Tuesday, August 23, 2016

98th Natsu Koushien - Final Thoughts

Well, another Natsu Koushien tournament is over, and while perhaps there were some surprises along the way, the eventual winner (at least to me, but perhaps to the Japanese not) wasn't.

I'm glad that schools like Toukai Dai-yon and Hokkai have made the finals, but as we've seen it took a special team in Komadai Tomakomai that could win the whole thing (and that was pre-Tanaka!).and barring a special performance the result was pretty much expected.

And in a way, that's kind of sad. Sure, like the NCAA tournament in general the best of the best are generally going to get to the final stages. But Koushien has always been pushed as a tournament that any team can win - and there are some cases where that happens. More often than not though it's a school like Osaka Touin that wins and while that may do it for most, it doesn't for me.

Now, I guess while Sakushin Gakuin has been a mainstay, the fact that they hadn't won since 1962 (when they won haru-natsu, aka spring-summer), and the young Kobari-kantoku who is just 33, has quietly turned Sakushin Gakuin into a powerhouse in the last 10 years (yes, he was 23 when he became the manager) is something to be lauded - though be careful of becoming the Osaka Touin of the East. Well, to me be careful, to the rest I'm sure they love it.

As for the rest of the tournament, there are continued signs that managers are getting it and are taking into account strategies that should have been implemented a while ago. Not bunting, running through 1st base for the simplest stuff. Managing pitcher's innings (when possible) as an example of more egregious behavior that is changing.

But for all the good that may have happened, what I will remember is Kousei and Shuugakukan...

Where the heck do I even start?

I guess Kousei first. Kousei was one of the exceptions of a private school who had done well that I rooted for, if nothing else because they were from Aomori, and in that stretch where they lost to Nichidai-san and Osaka Touin in 3 straight calendar finals they deserve to get one of them. Just one.

But after the managerial performance by Kosaka-kantoku this tournament, I refuse to root for them until he is replaced.

Against Touhou, having just scored 3 in the 7th to go up 9-2, Kosaka-kantoku sends in ace Sakurai to close the game out. Seems simple enough. He wasn't all that great in the end against Shiritsu Amagasaki but with a 7 run lead it should be fine.

Except it wasn't. He gave up 2 runs in the 7th, and then in the 8th gave up 1 more. So from 9-2, it became 9-5. And by this point, I'm basically saying either Sakurai needs to be replaced right now, or if he gives up a run in the 9th.

Not only does Sakurai not get replaced, he gives up not 1, but 5 runs in the bottom of the 9th as his team blows a 7 run lead - and you could see it coming from miles away.

No matter how you look at it, the loss falls squarely at the feet of Kosaka-kantoku. If Sakurai was the last pitcher available, that's on him for getting to that situation where he had no other options available, especially since he wasn't dominant and he faltered late against an average to below average team. If he left him in there because he's the ace, then that is on him for sticking to old traditions that need to die a fire. Either way Kosaka-kantoku should be fired for complete mismanagement.

And then there's Shuugakukan. From fellow followers, apparently they were a very polarizing team and I can see why. They had 4 above-average pitchers on their staff. Most teams would just like to have 1 bona-fide ace, but they had at least 4 above-average pitchers on their staff. With that you can manage innings, have the flexibility to go to someone else if one struggles, and be a front-runner to win a tournament. You'd think that managing the bullpen could be so easy, a caveman could do it.

Too bad Kajisha-kantoku apparently isn't a caveman.

Facing Hokkai in the semifinals, this should have been a cakewalk (sorry Hokkai, but it's the truth). Starter Kawabata came in and got out of 2 manrui situations. Bottom 2, Kawabata was due up in the order. He had thrown the most innings out of all 4, and could be forgiven if he needed extra rest even with the sharing of duties. Kajisha-kantoku had the perfect opportunity to PH for Kawabata, send in one of your other pitchers to start the 3rd having gotten away with murder basically, and work on winning the game.

Instead, Kajisha-kantoku leaves him in to hit and sends him out to start the next inning. And only after he lets the first 2 runners on, and get 2 outs does he send in Nakai. And he proceeds to give up a bases-clearing triple. After that it's all downhill from there because even though Arimura and Taura eventually stabilize the situation, they're a lighter offensive team needing to stage a comeback.

His strategy in the 3rd smacks one of ill-planning and panic instead of an actual strategy. If Kajisha-kantoku was perhaps trying to walk the tightrope as long as possible when he didn't PH for him in the 2nd, then he has 1 of 3 options:

  1. Replace Kawabata when he walked Satou Taiga to start the inning. Having survived 2 "dai pinchi", you give Kawabata one last chance to work with a clean slate. At the first sign of trouble, you pull him since his luck absolutely can't last forever. 
  2. Stick with Kawabata with 2 outs and runners on 2nd and 3rd. Now, this strategy I've actually frowned upon because I always think that kantoku's run with a pitcher too long and by the time the P has been replaced, it's too late. HOWEVER, since this is the prevalent thinking, he wouldn't be faulted (by the media) if Oonishi had gotten a hit off of Kawabata instead since Kajisha already proved he was sticking with Kawabata through the 1st and 2nd innings. This despite having 3 other pitchers available. (By the way, this makes the least sense, but could still be "explained" away)
  3. With Oonishi due up, send in Arimura to replace Kawabata. Nakai, Taura and Kawabata are all lefty pitchers, with Arimura the only righty. If Kawabata can play the field with any level of competency, you play the matchup with RH v RH by sending in Arimura, then you can send Arimura to the field to come in when necessary to face a dangerous RHB.
Instead, he doesn't do 1, doesn't stick the the plan to do 2, and when he does 3, he sends in another lefty which doesn't make sense at that moment. Would they still have given up runs if any of the alternate scenarios were run? Sure. But instead, he apparently panicked, cost his team runs, put them on their back foots and in an uncomfortable position to stage a comeback.

And what seemed like a fairly winnable game turned into a big fat "L", with Kajisha's surprised face burned into my memory and I wish I could just burn that.

For complete mismanagement of a dream pitching staff, Kajisha-kantoku should have been fired right after the game and made to find his own way back to Kumamoto.

So yeah, those two games are the things I will remember the most. Well, that and Chuukyou's no-hitter turned loss, and there's not much else to say on that other than just feeling bad for them.

Now the page quickly turns to the Aki taikai and potential qualification for next year's haru koushien. With me getting up in age (though yes I'm not THAT old), and my current semi-unstable job situation, I may need to reevaluate how I do things going forward. There may be some developments in the near future as to my coverage.

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