Month: August 2017

99th Natsu Koushien – Final – Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama) v Kouryou (Hiroshima)

99th Natsu Koushien – Final – Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama) v Kouryou (Hiroshima)

(picture courtesy of Yahoo! and if you know any better Hanasaki Tokuharu you aren’t giving this guy a pitch to hit. Not one.)

Hanasaki Tokuharu

Road to the title

  • def Kaisei (Shimane) 9-0
  • def Nihon Koukuu Ishikawa (Ishikawa) 9-3
  • def Maebashi Ikuei (Gunma) 10-4
  • def Moriokadai Fuzoku (Iwate) 10-1
  • def Toukaidai Sugao (Nishi Tokyo) 9-6 (11 inn)

The narrative finally changed with Hanasaki Tokuharu. Sunawaki struggled, the finally use their ace in the hole sending Shimizu in earlier to pitch a longer stint.

And it almost didn’t work because of a rough 9th inning by Iwase. Even still, Shimizu was still required to pitch a longer stint than perhaps they wanted.

So their win unfortunately brings up questions now for Hanasaki Tokuharu that makes this game possibly more interesting. Because if Sunawaki is truly out of gas, then Shimizu has to shoulder the load. Sure, they’re carrying #11 Saitou and #16 Nakamura, but neither were used in very high leverage situations so unless they’re super-secret aces (which I highly doubt), their pitching situation could be a little more uncertain than originally planned.

Oh, and the bottom of the lineup, while it does deliver, still is for the most part a black hole…

Kouryou

Road to the title

  • def Chuukyoudai Chuukyou (Aichi) 10-6
  • def Shuugakukan (Kumamoto) 6-1
  • def Seikou Gakuin (Fukushima) 6-4
  • def Sendai Ikuei (Miyagi) 10-4
  • def Tenri (Nara) 12-9

Tenri thought it a good idea to pitch to Nakamura. They were sorely mistaken.

In fact, Nakamura almost single-handedly defeated Tenri by himself driving in 7 of Kouryou’s 12 runs. Why they didn’t pitch around him is beyond me. He was the main danger (though there were others) and you shouldn’t have let him beat you. And yet, you basically gave him the keys to the city.

Kouryou’s question is the pitching duo of Yamamoto and Hiramoto. Yamamoto was battered around a bit, and Hiramoto provided very temporary relief but still had to cede the mound back to Yamamoto to close the game out.

This will not fly against Hanasaki Tokuharu, so they’ll need to find a solution and quick. Either the offense will just need to be gangbusters throughout the game, or Yamamoto needs to find that reserve tank for one last push.

I still expect Hanasaki Tokuharu to win this, and give Saitama their first ever Natsu Koushien title (which is still mind-boggling to me). It’s just not as clear-cut as it was 24 hours ago.

Lineups

Hanasaki Tokuharu

  • CF Tachioka Ren
  • 2B Chimaru Tsuyoshi
  • LF Nishikawa Manaya
  • 1B Nomura Yuuki
  • C Sunaga Hikaru
  • 3B Takai Yuutarou
  • RF Ogawa Megumu
  • P Sunawaki Sui (#10)
  • SS Iwase Tomoharu

Kouryou

  • RF Takada Masaya
  • 2B Yoshioka Hiroki
  • C Nakamura Shousei
  • LF Kagawa Daiki
  • 1B Oohashi Shouki
  • CF Satou Kouji (#13)
  • SS Maruyama Masashi (#15)
  • 3B Matsuoka Naoki
  • P Hiramoto Ginjirou

14:00 – First Pitch!

The pitchers starting for each team suggest that they’re going to run the same strategy. They’re going to run their weaker pitchers out first and then replace with their starters as late as they possibly can. It will be interesting to see which team either blinks first or is forced to change.

Tachioka already getting them off to a quick start with a single back up the middle.

Chimaru doubling down the RF line and already Hanasaki Tokuharu is threatening.

Nishikawa jammed, but bloops a ball that falls in shallow center out of the reach of the scampering fielders. Both runners score and Hanasaki Tokuharu leads 2-0.

They then decide to play small ball and bunt Nishikawa to 2nd, but after a walk, Takai hits into a 4-6-3 double play to retire the side. How will Kouryou respond?

Well, one out and Yoshioka singles through the right side ahead of Nakamura. I’d still walk him, but Hanasaki Tokuharu joins everyone else in pitching to him.

And he thanks them by doubling down the LF line. 2 runners in scoring position, thank you very much.

