Handicapping the field – Handcapping the 21st century candidates

Handicapping the field – Handcapping the 21st century candidates

(screencap courtesy of Kyodo News)

That’s the phone call you want to get as the principal of a 21st century candidate. That phone call means that you’ve received an invitation to Haru Koushien. We’re less than a couple of days away from finding out who those 3 teams are.

Just a reminder to the process. Every prefecture nominates a school who has reached at least the Round of 16 in the prefecturals. They may be nominated for their performance on the field, or for overcoming hardships, or for something special the school itself has done that is not necessarily baseball related. Then each super-region (for purposes of this Tokyo is merged back into Kanto) selects one to be their representative for consideration by the JHBF. Finally, the JHBF selects one team from the west (Kinki, Chuugoku, Shikoku, Kyushu), one from the east (Toukai, Hokushinetsu, Kanto, Tohoku, Hokkaido), and one wild-card team.

With that being said, here are the 9 nominees:

  • Hokkaido – Furano
  • Touhoku – Kozukata (Iwate)
  • Kanto – Ishibashi (Tochigi)
  • Hokushinetsu – Toyama Higashi (Toyama)
  • Toukai – Tajimi (Gifu)
  • Kinki – Rakusei (Kyoto)
  • Chuugoku – Kurayoshi Higashi (Tottori)
  • Shikoku – Nakamura (Kochi)
  • Kyushu – Takachiho (Miyazaki)

Let’s try to look at it from several angles. First is geography. 6 prefectures according to my projections will send 2 teams (Tokyo included). If the JHBF wanted diversity, they probably wouldn’t want to invite a team which would give a prefecture 2 teams. Ignoring Hokkaido because it like Tokyo is its own region, the following teams would be left:

  • Hokkaido – Furano
  • Toukai – Tajimi (Gifu)
  • Kinki – Rakusei (Kyoto)
  • Chuugoku – Kurayoshi Higashi (Tottori)
  • Kyushu – Takachiho (Miyazaki)

What about their performances?

Furano

Asahikawa Regionals – “B” Block

  • def Asahikawa Eiryou 7-2
  • def Asahikawa Touei 4-0
  • def Rumi Senbou 18-2 (5 inn)
  • def Asahikawa Meisei 4-3

Prefecturals

  • def Futaba 3-1
  • lost Engaru 2-8

Kozukata

Morioka Regionals

  • lost Morioka Dai-ichi 0-6
  • def Kounan Gijyuku 9-5
  • def Tairadate 13-3 (6 inn)

Prefectruals

  • def Touno 11-0 (6 inn)
  • def Fukuoka 2x-1 (11 inn)
  • def Morioka Shiritsu 7-1
  • def Hanamaki Nougyou 6-4 (10 inn)
  • lost Moriokadai Fuzoku 0-9

Super-Regionals

  • lost Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei 0-2

Ishibashi

Prefecturals

  • def Ashikaga Seifuu 2-1
  • def Takanezawa 3-2
  • def Bunsei Geidai Fuzoku 4-2
  • def Utsunomiya Tankidai Fuzoku 6-0
  • def Hakuoudai Ashikaga 7-3
  • lost Sakushin Gakuin 1-5

Super-Regionals

  • lost Toukaidai Ichihara Bouyou 2-5

Toyama Higashi

Prefecturals

  • def Takaoka Kouryou 11-1 (5 inn)
  • def Toyama Hokubu 5-1
  • def Uodzu 10-2 (7 inn)
  • def Toyama Dai-ichi 11-5
  • lost Takaoka Shougyou 2-18

Super-Regionals

  • def Murakami Sakuragaoka 4-2
  • lost Fukui Koudai Fukui 1-11x (5 inn)

Tajimi

Prefecturals

  • def Kani 4-3
  • def Nakatsu Shougyou 4-1
  • def Gujyou 4-2
  • def Mashita Seifuu 6x-5
  • def Reitaku Mizunami 10-1

Super-Regionals

  • lost Shigakukan 1-2

Rakusei

Prefecturals – 1st Stage, “A” Zone

  • def Todou 5-1
  • def Kyoto Kogakkan 6-1
  • lost Kyoto Seishou 2-9 (7 inn)
  • def Todou 8-1

Prefecturals – 2nd Stage

  • def Katsura 1x-0
  • def Ootani 3-1
  • lost Ryuukokudai Heian 0-5

Kurayoshi Higashi

Prefecturals

  • def Tottori Ikuei 8x-1 (8 inn)
  • def Tottori Kougyou 7-2
  • lost Sakai 2-6
  • lost Yonago Shouin 1-6

Nakamura

Prefecturals

  • def Aki 2-0
  • def Kochi 6-5
  • def Kochi Higashi 4-1
  • def Tosa 5-1
  • def Meitoku Gijyuku 2-0

Super-Regionals

  • lost Eimei 5-7 (13 inn)

Takachiho

Prefecturals

  • def Takajyou 5-1
  • def Miyazaki Dai ichi 5-3
  • def Miyakonojyou Higashi 5-1
  • def Miyakonojyou Shougyou 3x-2
  • lost Houshou 2-3x (12 inn)

Super-Regionals

  • lost Reimei 0-5

From the resumes, Ishibashi clearly had the toughest schedule and did hang in there for a while in their 2 losses. Nakamura would probably be next, though one may discount the Meitoku Gijyuku win as it didn’t matter for advancement to the super-regional. Kozukata’s resume would look better without that blowout loss to Moriokadai Fuzoku though like the Nakamura resume, could be discounted because that game didn’t matter either. Tajimi would be the last marginal resume to consider because of the narrow loss to Shigakukan. The rest of the teams have poor resumes.

