Natsu Koushien Qualifying Update (7/26)

Some finals finally were able to be played, some were rained out, and some should have been called due to rain if probably not due to the fact that they were finals games and are not called official early for understandable reasons.

Crowned Champions

Yamagata – Nichidai Yamagata (17th appearance, 1st in 4 years)

This was competitive early, but as can be with two teams in lower tiers it can get away from one side very quickly, and that’s what happened here. 7 runs in the 5th and 6th innings and it was a 16-3 rout. They’ve made deep runs in recent appearances and it appears they’ve reloaded for another run.

Niigata – Nihon Bunri (9th appearance, 1st in 3 years)

It was a touch-and-go affair on both sides as Nihon Bunri had a 2-0 lead, got it back and then in the 8th lost it. But then a timely hit from Iida ties the game, and two batters later Kawamura gives Nihon Bunri the lead for good with a 2-run HR from which Chuuetsu could not recover.

Shizuoka – Fujieda Meisei (1st apperance)

If not for the rule that a championship game go to completion, this game would have been called after the end of the 6th due to rain (mercy rules I guess could still be ignored).

Because these two teams waited 3 hours for the rain to clear with Fujieda Meisei firmly in control 12-2 (They were up 11-0 through 4). And when they finally did decide to play, it was still pouring, there were puddles in the infield, and it was just not enjoyable at all – especially for Nichidai Mishima (though they were still cheering loudly until the end).

In the final 3 innings, 19 runs were scored – more than the first 6 innings combined. Fujieda Meisei wins 23-10 but the last 3 innings were not necessary.

Shiga – Hikone Higashi (2nd appearance, 1st in 4 years)

I somehow thought that Hikone Higashi had performed better than they actually had in Shiga, but to realize they’d been to Natsu Koushien just once was surprising. And facing powerhouse Oumi would not have been an easy task.

But they were able to pull away in the middle innings as ace Masui Shouta gives up just 1 run on 6 hits while striking out 8. The 5 walks are going to be a concern going forward, but they’ll cross that bridge when the draw their first opponent.

Mie – Tsuda Gakuen (1st appearance)

I was watching this game yesterday with some interest as I was cheering a little for Mie, though Tsuda Gakuen had not yet been to Koushien. But by the time I caught the game in the 5th, Tsuda Gakuen had a 3-2 lead. Mie, scrappy as they ever were tried to find the tying run, but time and again they were turned away.

I figured the game was over when Tsuda Gakuen scored in the 9th, but with two out a routine flyball to left was dropped allowing the game to continue. That brought up Ogawa, who had already hit a HR earlier in the game. He delivers a base hit for another RBI, and bringing the team within 1.

But with the game on the line, Mie sends in #2 Okada to pinch hit, yet he had been 0-3 so far in his appearances. A peculiar move in my opinion, and in 3 pitches he watched strike 3 hit the outside corner and Mizutani secures Tsuda Gakuen’s 1st even Natsu Koushien appearance.

Kochi – Meitoku Gijyuku (19th apperance, 8th consecutive)

Yusuhara’s story was great to read, but the battle was significantly uphill. Meitoku Gijyuku scored their first run in the 3rd, and when they opened it up for 4 runs in the 4th, I figured that was going to be that.

Now Yusuhara found a way to stay in it, mostly due to the offense of their ace Asai – who actually was batting 8th in the order. Even still, he delivered 2 base hits and 2 RBI’s. But while they tried to claw back the margin, a run from Meitoku in the middle just made it a 6-3 ballgame. Not terrible, but still a significant deficit.

Meitoku Gijyuku added on in the bottom of the 8th and Yusuhara finally waved the white flag. Meitoku goes to their 8th straight Natsu Koushien tournament with a 7-3 win, and let’s hope Yusuhara is more than just a one-hit wonder.

Contested Finals

Aomori (2100 PDT/0000 EDT) – Aomori Yamada (Tier 3) v Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei (Tier 1)

There was a time where Aomori Yamada annually was a contender to go to Koushien. I’m not exactly sure what happened after 2009 if there was something that happened to them as a school, or if it was just the rise of Kousei Gakuin (nka Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei), but they’ve been relegated to Tier 3 status after a decade’s worth of dominance.

They poked their heads back into things last spring, but now is a chance for them to perhaps take it to the team that has supplanted them as the powerhouse of Aomori.

And one could argue that Kousei is on the downswing. Sure, they’ve still made appearances every year, but I suppose nothing matches the string in 2011-2012 when they made 3 straight Koushien finals, losing to Nichidai-san in Natsu 2011, and then losing to Osaka Touin in both Haru and Natsu of 2012.