I DON’T GET IT. THERE IS NO GOOD REASON TO BE PITCHING TO THIS GUY. NONE. ZERO. NADA. ZILCH.

And guess what? Kagawa strikes out on all those outside pitches Sunawaki is feeding the RH batters, and Oohashi weakly hits one back to Sunawaki.

WHY ARE YOU LETTING HIM SWING THE BAT AT ALL?

Hanasaki Tokuharu’s bottom of the lineup still scuffling a bit. Ogawa singles, but after a failed bunt, Ogawa is picked off 1st and run down. Iwase make his AB costly going 10 pitches, but strikes out.

Kouryou finds an answer in the 2nd. Maruyama walked with one down, and Hiramoto, who hits well despite being at the bottom of the lineup (presumably because they’ll have to put weaker hitting Yamamoto there later), doubles down the right field line to make it a 2-1 ballgame!

But the lineup has turned over for Hanasaki Tokuharu and Hiramoto struggles again.

Tachioka walks to start off the inning. A sac bunt and groundout move him to 3rd. He then hits Nomura who steals 2nd without a throw (double steal concerns).

However, that comes back to bite them as Sunaga singles up the middle bringing in both runners and extending Hanasaki Tokuharu’s lead to 4-1.

Kouryou gets one of those runs back again thanks to a Murakami single, a stolen base and a timely double by Oohashi over Tachioka’s head. But at 4-2 Kouryou is losing ground and innings.

Hiramoto’s spot int he lineup comes in the 4th and I figured having retired the bottom third of the order, he’d get his AB and then Yamamoto would come in.

But instead Hiramoto stays in for the 5th. I don’t like that decision.

Tachioka walks, Chimaru singles to right.

And then Nishikawa hits a ball to the right center field wall for a 2-RBI triple making it 6-2. Even then Hiramoto isn’t relieved and it isn’t until Nomura’s single to make it 7-2 that Yamamoto comes in.

Now, Yamamoto gives up a double to right center after a sac bunt, making it 8-2, but you sent him into an unsalvageable situation. If you put him in versus the top of the lineup and he failed, then you were sunk anyways because Hiramoto was not going to do better the third time around.

But with two outs the defense completely capitulates on Kouryou. Takada drops a fly ball and Matsuoka misses on a grounder bringing in 2 more runs on errors. 10-2 and this game has gotten out of hand.

Kouryou gets A run back in the 5th with Takada’s single and Yoshioka’s double. They still pitch to Nakamura who gets an infield single.

Announcers are all like “MAKING A COMEBACK!”

Murakami grounds into 4-3 double play. Oohashi strikes out.

Ehhhhhhhhhhh, nah.

This game is basically over unless Kouryou can get the douten runner in scoring position. That’s about what it’s going to take for me to think that they have a chance again in this game.

Needless to say that doesn’t happen.

Hanasaki Tokuharu in tour de force eliminates the one threat to their title and claim their first, and Saitama’s first ever, Natsu Koushien title with a 14-4 win over Kouryou.

The offense (outside of the bottom third) was unstoppable. Nobody like a Nakamura who was hands and above the rest, but just a lot of good hitters you couldn’t work around.

The pitching? Excellent. They went from the 1st round to the quarterfinals on their RELIEF STARTER. Their ace Shimizu came in late innings, but wasn’t pitching the majority of the game until the semifinals.

And when I saw him come early in the semifinals, it was just about game over. The enchousen semifinal put some doubt, but it was allayed right in the first inning.

They had just about the complete team, and Iwai-kantoku has played his pitching staff to perfection. They’ve earned this title through and through.

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99th Natsu Koushien – Semifinals, Game 2 – Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama) v Toukaidai Sugao (Nishi Tokyo)

99th Natsu Koushien – Semifinals, Game 2 – Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama) v Toukaidai Sugao (Nishi Tokyo)

(photo courtesy of Sponichi)

Hanasaki Tokuharu

Road to the title

  • def Kaisei (Shimane) 9-0
  • def Nihon Koukuu Ishikawa (Ishikawa) 9-3
  • def Maebashi Ikuei (Gunma) 10-4
  • def Moriokadai Fuzoku (Iwate) 10-1

I can just copy paste the opening bit from their last game. I mean, read this:

One more game has passed, and the story stays the same. Dominated opponents, bottom of lineup struggling, pitching doing enough to win.

