other team that could possibly challenge is Moriokadai Fuzoku.  A Koshien veteran, they won't be intimidated by Hanamaki Higashi, but if they do face them, it will be for all the marbles.

The same can almost be said of Takasaki Kenkoudai Fukushi.  They may have just represented Gunma in the last Senbatsu and Natsu Koushien tournaments, but speed kills - and as long as they continue to press the initiative, they're the one to beat.  While the offense doesn't to seem to be as impressive, a 6-0 win over Yoshii and a more importantly, a 4-1 win over Kiryuu Dai-ichi changes nothing and perhaps in fact improve their position.

To note though, there are some teams that are perennial challengers that have made it, so you can't necessarily sleep on teams such as Maebashi Ikuei (who by the way, I met someone from that team the other day at an M's game who is apparently playing baseball here in Washington), Takasaki Shougyou (who hasn't given up a run yet - though it is 2 games), Maebashi Shougyou (who went in 2009), and an odd team in Shiritsu Isesaki whose school is now being reorganized to Yotsuba Gakuen.  They've gone to the round of 16 before, but 2 of the last 3 taikais have been stymied by Maebashi Shougyou.  And wouldn't you know it, they're facing them once again!

Nishi Tokyo
As is with bigger fields, games go on almost all the time here in Tokyo, and Nishi Tokyo is the first to reach the Round of 16.

There are few surprises in the field now.  Nichidai Tsurugaoka advanced without issue.  They will face Hino - who is no easy shakes themselves (though they've never reached Koushien), but DID defeat Waseda Jitsugyou after giving up the lead in the bottom of the 9th, winning 4-3 in 13!

Deanna's beloved Nichidai-san, despite being unseeded is on the rampage again, and will face Fuchuu Kougyou who will look to score the first run against Sanko (they've currently shutout their opponents 27-0).

Kokugakuin Kugayama, 2011 senbatsu representative and also unseeded, started off well but did have a close game against 3-5 seed Horikoshi 4-2.  It should be an interesting matchup against Shouwa Dai-ichi Gakuen, who is definitely an above-average team, but have not been able to get over the hump.

Souka, another Koushien contender and a 3-5 seed finds themselves with an easier opponent than most in Jissen Gakuen, who needed all 9 innings to get by Oberlin in their last game.

Kousei Gakuen, a school mentioned to be a while back with a great ace, now has Isozaki leading the squad.  But they'll face an offensive minded Meijidai Nakano-Hachiouji, who ironically enough defeated Meijidai Nakano in their last match!

Nichidai-ni, who certainly is forgotten thanks to their younger brother, will look to make the quarterfinals against a Shouwa squad that needed 14 innings to defeat Machida 3-2.

Another Toukai team in Toukaidai Sugao reaches the round of 16 for the 2nd straight year will face a Katakura squad that in recent years have made a good run in the Natsu taikais.  Two 8-1 8-inning wins are a good start, but Toukaidai Sugao will be a tougher challenge.

Finally, 1-2 seed Toua Gakuen, who is looking to break through the ceiling of Nichidai-san to reach Koushien once again, won't have to see them until the finals may have another easy game in Meisei who has needed late innings to advance.

Yamanashi is also in the Round of 16, but it's one of those cases where they had 38 teams, and after most just played one game, there they were in the round of 16!!

So it's hard to tell who's the front-runner with just one game.

Interestingly, the two teams who have represented Yamanashi in the past 3 years squared off against one another.  Yamanashi Gakuindai Fuzoku couldn't pull away from Hikawa until the late innings, winning 5-1.

There are other teams that seem to make a decent run including Fuji Gakuen and Fuji Kawaguchi-ko, but it's still to early to tell (though there isn't much time to discern!).
Play yesterday determine our quarterfinalists.  Yamanashi Gakuindai Fuzoku shutout Enzan 4-0. Teikyou Dai-san will be their next opponent.  And perhaps the only other competition to them will be Toukaidai Koufu, who easily handled one of my irrational likes in Nihon Koukuu 7-1.

Nagano's play this weekend determined the quarterfinalists.  Last year's surprise Tokyo Shidai Shiojiri finds themselves still in it after a convincing 10-0 win over Akaho, a one-hitter against Souzou Gakuen and yet another shutout against Okaya Kougyou. The other surprise, Senbatsu representative Chikyuu Kankyou has recorded 3 mercy rule wins while also shutting out their opposition.  These teams find themselves on the opposite sides of the bracket, so if they do meet, it will be in the finals.

There still are roadbumps to the finals, including teams such as Saku Chousei, Nagano Nichidai, and Ueda Chikuma, though Ueda Chikuma will butt heads with Saku Chousei next.

Saga started with 41 teams and now is also in the round of 16.  Last year's representative, Karatsu Shougyou without ace Kitakata is a shell of their former selves, losing in their first game 3-1 to Imari Nourin.