But the games they’ve put together so far are a message that they’re not done quite yet as the top team.

Funny thing is, the last time these teams played in the Natsu taikai was back in 2012. And even more interesting, in the matchups they have played, it’s been Aomori Yamada who has been on the right side of the ledger.

Saitama (1800 PDT/2100 EDT) – Urawa Gakuin (Tier 2) v Hanasaki Tokuharu (Tier 1)

Hanasaki Tokuharu has in recent years gone from a team who could reach the later stages, but couldn’t deliver to one who now is one of the mainstays of Saitama. They’ve represented a strangely weak metropolitan prefecture (much like Fukuoka), but have started delivering results, winning 2 games in each of their last 2 appearances.

They’re going for their 3rd straight Saitama title, having yielded no more than 2 runs in any of their games, though to be fair, they have avoided major competition.

Urawa Gakuin hasn’t quite recovered from that infamous 11-10 loss to Sendai Ikuei when ace Ooshima could not physically continue in the 9th inning due to cramping in his lower legs, made way for Yamaguchi who immediately gave up the game-winning hit.

They’re perhaps on their way again with wins over Seibou Gakuen and Kasukabe Kyouei, though the fact their offense has been stifled in recent games is a bit troubling. One tick in their favor is that they have not 1, but 2 pitchers who can seem to strike out their fair share of batters – Shimizu Youhei and Sano Ryuuya. The latter is apparently on the draft radar.

Gunma (1830 PDT/2130 EDT) – Maebashi Ikuei (Tier 2) v Kendai Takasaki (Tier 1)

Maebashi Ikuei came from nowhere to win Natsu Koushien in 2013 behind ace Takahashi Kouna. Since then they perhaps have seen a bump in that they’re now competitive on an annual basis, but they have yet to turn that into regular Koushien appearances. That has changed in the last couple of years and they’re looking for their 2nd consecutive trip to Natsu Koushien.

In their way has been the darling of Gunma this decade – Kendai Takasaki. Never with real big name power, they have reached the quarterfinals in 4 of their 6 total Koushien appearances. They’re looking for another chance, and have seemed to gain momentum as the games have progressed, culminating in an 8-1 win over Tokyo Noudai Dai-ni.

Maebashi Ikuei hasn’t been a slouch in their own right either, but they haven’t really faced any brand name competition either. Kendai Takasaki will be a big jolt for them to face, and in the final no less.

Ibaraki (1800 PDT/2100 EDT) – Kasumigaura (Tier 3) v Tsuchiura Nichidai (Tier 3)

Both Kasumigaura and Tsuchiura Nichidai I’ve seen in brackets as seeded teams, and yet both have not really delivered results as they’ve each been tripped up by other fellow Tier 3 schools and above.

You could go back and forth on this one. Kasumigaura has had the more recent success, actually winning the Ibaraki title in 2015, though they failed to win a game at Koushien. Sano Nichidai has a quality win in the semifinals, defeating Fujishiro 3-2. But Kasumigaura has pitchers who can rack up the Ks, not something that is necessary, but as I’ve said before gives the staff a little more leeway.

I think perhaps Kasumigaura has the advantage, but if the game gets higher scoring the needle might swing back over.

Fukui (2100 PDT/0000 EDT) – Sakai (Tier 3) v Tsuruga (No Tier)

Well, we now have our second no-tier team in a final this year. But first the favorite in Sakai.

You might wonder about Sakai. Their school history goes back only to 2015, but there’s a good reason for that. The school was formed as a merger between Sakai Nougyou and Harue Kougyou. Harue Kougyou back in Aki 2012 defeated Tsuruga Kehi and won the Hokushinetsu Super-regional, earning a trip to Haru Koushien.

Since then they’ve still toiled in Tier 3 status, but find themselves here on the brink of their first ever trip to Natsu Koushien, bolstered by a 2-0 shutout of Fukui Shougyou. The only problem is that outside of a blowout against Takeo, all their games have been close and the pitching isn’t lights out.

What helps is that they’re facing Tsuruga, who has had a history of going to Koushien, but that was back in the mid-20th century. Their last appearance at Koushien was back in 1999, and they have struggled in recent years. They’ve basically won low scoring affairs, apparently led by ace Miyama Wataru, who does strike out batters. However, that should be tempered by the fact that they faced no significant competition on the way to the finals.