The scary part is that their ace Shimizu has only been used in the final innings of games. If he can actually go for longer stretches (and he has before) and he’s been saved until this point, Hanasaki Tokuharu could just run away with this title.

Toukaidai Sugao

Road to the title

  • def Takaoka Shougyou (Toyama) 11-1
  • def Aomori Yamada (Aomori) 9-1
  • def Sanbonmatsu (Kagawa) 9-1

This game is the hardest Toukaidai Sugao has faced so far this tournament with two unstoppable forces colliding here in the semifinals (Tenri and Kouryou thank them both for KOing each other here).

They’ve had a break in that they drew into the later side of the brackets and that they were able to use relief starter Toda in the Aomori Yamada game. However, in the Sanbonmatsu game he was not as effective pitching the final inning putting into question his usability should they need him. This could be a problem for them if ace Matsumoto cannot pitch the entire game.

It is the only question we have about Toukaidai Sugao, but unfortunately it is a big one as we’ve seen the inferior pitching staffs fall by the wayside.

Lineups

Hanasaki Tokuharu

  • CF Tachioka
  • 2B Chimaru
  • LF Nishikawa
  • 1B Nomura
  • C Sunaga
  • 3B Takai
  • RF Ogawa
  • P Sunawaki (#10)
  • SS Iwase

Toukaidai Sugao

  • SS Tanaka
  • RF Matsui
  • 2B Kodama
  • 1B Katayama
  • 3B Okuyama
  • LF Satou
  • CF Ushiyama
  • C Shikakura
  • P Matsumoto

13:20 – First Pitch!

1st Inning

Early on, it appears that offense continues to dominate the day. Though Hanasaki Tokuharu gives a helping hand.

First two batters get on with solid singles. After a sac bunt Sunwaki fires a wild pitch scoring Tanaka, 1-0 Toukaidai Sugao. Okumura singles making it 2-0, just like that.

2nd Inning

Hanasaki Tokuharu gets on the board in the 2nd, thanks to two leadoff hits of their own from Nomura and Sunaga. But they can only manage one run when Ogawa hits a grounder to 2nd.

But Sunawaki’s struggles on the mound continue. He gives up a triple to right center to Ushiyama. 2 batters later, Matsumoto singles back up the middle and they have their 2-run lead again at 3-1.

3rd-5th Innings

The teams continue to trade runs over the next couple of half innings.

Matsumoto gives up 2 walks in the 3rd and allows both to score on a ringing double off of Okumura’s glove. Tie game at 3-3, but not for long…

Because in the bottom of the 3rd, a one out single by Kodama and subsequent walk puts two runners on. 2 batters later Satou hits a double down the right field line scoring Kodama giving Toukaidai Sugao back the lead at 4-3.

But not for long…

Because Ogawa leads the 4th for Hanasaki Tokuharu with a single to center. 2 outs and now on 2nd, Tachioka doubles down the left field line scoring Ogawa and tying the game at 4-4…

Hanasaki Tokuharu finally plays their ace in the hole. Shimizu comes in with one out in the 5th and what would have been Sunawaki’s 3rd time through the order. He immediately shuts down the Toukaidai Sugao offense.

6th-9th Innings

Ace Matsumoto also seemed to have found his stride, but when he was to face the lineup for the 4th time, #11 Toda is sent in in his place. They’re going to ride him the rest of the way.

But in the 8th, he gets into a spot of trouble. An error by Tanaka lets Nomura on. After a sac bunt, Toda hits Takai and walks Ogawa to load the bases.

With the 8-9 batters up Toda might be able to get out of the jam. Shimizu strikes out and he just needs one more.

Instead Iwase comes through with his first hit, lining a double down the left field line scoring 2 and giving Hanasaki Tokuharu the 6-4 lead!

And in the 9th they look to play add-on. Chimaru doubles down the left field line, but they don’t bunt him over. Instead Nishikawa and Nomura are retired. Sunaga would be walked to get to Takai, who was hitless on the day and he strikes out. Still they had the 2-run lead.

The bottom of the 9th went to an auspicious start when Ushiyama’s chopper to short is whiffed at by Iwase. Two batters later, PH Inomata (for Toda) singled to left. 2 runners on, but still nothing to be excited about yet.

That was until leadoff batter Tanaka hit a rip shot to short. Next thing you see, it goes off Iwase and ricochets all the way to right center. Both runners come in to score and before you know it we’re all tied at 6-6.

Shimizu gets the final 2 outs, but the damage has been done and we’re headed to enchousen!