Deanna would be happy to know that Saga Kita won it's only game so far, a 3-0 shutout over neighbor Saga Kougyou.

However, there is no clear leader in the clubhouse, especially since the bid has been passed around to different teams and most have played just one game.

Yesterday though started the Round of 16, and Imari Nourin's 9-2 win over Taku may suggest that another Koushien bid is achievable, but without seeing the other teams in action yet, it's still hard to say.

Nagasaki is pretty much the same way.  With just 58 teams, 6 of the 8 seeded teams received a first round bye and as a result needed just one game to reach the Round of 16.

However, there was one casualty - Hasami fell to Shimabara Nougyou 3-1.

In the quarterfinals now, Souseikan is struggling to prove their omission from Senbatsu was a mistake as they gave up a 2-run lead to Kyushu Bunka Gakuen in the bottom of the 9th, winning in 13.

Nagasaki Nichidai will face an above-average Sasebo Jitsugyou, while Kaisei and Seihou will indeed battle in the quarterfinals.

Yesterday started the round of 16 in Miyazaki (though for some, this would be just their 2nd game - there are 49 teams this year).  Nichinan Gakuen had no problems with Takanabe and is in the quarterfinals.  Miyakonojyou Shougyou, a possible contender, got more hits, struck out 15, but still was shutout by Miyazaki Nougyou 2-0.  Miyazaki Kougyou was the 3rd to move on.

Notable teams still fighting for a spot include: Nobeoka Gakuen, Miyazaki Shougyou and St. Ursula.

General Play
With Misawa's 21-0 win over Aomori Higashi Hiranai on the 10th, the Aomori taikai got started.

Without a doubt, the team to beat will be Kousei Gakuin, the runner up in the last Natsu and Senbatsu tournaments.  But the biggest question is whether or not they can make a 3rd straight run not only to Koushien, but to the finals.

Because they faced Misawa as their first game just 3 days later and they squeaked by with a 2-1 win in 10 innings!  This has to be a wakeup call for them as their next game will be against Aomori Yamada!!  If they lose, then the prefecture will be a free-for-all, with Aomori Yamada leading the way.

Games though have been bogged down due to rain.

Akita's main teams have not started play just yet.  Only notable team so far is Meiou, who defeated Gojyoume 9-1 in 7.

The same can almost be said for Yamagata where all the seeded teams had a first round bye, Toukaidai Yamagata was the first seeded team to play, defeating Sagae 9-0 in 7 innings.

Haguro advances with a mercy rule win, while some of the lesser known seeded teams such as Yamamoto Gakuen fall.  Nichidai Yamagata and Yonezawa Chuo meanwhile, chug right along.

76 teams strong, Miyagi looks to show that they're on the rebound.  This year however, it may be without Tohoku as they're not a seeded team this year.  That's not to say they can't win, but not being seeded sure doesn't help.  First game against Kurokawa, they had no problems winning 6-0.

Last year's representative, Furukawa Kougyou, gets through their first game 4-2 against Motoyoshi Hibiki with an easier game yesterday against Kogota Nourin 8-1 in 7 innings.

The two probable front-runners, Sendai Ikuei and Rifu got through their first game easily, and Sendai Ikuei mercy rules Shiogama to take a spot in the round of 16.  Tohoku, who has seemed to recede from view in recent years, throws up another bagel against Ishinomaki Kougyou.  They'll face Hakuou next.

Seikou Gakuin has dominated Fukushima, going to Koushien 7 of the last 8 years.  So until I see weakness in them or they are eliminated altogether, it's their bid to lose.  A mercy-rule win against Higashi-Nichidai Shouhei does not change my opinion.

Sakushin Gakuin reached the semifinals last year - the first time a team from Tochigi has reached there since 1962 when in fact they won it all.  But unlike in Fukushima and Gunma, their position is less than set.  They'll set off for their trip on Tuesday.

Jyousou Gakuin will look to get back to Koushien after missing out the last 2 years and they started off with a 7-0 win over Daigo SeiryuuFujishiro's bid for a repeat didn't look too good with a 2-0 win over Ina.

For the life of me, I don't understand why Saitama, who has one of the largest taikais in the country, fails to produce a strong team each year.  Perhaps all the good players head south to Tokyo and some of the bigger name schools, but I figure you'd be able to get a good team together in a surprisingly weak prefecture and reach Koushien that way.

Thanks to the internet, I can follow games online, hence my tweets regarding Saitama.  So if you hadn't followed, one of 2 "A" seeds - Nanryou, was upset by Sakado Nishi 5-3 in 12 innings.  The other "A" seed, Saitama Sakae, survived a 3-1 game against Tokorozawa.

The two "B" seeds, Kawaguchi and Kasukabe Higashi play today.  It's not until the "C" seeds that you get teams you've heard of, including Urawa Gakuin - who won 10-0, and Kasukabe Kyouei, who plays today.