So we’ll see how these “newcomers” do when faced with a more competitive school.

Gifu (2100 PDT/0000 EDT) – Oogaki Nichidai (Tier 1) v Chuukyou Gakuindai Chuukyou (Tier 3)

As if to make things more confusing last year’s winner Chuukyou has changed their name to Chuukyou Gakuindai Chuukyou. Not to be confused with Chuukyoudai Chuukyou in Aichi (who by the way is still alive, having defeated Ichiro’s alma mater Aikoudai Meiden).

Anyways, they’re in the finals again looking to go back to back and move up to join teams like Oogaki Nichidai who compete for the title annually. They had a scare from 2015 winner Gifu Jyouhoku, but survived 2-1. Then they perhaps had a letdown as they kept Gifu Seitoku Gakuen hanging around before pulling away in the 9th to win 10-6. Looks like they depend on 2 pitchers, Furuta and Kudou, but neither are real strikeout artists.

While Oogaki Nichidai hasn’t been to Koushien the last 2 years, doesn’t mean they’re not involved. In fact, their losses in the summer taikai have been to the eventual winners. They’re hoping to turn around that script this year.

But if they’re going to do it, they’re going to need to keep the score low. Their key wins were a 5-1 win over Minokamo, and then more importantly a 1-0 win over Shiritsu Gifu Shougyou.

Oogaki Nichidai doesn’t have K pitchers either, but they trust more than 2 it seems. The one constant is Shuugyou Keito, who pitched in both games. But should he falter there are other options.

Dunno who has the pressure here, normally I’d think Oogaki Nichidai to reverse the trend, but it could also be Chuukyou Gakuindai Chuukyou to keep Oogaki Nichidai out.

Tottori (2200 PDT/0100 EDT) – Yonago Shouin (Tier 3/No Tier) v Yonago Higashi (Tier 3/No Tier)

Both teams seem on the borderline of Tier 3 status as both have had recent success. But one resume stand out from the other by leaps and bounds – that of Yonago Shouin.

On the road to the final they have had to play basically the representatives of the prefecture since 2010.

  • 1st Round – def Tottori Shougyou (2004, 2011) 5-3
  • 2nd Round – def Tottori Jyouhoku (2009, 2012-13, 2015) 6-2
  • Semifinals – def Yazu (2010, 2014) 8-2

Even if Tottori is weak overall, facing these types of team and beating all of them is still a significant feat.

That is what Yonago Higashi must face in the final. Granted, they’ve given up just 3 runs in their 3 games, but they have been against teams with a combined 1 Natsu Koushien appearance.

That’s a big red flag, and in the face of the opposition resume, it all seems one-sided and not in Yonago Higashi’s favor.

Shimane (2100 PDT/0000 EDT) – Masuda Higashi (No Tier) v Kaisei (Tier 2)

Kaisei at one point in time was the team out of Shimane. My lasting impression was back in 2011 when I saw them live and they lost to Nichidai-san with their duo of huge pitchers – Shirane and Mori.

After that year though, they have fallen from that dominating status to merely just one of the contenders, giving way to other teams like Iwami Chisuikan and Risshoudai Shounan.

They’re back in the finals, having defeated Risshoudai Shounan in the process. The offense seems there, but the pitching is a bit more questionable. In that aforementioned Risshoudai Shounan game, their ace Nakamura struck out just 2 while walking 4.

Masuda Higashi’s rise coincides with the arrival of a new kantoku Ooba Toshifumi (大庭 敏文). Since he took over in 2016, Masuda Higashi is 19-5 and now on the verge of their first appearance since 2000. The only hangup is the lack of solid competition faced up to this point. Kaisei will be a big test for them in their most important game this century.

Tokushima (2100 PDT/0000 EDT) – Naruto Uzushio (Tier 3) v Itano (No Tier)

While Naruto Uzushio has never made it to Koushien, it belies a history that goes further back. Formed in 2012, it was a merger of Naruto Dai-ichi and Naruto Kougyou. The latter was a force in Tokushima in the 2000’s.

So they’re looking to begin forging their own history, but as mentioned have not been able to reach Natsu Koushien as their own school. This appears to be their chance though their rip roaring offense was slowed down in the semifinals.

The surprise is Itano, who from natsu 2006-haru 2017 was 17-30. Then here this natsu taikai, they are 4-0 and looking for their first title.

The reason is as is most cases, their ace. Morii Kendo reportedly throws in the upper 140s and strikes out a ton of batters. It’s been no-name competition so far, can he rise to the occasion in the final?

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