Enchousen

The problem for Toukaidai Sugao is that they’re going to #10 Yamauchi. We hadn’t seen him at Koushien so far, and there’s a good reason why:

  • 2nd Round – v Touhou – 7 IP, 2 ER, 6 H, 4 K, 2BB
  • Semifinals – v Nichidai-ni – 0.2 IP, 5 ER, 6 H, 1 K

He’s just not that good…

Which means that Toukaidai Sugao is now under a clock. They need to walk off in the next inning or two or else it will all fall apart.

In the bottom of the 10th, they get their chance. Katayama hits a ball up the middle, and while Iwase runs it down he can’t put enough on the throw at 1st.

With a sac bunt, Satou and Ushiyama could end the game with a base hit. But both would ground out to Iwase (whom the ball is seeming to find now) and the inning is over.

Top 11, Nishikawa gets his first base hit with a one out single to right. With 2 outs, Toda throws a wild one allowing him to reach 2nd.

Sunaga hits a grounder to short and while Tanaka would field it, he would have no play. So what seemed innocuous enough has become a potential problem. It doesn’t get any easier when Sunaga steals 2nd without a throw, afraid of the double steal.

PING.

And then Takai drives a ball to right. Matsui scrambles back, leaps, and the ball goes over his glove! Both runners will score as Hanasaki Tokuharu grabs the 8-6 lead!

Things don’t get any better when Ogawa’s ball to second goes off of Kodama for another base hit. Runners at the corners and Toukaidai Sugao threatens for more.

AH! But while Yamauchi strikes out Shimizu, the ball gets away from Shikakura and Takai scores to make it 9-6!

With that, the jig is finally up. Toukaidai Sugao has no recourse now and they know it. They go down in order in the bottom of the 11th to fall 9-6.

So the narrative wound up being right on both accounts. Shimizu for Hanasaki Tokuharu was apparently saved and was able to come in for longer stretches. For Toukaidai Sugao, Toda wasn’t as good as his Aomori Yamada performance and more like his 1 inning of work against Sanbonmatsu.

Once both narratives were the case and Toda was in the game, Toukaidai Sugao was in a lot of trouble. They got a break in the 9th thanks to Iwase, but going to Yamauchi for extra innings meant that they broke the proverbial glass in case of emergency. They weren’t able to end the game quickly and they ended up paying the ultimate price.

So Hanasaki Tokuharu advances to the finals, but they have problems of their own.

  • First, Sunawaki struggled mightily before being relieved by Shimizu. What does he have left in the tank, if any?
  • Shimizu may have been saved, but he came in with one out in the 4th. If it was a regulation game that’s not as much of an issue, but he wound up pitching 7.2 innings. How much does he have left?
  • The bottom of the lineup came through, but they still batted a combined 4-14 (0.285). It hasn’t hurt them so far, will they continue to be able to get away with it?
99th Natsu Koushien – Semifinals, Game 1 – Kouryou (Hiroshima) v Tenri (Nara)

99th Natsu Koushien – Semifinals, Game 1 – Kouryou (Hiroshima) v Tenri (Nara)

(picture courtesy of Baseball King)

Kouryou

Road to the title

  • def Chuukyoudai Chuukyou (Aichi) 10-6
  • def Shuugakukan (Kumamoto) 6-1
  • def Seikou Gakuin (Fukushima) 6-4
  • def Sendai Ikuei (Miyagi) 10-4

Kouryou did exactly what I thought it might against pitchers who lacked control – jump all over them. I’m still surprised Osaka Touin’s offense couldn’t do the same to Sendai Ikuei, but that’s another story.

Their #10 Yamamoto is apparently their de facto ace, being the most effective pitchers of the staff. And while they were comfortably in the lead, all the pitchers that followed him were not that effective. Which means that they’re pitching staff could be even worse off than Tenri if he cannot go longer stretches.

Tenri

Road to the title

  • def Oogaki Nichidai (Gifu) 6-0
  • def Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku (Hyogo) 2-1 (11 inn)
  • def Meihou (Oita) 13-9

The crowd roared, the Meihou bench was all excited, and I had finally gotten a bit nervous as the tying run for Meihou stood on the on-deck circle. They guy who earlier that inning hit a manrui HR. Given the way homeruns were leaving the park like it was going out of style it was entirely possible that he could do it twice in the same inning.

That didn’t happen though and Tenri moves onto the semifinals – something they haven’t done since 1997, and in Natsu Koushien since 1990.