Higashi Tokyo
Shuutoku perhaps had the best shot at Teikyou, and when they lost 5-4, Teikyou was free to wail on future opponents.  Such was the case when Tokyo-to Shidai Fuzoku lost 18-0.  Katsushikano has been called from the ranks to pick up the flag, but a 4-3 sayonara win over Shouwa Dai-ichi means they'll probably be having to pass the flag soon enough.

But there are few legitimate contenders left that could fight toe-to-toe with Teikyou.  The biggest one is Kanto Dai-ichi, but their pitching will have to be superb to stifle the Teikyou offense.  First things first is a match with Seiritsu Gakuen for a spot in the Round of 16.

Otherwise, there's Yukigaya and Nichidai Sakuragaoka, both who have been strong in the prefecture, both unable to break through in recent years... and both facing each other...

Lastly, there was semifinalist Nisshou Gakushadai Fuzoku, who lost to Kanto Dai-ichi last year.  Nichidai Buzan will be their next opponent.

My team, Narashino, struggled early in their first game against Urayasu, but wound up pulling away.  They had a hard time too against Kimitsu Shougyou, winning 3-0.  Next up, Matsudo Mutsumi.

Already, one top seed has fallen in Takushoudai Kouryou as Inage pulled the upset 6-5.  Another solid win against Chiba Shoudai Fuzoku now has them one step away from the round of 16, but has to face Tokyo Gakkan Funabashi to advance.

The prefecture won't be wonting for teams though if Narashino loses (which I hope doesn't happen).  There's Chiba Keizaidai Fuzoku who mercy ruled Mobara, Matsudo Kokusai, Kisaradzu Sougou, as well as lesser known teams that have done well such as Chiba Eiwa.  However, Narita and Narashino have set a high bar for Chiba, so whomever advances will have their work cut out for them.

Just over 1 week of games and the 2nd round of games are completed.  Yokohama won their only game so far against Kami-Yabe without any issue.  Same could be said for the other 3 top seeds in Toukaidai Sagami, Yokohama Hayato and Touin Gakuen.

Shizuoka broke through the 4-year run of Tokoha schools going to Koushien last year, and this year they're the top seed to defend the title.  A 10-0 win over Yoshiwara is a good place to start.

Meanwhile, Tokoha Kikugawa was awarded a 5-8 seed but struggled in their first game against Hamamatsu Minami, winning 7-2, but not getting to starter Motoki until the 6th inning when they trailed 2-0.  Tokoha Tachibana has already taken down #4 seed Toukaidai Shouyou 5-2 thanks to a 3-run 1st inning.

The other team who has been successful in Shizuoka, Seisei needed a 3-run 8th to pull away from Hamamatsu Kaiseikan.

Since 2003, the bid in Gifu has mainly rotated between 3 schools - Kenritsu Gifu Shougyou, Shiritsu Gifu Shougyou and Toki Shougyou.  Only Oogaki Nichidai and Seki Shoukou have broken through otherwise.

Of the 5, only Oogaki Nichidai is unseeded going into the tournament.  That hasn't stopped them from wining their first two games however.

But since rain pushed back the games by a day, there isn't much to go off of.

Well, given the different structure of the Aichi taikai - 8 blocks, top seed gets double-bye, none of those teams have taken the field just yet.  This includes leading favorite Aikoudai Meiden.

However, the past 2 representatives, Shigakukan and Chuukyoudai Chuukyou, both are unseeded.  Both have won their games handily so far, but while Chuukyoudai Chuukyou is in the H Block with unknown seed Sakuragaoka, Shigakukan can be just one game away from a matchup with Aikoudai Meiden in A Block.

With 63 teams, one seeded team would luckily draw a first round bye.  That went to Kinkidai Tousen.

That meant that Mie, Kaisei and Matsusaka all had to play a game.  Mie and Matsusaka won their first game fine.  However, despite limiting Matsusaka Shougyou to 4 hits and 18 K's, Kaisei played to a 0-0 draw.  Now Kaisei won the replay 2 days later 3-1, but playing an extra game is never good.

Despite the feel-good story of Shin-Minato and the fact that they filled up an entire baseline (I mean I could see Shin-Minato fans from almost behind the plate to the actual oen-dan section it was so big!), this year they're relegated to a 5-8 seed.  A 9-2 mercy win against Toyama Kokusaidai Fuzoku is a good start.

The top 4 seeded teams, which are no pushovers either (in prefecture at least) did advance, but 1-2 seed Toyama Dai-ichi trailed 3-1 until late against Yatsuo.

With just 50 teams, Ishikawa can afford to take their time with their taikai, even when similar prefectures are condensing their schedule (possibly to simulate what they'd experience in the summer?).

So none of the seeded teams have started play, including Hideki Matsui's Seiryou, my friend's JET assignment in Komatsu Meihou, Yuugakukan and Kanazawa.

Hachiman Shougyou, who rocked the world with a comeback win against Teikyou last year, was relegated back to the ranks of the unknown this year as Hieizan, Hikone Shouyou, Hikone Higashi, and Ayaha received the seeds.  A 4-2 win over Kusatsu isn't the best of starts, but it beats losing.