Last one, what about their stories behind the nomination?

The media was drawn to Kozukata’s story of playing with just 10 men. But they’re not the only one. Rakusei also played the aki taikai’s with just 10 players as well, but they certainly got less coverage than their northern bretheren. The problem is, probably only one of these two teams will get an invite, and Rakusei could be left out in the cold.

Furano’s story is that the ground becomes unusable during the winter that they have to practice in classrooms from most of the winter and even spring (their website says that just a couple of days ago on the 24th it was -29.4 degrees C!). In addition, the baseball club volunteers quite a bit in the community to help develop a connection to the team.

Ishibashi is more known as an academic school than a baseball school. So much so that they even have curriculum activities on Saturdays. The precedence of studies takes away from their ability to practice baseball, but this year made the super-regionals for the first time.

Toyama Higashi is similar to Ishibashi, but in their case it is their baseball players themselves that go on to national universities. And while their situation isn’t special in that they have to share the field with other clubs, it probably stands out more in that the only times they get to practice are on the weekends.

Tajimi had won their first ever fall prefectural tournament this year. They received a lot of support from their city during the prefecturals which impressed many. In addition to the work they do in their own club, they do outreach to elementary school students as well as participation in baseball has declined in the area in recent years.

Kurayoshi Higashi was nominated primarily due to their efforts following an earthquake that hit the region back in October. They still continue to assist the community to this day.

Nakamura was nominated mainly on their victory over Meitoku Gijyuku. The team is notable in that the one time they went to Koushien was for senbatsu in 1977. That team had only 12 members yet advanced all the way to the finals defeating teams such as Kaisei and Tenri before losing to Minoshima in the finals. Minoshima would go on the next couple of years to be a force at Koushien.

Takachiho is regarded as a spiritual location of sorts in Shinto mythology. But being located deep in the mountains, it is one of many locations experiencing a decline due to the younger populations moving to the cities. Worse yet, the only rail line to the area was closed in 2008 when a typhoon blew out 2 crucial bridges and there was no money to rebuild the line. The school is actively working to revitalize the area and reverse the trend. This was also their first ever trip to the Kyushu super-regionals.

So where do we stand? Let’s take a look at the list again:

  • Hokkaido – Furano
  • Touhoku – Kozukata (Iwate)
  • Kanto – Ishibashi (Tochigi)
  • Hokushinetsu – Toyama Higashi (Toyama)
  • Toukai – Tajimi (Gifu)
  • Kinki – Rakusei (Kyoto)
  • Chuugoku – Kurayoshi Higashi (Tottori)
  • Shikoku – Nakamura (Kochi)
  • Kyushu – Takachiho (Miyazaki)

One of the 2 schools who fielded a team of 10 is going. And here I really believe Rakusei gets the short end of the stick. Not only does Kozukata have the same story, they’re from the Tohoku region, and that’s always a plus. Chances are they will get the Eastern bid.

That eliminates Rakusei from consideration, but maybe Nakamura as well. The story of their only Koushien run is too similar to Kozukata and Rakusei it makes it hard for me to believe that they will get a bid. Also, the JHBF seems to be always late to award a team a bid based upon performance. Engaru was a prime example having been passed up in 2011. They did get an invite 2 years later, but the team wasn’t what it was. Nakamura lost in the summer finals to Meitoku Gijyuku and then came back to win in the fall.

From that reasoning, we’re left with Kurayoshi Higashi and Takachiho. Kurayoshi Higashi gets a plus for being nominated due to their efforts after an earthquake. But Takachiho efforts at revitalization in a rural area cannot be dismissed either.  I think the fact that Kurayoshi Higashi has been to Koushien and somewhat recently may be the tie-breaker and as a result Takachiho gets the Western bid.

That leaves us with the wild card bid. By the process of elimination, we’re basically left with Furano, Ishibashi, Toyama Higashi and Tajimi. Ishibashi and Toyama Higashi have a problem in that they’re both nominated for academic reasons. Worse for Ishibashi is that they’ll probably suffer the same fate as Nakamura and by proxy Toyama can’t get the bid because Ishibashi would have been the better candidate for educational purposes and if they’re not getting it, Toyama Higashi shouldn’t either. Furano’s situation is certainly extreme, having to practice for over a third of the year in classrooms and hallways. But it’s not unique either.

Which leaves us with Tajimi. The resume is not strong outside of the lost to eventual runner-ups Shigakukan, but they have the benefit of having a very supportive ouen-dan which would be a big plus to the atmosphere of the stadium. I can remember seeing the baby blues of Shin-Minato extending up and down the side of the stadium going from the outfield all the way to home plate. It was a sight to behold. So probably, Tajimi will get the wild-card bid. If not them them it would be either Furano or Ishibashi.

So my final prediction of bids are slightly different than ラガーさん. I am not choosing Nakamura, but Takachiho instead with the following selections:

  • Western – Takachiho
  • Eastern – Kozukata
  • Wild-card – Tajimi
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