Perhaps Nakamura-kantoku wanted to see is bullpen in action without the backup of their ace and a 10-run lead was the best time to do it. But it was close to completely backfiring as Meihou went from 13-3 to 13-9.

Well, hopefully he’s learned that his relief staff is just about unusable. Or if he does use them, Usui better be on the field still to come back in. That would be one kokoyakyu strategy I think he’d better keep around instead of flat relieving him.

That also means that Tenri’s pitching staff is back to the traditional ace system for the final 2 games, which being on back-to-back days may put them in one of the worst positions of the remaining teams.

So it’s a matter of which pitching falls apart first. Both teams have proven they can punish bad pitching. Which ace will falter first?

Lineups

Kouryou

  • CF Takada Masaya (#9)
  • 2B Yoshioka
  • C Nakamura
  • RF Murakami (#14)
  • LF Kagawa
  • 1B Oohashi
  • 3B Matsuoka
  • P Yamamoto (#10)
  • SS Maruyama (#15)

Tenri

  • LF Miyazaki
  • 2B Yamaguchi
  • SS Oota
  • RF Jinno
  • C Shiroshita
  • 1B Yasuhara
  • 3B Morimoto
  • CF Sugishita
  • P Usui

10:03 – First Pitch!

Usui immediately gives up a single to Masaya and is bunted over. With Nakamura coming up for Kouryou I expected Nakamura-kantoku to walk him being the danger he…

PING.

WHY FOR THE LOVE OF GOD ARE YOU PITCHING TO THIS GUY WITH A BASE OPEN??!!

Nakamura homers to center tying Kiyohara Kazuhiro’s (PL Gakuen) record of 5 HRs at a single Natsu Koushien tournament, and giving Kouryou the 2-0 lead.

And at this point I know Tenri’s in trouble, because when I thought they were being smart, they weren’t at all, and this is going to be a long game.

The game wasn’t pretty in general as both starters were running on empty.

Tenri in the bottom of the 1st, gets a Yamaguchi walk and Oota single, but can’t score.

Usui gets into trouble again in the 2nd giving up 2 singles to the bottom third of the lineup, but gets bailed out with a Masaya 6-4-3 double play. Almost the same story in the 3rd where Yoshioka singles to left, but in this case he tries to steal 2nd and is thrown out. They still pitch to Nakamura (he pops out), and thankfully for Usui a Murakami single leads to nothing.

Finally in the bottom of the 3rd Tenri gets something going. One out singles by Miyazaki and Yamaguchi but the tying runners on and then Yamamoto hangs one for Jinno, who knows what to do with it. He gaps it to right center for a triple, tying the game at 2-2.

That though starts a flurry of run-scoring as the teams go back and forth beating up on the already tired pitching.

Top 4, an error by Oota on a grounder by Oohashi comes around to score on Yamamoto’s double down the RF line.

Bottom 4, Tenri lines up 3 straight base hits with Yasuhara and Moriomoto driven by yet another triple, this time by Sugishita over Masaya to give Tenri their first lead at 4-3.

PING.

OH FOR CHRIST’S SAKE.

That ping was Nakamura breaking Kiyohara’s record as he hits his 6th HR to left, tying the game at 4-4 in the 5th.

Tenri threatened again in the bottom of the 5th with a double by Oota past a diving Matsuoka and a single to left by Nomura.

At this point, Kouryou goes to the bench and sends in Hiramoto, but not as a straight replacement for Yamamoto. Instead Yamamoto goes to 1st in reserve and Oohashi goes to LF.

With Sakashita up, Tenri tries the suicide squeeze, only for Shiroshita to pop it up, Hiramoto to catch it and double off Oota at 3rd, effectively killing the rally.

After the break, leadoff hits by Maruyama and Masaya would knock Usui out of the game as Tenri would bring in #17 Sakane as a straight sub.

Sakane, despite his best efforts couldn’t keep Kouryou off the board. A walk to Nakamura (with 1st open mind you) would load the bases. He got a comebacker to force the out at home, but new P Hiramoto would hit a single to right center giving Kouryou the 6-4 lead.

And after Tenri failed to score in the bottom of the 6th despite a leadoff double, Kouryou would add on 3 more in the 7th, expanding the lead to 9-4 and effectively ending Tenri’s chances.

Now some would argue that Tenri made it interesting in the bottom of the 9th, scoring 3 runs, and having the douten run at 1st with no out, but I’ve seen too many games to expect Tenri to come back. Not only that but Kouryou was able to bring back in Yamamoto who effectively shut down Tenri and end the game.