Also missing from the seeded ranks are the deep purple colors of Kita-Ootsu.  They started strong with a 10-2 win over Murayama Kita.

Well, for any school not containing 5 kanji, as long as you're not Ritsumeikan Uji (立命館宇治) or Doushisha Kokusai (同志社国際), you're trying to break through the triumvirate of Ryuukokudai Heian (龍谷大平安), Kyoto Gaidai Nishi (京都外大西) and Fukuchiyama Seibi (福知山成美).

Another irrational like of mine in Kyoto Subaru defeated Ritsumeikan Uji, but lost to Fukuchiyama Seibi... and Ritsumeikan couldn't carry the flag for the university as they fell 3-2 to Kyoto Kokusai.

Ryuukokudai Heian gave itself no help as they actually drew a spot in the first round, thus having to play an extra game.  No problem so far, 3 mercy rule wins later and they're in the quarterfinals.

Senbatsu representative Toba also was awarded a seed this time around and has advanced in typical fashion, a 3-1 victory over Kyoto Yawata.

Tenri wins 14-1 in 5, Chiben Gakuen plays Saturday.  That is all.

Chiben Wakayama's Oojino and Yoshikawa combine for a 1-hitter against Tanabe, but win 2-0.  Their next game is on Sunday.  That is all.

Interesting tidbit, outside of Ikuei in 2000, the only 2 teams out of Hyogo to reach the quarterfinals or beyond are Touyoudai Himeji and Houtoku Gakuen.  They are the seeded teams in block 11 and 4 respectively and have won their only game so far with Touyoudai Himeji winning in low scoring fashion once again.

Senbatsu participant Sumoto is the seed in block 15 and had no problems in their first game.

Deanna's darling of 2 years back, Kansei (Kwansei) Gakuin, leads block 2 and will face Haruhi's alma mater, Nishinomiya Kita, who has advanced to the block final once again with a 5-2 win over Hibarigaoka.

Interestingly, the merged Amagasaki Sousei (transitioning from Amagasaki Sangyou and Amagasaki Higashi) is still alive.  Not often you see that, but a 6-2 win over Shiritsu Nishinomiya means they're in the block 7 final, not against seeded Ikuei, but against Suma Gakuen instead!

Nonomura-kantoku for Kaisei has some work to do to make up for losing Shirane and Mori, the heart of his lineup (and on the mound).  Unseeded, a 5-2 win over Izumo Nishi isn't a roaring start, but it's something.

The only team to break through, Risshoudai Shounan, who dealt with a depleted roster due to illnesses and was playing for their deceased manager, makes an opening statement with a 14-0 over Tsuwano.

With Kaisei apparently in regrouping mode, is it the return of Iwamichisuikan (fka Gonokawa)?  They play on Wednesday.

Kanzei will be looking to make a repeat run, but without their ace pitcher Mizuhara, it may be too difficult.  Their journey will begin on Friday.

Kurashiki Shougyou will play their first game on Wednesday in a bid to return back to Koushien after missing their first year in the last 4.

And with both teams on opposite sides of the bracket, the field will have to eventually try to topple the duo to have a chance at Koushien.

The field not named Jyosuikan and Kouryou are very happy that the two seeded schools are not only on the same side of the bracket, but in the same quadrant of the bracket!  This means that at least only 1 of the 4 schools in the semifinals can be a school that has represented Hiroshima 9 times since 2000.

Who does this benefit the most?  Hard to say.  The only school that has perennially done well without going to Koushien has been Onomichi.  They looked strong in the spring, reaching the Chuugoku final before losing to Kurashiki Kougyou.  However, unless both Jyosuikan and Kouryou lose before the semis, they will have to defeat them to reach the finals.

The other possibility is Hiroshima Shinjyou.  They were the runner-ups to Onomichi in the spring, and defeated Jyosuikan in the process, so perhaps for them it's possible this year.  Then again, it is the spring taikai and it's not connected to anything per se.

Yamaguchi hasn't proven to be that strong of a prefecture.  But I am still interested in Hayatomo, even though they lost their first game at Senbatsu 5-2 to Chiben Gakuen.  As a top 4 seed, they won't play until Saturday and it will be against Shimonoseki Kokusai.

Last year's representative Yanai Gakuen will face Seikou, who despite just 3 hits drew 12 walks and defeated the eventual split team of Houfu Shougyou/Houfu Shoukou 1-0.  2009 representative Nanyou Kougyou also will play on Saturday against Yanai Shoukou.

The representative the last 2 years, Eimei, was unseeded and lost in their first game against Takamatsu Kougei 4-3 despite a desperate rally in the bottom of the 9th.  That opens the door for prior participants such as Kagawa Nishi, Jinsei Gakuen, and Marugame to punch their ticket.

Tokushima Shougyou, representative 3 of the past 7 years drew seeded Ikeda and fell 9-4.  Ikeda has been a staple for the prefecture until the turn of the 90's.  Lately they've done much better, but have still yet to break their drought.  Could this be the year?  Or perhaps is it Naruto, or Naruto Uzushio (fka Naruto Kougyou)?

Ehime has not has success in the last couple of years, and the team that did has an uphill climb to repeat in Imabari Nishi.  They barely got by Matsuyama Higashi 4-3 and will face Imabari Kougyou next.

All the seeded teams will be playing on Wednesday/Thursday.

Again, at an M's game, I wound up meeting even more people on an exchange program.  One was from Fukuoka Koudai Jyoutou, who heads up Minami B block.  But, despite being the seeded team, despite giving up just 3 hits and Kasahara striking out 11, they lost to Oki Gakuen 3-2 in the semifinal of block play.

Kyushu Kokusaidai Fuzoku, who was shocked by Kanzei last year, is the team to beat in Kita E block. But they barely survive block play with a 4-2 win over Higashi-Chikushi Gakuen.

Nishi-Nippon Tankidai Fuzoku, Minami J block, had no problems advancing out of block play.  Iidzuka escaped, just.  Oomuta wasn't so lucky.

We'll know more once the draw for the block winners is held.

Meihou has done well to be relevant even after the loss of the key player in their 2009 run Imamiya Kenta.  They've posted 2 shutout wins so far, and next up will be Oita Jyouhou Kagaku.

Rain though has delayed progress in the taikai, though one top seed Oita Nishi has managed to get their 1st game in with a mercy-rule 8-0 win over Yufu.

I was finally happy that Senshuudaui Tamana made it to Koushien, only to get humiliated 16-1 by Kousei Gakuin.  Rain delayed their first match, but they mercy ruled Nanryou 13-2 in 5 innings.

The favorites will probably be Kumamoto Kougyou or Kyushu Gakuin.  Both have won their first games.  Same goes for 2nd tier school Hitsuyuukan, but can't be said for Luther Gakuin, who lost 2-1 to Amakusa Kougyou.

For some reason Kagoshima is not affected by the rainouts of other prefectures in Kyushu.  Maybe it's good drainage?

Anyways, Kamimura Gakuen's bid for a 2nd consecutive appearance is still alive, but a 2-0 win against Ei doesn't quite inspire confidence.  There's Munerin's Kagoshima Kougyou, who is the other seeded team in Kamimura Gakuen's bracket, though they've won their two games by the score of 3-0.

Seeded Kagoshima Jyousai had the unfortunate draw of facing Kagoshima Jitsugyou in their first game, and was ran out 9-2 in 7 innings.

Through 7/16 though, not everyone has played their first games, so for some it's still early.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Okinawa Final - Okinawa Shougaku v. Urasoe Shougyou

I'm catching this a bit late as I was out and unable to watch.  But we've finished the bottom of the 6th and the game is tied at 5!  I'm sure the games have taken their toll as teams have gone to their bullpens.

Top 7 and Okinawa Shougaku has runners on 1st and 2nd, but can't capitalize.  Lucky 7 now passes to Urasoe Shougyou, but they can't capitalize either.

Bottom 8th, Urasoe Shougyou gets a runner on 2nd with no outs and Okinawa Shougaku changes pitchers.  However, things get worse as Urasoe Shougyou gets runners on 2nd and 3rd.  Eventually a walk loads the bases.  A base hit through the right side scores 2 and Urashou takes the lead, 7-5!  Another base hits scores one more and the game is getting away from Okinawa Shougaku!  They're down 8-5!!

They get out of the jam, but with just 1 innings left to go, Okinawa Shougaku has work to do!

But 3 quick out and Urasoe Shougyou is the first team to punch their ticket to Koushien!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Natsu Koushien Update (games through 7/9)

A whole host of prefectures started play on 7/7, but it would not be as lucky for some...

Interestingly, two of the top seeded teams went off on the 2nd day.  Senshuudai Kitami lost out to Moriokadai Fuzoku 8-1. However, the score was not indicative of the game as Moriokadai scored 5 in the 9th to pull away.  It will be interesting to see what happens in their next game against Karumai who survived a late game flurry against Ichinoseki TousenHanaizumi managed to last 8 innings against Ichinoseki Gakuin, slowly pulling to 5-2 before giving up 4 runs to call the game.  Next up will be Mizusawa Shougyou, who won 5-3 over Miyako.

In today's games, Ootsuchi waits until the last minute to defeat Morioka Nougyou 6-5 in 15.

Opening ceremonies were delayed by a day as rain delayed proceedings.  While Ishinomaki was unable to advance out of the first day, other tsunami affected area schools such as Miyako Kougyou and Kesennuma and Natori advanced today.  Meanwhile Kogota Nourin places a 2-spot in the 14th to lead Wakuya 4-2.

Day 1 saw a good game between Fujioka Kougyou and Meiwa Kenou.  Meiwa led 2-1 late before Fujoka scored a run in the 8th and 9th for the sayonara win.

Games were rained out on day 2, but when play resumed today, seeded Maebashi Ikuei did not look sharp at all against Numata, scoring a run in the 8th, 9th and 10th inning for the 4-3 win.  Notable Kiryuu Dai-ichi won 4-0, while Takasaki Kenkoudai Fukushi had no trouble with Yoshii 6-0.

Ibaraki is underway, though none of the favorites have kicked off play just yet.

Nishi Tokyo
Defending natsu champions Nichidai-san were up on the docket on day 2, and had no trouble with Tokyo Tousen, winning 10-0 in the minimum 5 innings at Kami-Yagi Park.  Meijidai Nakano, who had a deep run last year had no problems with Nishi, winning 7-0 in 7.  Two of the 3 Waseda schools also advanced with no issues as Waseda Gakuin and Waseda Jitsugyou move to the next round.

Higashi Tokyo
Higashi Tokyo kicked off one day later, and the third and final Waseda school, Waseda, fell 6-2 to Katsushika Shougyou. And only one main contender has started play with Shuutoku having no trouble with Shinozaki, winning 5-0.

Kanagawa has played their opening game with Yokosuka Sougou coming from behind in the bottom of the 9th to defeat Kouyou 3-2.

The Nagano qualifiers got underway with an 18-0 drubbing of Minowa Shinshuu by Iiyama.  None of the main players have started play just yet, and we're seeing the normal collection of very close games - such as Ueda Nishi outlasing Matsukawa 3-2 in 11 and Toukai Dai-san just holding off Tateshina 11-10... and not so close ones - such as Sonan falling to Fujimi 22-1 in 5, and Ina Kita defeating Karuizawa 19-0 in the same.

The games in Yamanashi have taken their cue from the opening 2 games of the tournament.  Nirasaki Kougyou led wire-to-wire, but just defeated Masuho Shougyou 5-2, and Koufu Higashi went 11 before defeating Uenohara 4-2.

Former Natsu Koushien participant Yamanashi Gakuindai Fuzoku waited until the 8th to pull away from Hikawa (who has proven to not be an easy out), winning 5-1.  Nichidai Meisei ralled from 4-0 down to win 5-4 in 11 over ShiraneYamura Kougyou led Kouryou (no, not that Kouryou) 9-0 before letting their opponents rally to within 2.  They held on to win 10-7.

In fact, there have only been 2 mercy rule games so far, and both happened today.  First was Teikyou Dai-san defeating Fuefuki 10-1 in 7, and Koufu Jyousai defeating Katsura 9-0, also in 7.

All the seeded teams have received a first-round bye, so all the other schools are in the trenches battling it out.  After a first day that was fairly one-sided, 25 games were on the docket for the 8th.  17 of those were decided by 3 runs or less, and 9 of those by one run.

You had Fujinomiya Kita giving up a 4-1 lead late to Shimoda, managing to win 5-4 in 14, while Shimada Shougyou and Hamamatsu Shougyou played to a 2-2 draw!

In addition, Mishima Kita scored 2 in the bottom of the 9th to defeat Numadzu Shougyou, Oyama who scored 3 in the first against Kawane holding off a 9th inning rally to win 3-2, Hamamatsu Kotou scoring the only run in the bottom of the 8th to defeat Ooigawa, Hamamatsu Kaiseikan doing the same to Fujinomiya Higashi in the top of the 9th, Shizuoka Kita scoring 3 in the 8th for a gyakuten win over Futamata 5-4, Hamamatsu Oohiradai rallying twice to tie the game at 7 versus Hamamatsu Shiritsu - only to give up the sayonara run one inning later, and Seiryou scoring 4 in the 9th inning for a 7-5 victory over Izu Sougou.

But probably the most exciting game was between Susono and Touyou at Susuono Stadium where Touyou had pretty much dominated the game against Susono, but led by a 1-0 margin.  Out of nowhere, Susono gets to starter Yamada, scoring 2 in the top of the 9th!  Hagiwara stops the bleeding, but the team finds themselves down with just 3 outs to go.  But they find a way against Susuono ace Ootake to tie the game and send it to enchousen.  Ishizaki takes over for Touyou as Hagiwara is pinch-hit for, but in his 2nd inning of relief, Susono strikes again for a pair of runs!  Touyou is under the gun once again, but the pressure seems to be too much for Ootake!  Touyou this time decides to finish the game once and for all and scores 3 in the bottom of the 11th for the 5-4 win!

Opening day for Gifu was rained out, and the only close game of the 3 to have taken place so far was Gifu Dai-ichi holding off Hashima Kita 4-3.

Aichi is underway, and the range of scores is as expected.  The main school to have started their quest for Koushien is Chuukyoudai Chuukyou who defeated 9-0 over Yutakagaoka in 7 innings.

Opening day at Wakasa Stadium saw unseeded Ritusmeikan Uji easily handle Kumiyama 10-0 in 5.  Meanwhile Ritsumeikan, Ryuukokudai Heian and Kyoto Gaidai Nishi all advanced on Day 2 with no problems at all.

The Osaka tournament almost started with an unthinkable upset.  On the back of homeruns by Zenimura and Nishigami, Tomioka actually led 3-1 over Perfect Liberty (aka PL) Gakuen!  However, ace Kusumoto couldn't hold onto the lead.  PL chipped away, scoring runs in the 6th and 7th to tie the game, eventually winning 4-3 with a run in the 9th.

Hyogo has started play, and nothing of note to say, unless you're rooting for Nishinomiya Kita like I am - who defeated Amagasaki Kougyou 3-0 in their opening round game.

Fukuoka Koudai Jyoutou is the first major team to play in the taikai, as Kasahara throws a 6-inning perfect game (yes, I know it's only for 9 innings but still) against Shinguu, striking out 12.  Yanagigawa scores the one and only run in the game in the bottom of the 9th against Chikushi Chuo to just advance to the next round.

Opening day had Waseda Saga starting their run, but it ended abruptly in a 6-4 loss to Kanzaki Seimei.  Saga Kita hasn't taken the field just yet (sorry Deanna, you'll have to wait a little longer).

None of the major players - Seihou, Nagasaki Nichidai, Hasami or Souseikan have played their opening game just yet.

In other games, Iki comes from down 6-2 to Nagasaki Higashi in the 9th to tie the game, eventually winning 7-6 in 11.  Kunimi and Nagasaki Sougoudai Fuzoku combine for just 5 hits, but Sougoudai manages to score the only run in the game.  Shimabara gives up a 3 run lead in the last 3 innings, but finally wins 4-3 in 12.

I still remember Oita Uenogaoka and their brief appearance in 2009 as a 21st century team.  Sadly they've now fallen back into anonymity as they lose 2-1 on opening day to Nihon Bunridai Fuzoku.

Meihou though is still fighting to stay relevant as a prefectural powerhouse and they start with a 10-0 win in 5 over Oita Tousen.

Ever since I saw Akagawa Katsuki play for Miyazaki Shougyou, I continue to root for the team.  So it's nice to see them advance, though just, on a 3-2 win over Miyazaki Dai-ichi.  On the first day (the opening game was rained out), Kobayashi ties the game a 1 against Nichinan in the top of the 9th, then scores 4 in the 13th to seal the deal.

Kinda.  Nichinan mounts one final charge and pulls to within 1 before falling short.

Kumamoto is underway with Kyushu Gakuin winning 9-0 in 7 over new school Yatsushiro Seiryuu (formerly Yatsushiro Minami and Hikawa).

Of the serious contenders, only Kagoshima Jitsugyou has started play, but struggled against Kanoya, winning 7-4.

Okinawa is in the best 8 after games this weekend.  Yasumura belts a sayonara 3-run homerun for Kumejima to defeat Ginowan 3-1!  Tomishiro gives Okinawa Shougaku the biggest scare so far, losing, but by only the final of 1-0.  That should provide hope to the rest of the teams, hopefully for the aforementioned Kumejima who faces them next.

Itoman and Yaeyama both advance with ease and will square off against each other in the quarterfinals.

The third semi is a gami I'll be interested in as Chinen and Maehara have appeared as dark horses.  Chinen continued their offensive output, scoring 7 runs (averaging almost 9 runs/game), but this time giving up 5 against Naha Nishi - which doesn't portend good things for their next match.  Maehara has gotten stronger as they have progressed, defeating Shuri 7-1 in their last game.  However, they have not faced any tough competition, so it's hard to say how strong they really are.  Should be the most interesting game of the bunch.

Finally, Urasoe Shougyou was also in a fight of their lives Sunday as Futenma was not intimidated at all.  Down 2-0 and 5-4, the team rallies to take a 7-5 lead.  But with 3 outs to go the bullpen cannot shut the door and Urashou instead busts it down with 6 runs to win 11-7.  They'll face Kadena, who reached senbatsu in 2010 and has been on the cusp of being an annual contender, as they defeated Chuubu Shougyou 3-1.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Natsu Koushien Qualifying underway!

So, as I mentioned in a prior post, my coverage of Natsu Koushien will focus less on mentioning as many teams as possible and instead highlighting games and teams from each region.

With that being said, Okinawa and both Hokkaido regions are underway, and all 3 are in the round of 16/prefectural play.

And without further ado, we set off for Koushien!

Kita Hokkaido
Regional qualifying has been completed and the prefectural draw is out.

In the Asahikawa regional, Asahikawa Jitsugyou struggled through their block, barely defeating Rumoi Senbou 1-0 in their first game.  Down 3-0 to Furano in the block final, they scored 3 in the 9th to send it into extras.  But Furano would be successful, scoring the sayonara run one inning later.

Probably the best representative would be Asahikawa Kougyou, winning their two games 9-0 and 8-0.  But that may not be saying much...

In Sorachi, it's Komadai Iwamizawa that has taken the torch from famed Komadai Tomakomai and even reaching the 3rd round.  They have no trouble in their block and advance to the prefectual qualifiers.

Moving over to the Nayoro region, Wakkanai Ootani once again reaches the prefecturals, winning their two games by a total of 30-0.  Again though, the battle for them begins now.

Perhaps the most intriguing team in the field is last year's runner-up Engaru.  They got a bad deal being placed in the bracket with 2 good teams in Kitami Ryokuryou and Memanbetsu.  But Memanbetsu was upset in their first game by Monbetsu, and Engaru easily dispatched Kitami Ryokuryou 12-4 en route to advancing out of the block.  May this year be the year that Engaru makes it to Koushien?

Meanwhile in Tokachi, last year's representative continues to chug along.  They have no trouble in their two games easily making the prefecturals.

And finally in Kushine, another above average team Bushuukan has no trouble in their block, scoring double digits in each of their 3 games to advance.

In the draw, Shirakaba Gakuen and Engaru wound up on different sides of the bracket.  So we could very well see a rematch in the final.

That is of course if Shirakaba Gakuen makes it there in the first place.  You see, they drew Bushuukan in the first round.  Should they win that, a game with Komadai Iwamizawa is probably looming.  And while perhaps not as strong, they could still face Asahikawa Kougyou in the semis.  All that before facing Engaru!

What that means is that Engaru has probably one of the easiest roads to the finals.  It's possible Wakkanai Ootani might stop them, but I think they'll have to trouble at all.  But should they lose, whichever team survives the other bracket (as long as it's one of the main players), should advance.

Minami Hokkaido
If Kita Hokkaido's prefectural bracket was wacky, Minami Hokkaido's was just as bad.

First off, in the Sapporo regionals, Hokkai, Sapporo Nichidai, Toukai Dai-yon, and Sapporo Dai-ichi dismissed their opposition.

Onto Muroran and the aforementioned Komadai Tomakomai.  Despite two blowouts, they couldn't advance out of the block, losing 2-1 to Tomakomai Higashi.  It was a great 3 year run, but they're now relegated back to the realm of the forgotten.

A quick stop north puts us back in Otaru where seasoned Hokushou resides.  No troubles here advancing to the prefectural bracket.  Joining them, as usual, is Otaru Suisan.

And finally, on the last stop to the main island, my rooting interest Hakodatedai Yuuto is still alive.  Just...

You see, in the final against Hakodate LaSalle, they trailed 3-0.  Then they scored 2 in the 8th and 1 in the 9th as ace Shimizu couldn't close the door.  This time though, Yuuto completed the comeback, winning in sayonara fashion 4-3 in 12.

So the draw came out, and wouldn't you know it, it was almost completely lopsided.  You see, Hokushou, Sapporo Dai-ichi, Hokkai, Hakodatedai Yuuto (and to a lesser extent Toukai Dai-yon) all wound up on the same side of the bracket.  Not only that, but all 4 were in different matchups (Toukai drawing Yuuto).  That means after one easy game (except for Yuuto), it will be a bloodbath.

The one contender avoiding the massacre is Sapporo Nichidai.  They should have a clear path to the final, but they'll be in for the fight of their lives no matter what when they get there...

Okinawa was the first prefecture to start play, and why not considering the great weather they get (in reality I think it's because schools are separated by a good margin thanks to the islands).

Anyways, seeded teams this year were given to Okinawa Shougaku, Okinawa Suisan, Kounan and Urasoe Kougyou.  Last year's representative Itoman drew itself into the other part of Okinawa Suisan's bracket and has advanced into the round of 16 with wins over Tomoshiro Minami and Naha Kokusai.

The same however cannot be said for 3 of the 4 aforementioned seeded teams.  Okinawa Suisan were shocked by unknown Hokuzan, getting shutout 5-0!  Kounan couldn't stop the bleeding.  Facing a strong opponent in Urasoe Shougyou, they trailed 4-0 with just two innings left to go.  They then mounted a furious comeback, rallying with 3 in the 8th and 1 in the 9th to tie the game. But ace Hanasiro couldn't hold the tie as Urashou sent Kounan home 5-4.  And finally Urasoe Kougyou fell 3-1 to Maehara.

That means that Okinawa Shougaku remains as the last seeded team, though they seem poised to reach at least the semifinals at least with weak opponents remaining.  They may however face Itoman in that semifinal.

On the other half, Urashou should reach the quarterfinals where a familiar opponent in Kadena may await.  However, they have not impressed so far, and may prove little defense should they make it against Urashou.  In fact, Urashou may have a clear path to the finals as Maehara doesn't appear to be strong despite defeating Urakou.  Perhaps Chinen could provide a challenge in the semis should they make it, but they seem inconsistent at best.