Tenri put themselves behind early when they didn’t need to in the 1st, doubled down on it when giving up their 2nd HR to him, and then waving the white flag by straight subbing out Usui who could not return like Yamamoto did if the relief corps struggled. Add it all together and there’s your L.

Kouryou rightly though makes the finals, but given the upcoming matchup their pitching is in very poor shape at this point. If Tenri could batter both of their pitchers on the mound, whomever they face will be able to do much worse.

The advancement and downfall of 高校野球?

The advancement and downfall of 高校野球?

(photo courtesy of Asahi)

There’s a reason retiring Kajisha-kantoku of Shuugakukan is the headline picture of this post – because his team became a talking point because of its composition.

I wondered 3 years ago at my old blog if times were a-changing. It looks like they are now, which is great. How?

1) The expanding of the pitching staffs

Part of the romanticism of kokoyakyu is that one ace carried the team to the title. Go back to 2006 when it was Komadai Tomakomai’s Tanaka Masahiro versus Waseda Jitsugyou’s Saitou Yuuki. Both almost pitch every inning of the tournament, including the replayed championship game. Go back further and there’s Matsuzaka Daisuke and his final 3 games of Natsu Koushien:

  • Quarterfinals – vs PL Gakuen, CG, 17 IP, 250 pitches thrown
  • Semifinals – vs Meitoku Gijyuku, W, 1 IP
  • Finals – vs Kyoto Seishou, CG, No-hitter

But if teams, especially the powerhouses, were smart they would be stockpiling as many arms as possible

Last year, he had 4 pitchers who could throw 140+.

  • Arimura Taisei (有村 大誠)
  • Tabuchi Kurea (田畑 孔怜充)
  • Taura Fumiharu (田浦 文丸)
  • Kawabata Kento (川端 健斗)

When they lost last year, they also lost the first two pitchers meaning that Taura and Kawabata would have to shoulder the load this year.

Now? Tenri used a pitcher in one of its earlier games (though he was useless in the game against Meihou), Hanasaki Tokuharu hasn’t even used their ace Shimizu much, Kouryou has been patchworking pitchers together, and if you go to the quarterfinal losers, Moriokadai Fuzoku has a multiple pitcher setup, Seikou Gakuin basically ran relief pitchers until they were at-bat and then pinch hit for them.

Well, you get my point.

About the only team that may be using the old setup is Toukaidai Sugao.

Now, some of those pitching staffs were still not effective (Moriokadai Fuzoku, I’m looking at you). But the idea remains – if you are a powerhouse, you should be able to get the better talent and therefore the better pitchers. So why not get them and utilize them to the fullest?

About the only thing that would stop an ace from going there is sharing the load. If you’re sharing the load, perhaps your talent won’t be singled out. Perhaps the scouts won’t think you can go longer into games, etc.

2) The death of the bunt

It’s not really dead, but in the past the bunt was really prevalent. Not just regular bunts, but suicide squeezes as well.

Bunting seemed like a necessity for those weaker schools where talent wasn’t as good and runs were at a premium. Get a runner on, bunt them to 2nd (even if there was one out), and hope for a timely hit.

I went through my blog posts, and I have cases of just 4 squeeze attempts. It used to be with a runner on 3rd, the squeeze was expected so much that most defenses automatically planned on defending against it. But it was so rare this year that when Seishin Ursula did it, Waseda Saga was completely off guard.

That’s what the suicide squeeze is supposed to do.

In addition, where there are still sacrifice bunts, teams are again taking advantage of teams’ aggressiveness in fielding bunts to execute either the butcher-boy tactic or a push bunt for a base hit. Neither of which in the past were done much before.

3) The sheer numbers of HRs

The prior record for number of HRs hit at a Natsu Koushien was 60 back in 2006. I was there for that tournament and that tournament continues to amaze me how incredibly awesome it was.

This tournament we hit 60 in the 2nd quarterfinal. We’re at 64 now and that number should go up. We may not hit 70, but we may get close.

Is this a change in thinking? We know that in the states there is a marked increase in HRs in MLB, but could that somehow be trending in Japan as well? The number of HRs went up markedly in 2015, again in 2016 and 2017 would seem to break that number.

I don’t know for sure, but if people are paying attention, maybe it has something to do with it.

All of it is great, but perhaps there is an underlying trend to it all, and I think there is…

4) The emergence of younger kantoku’s

Let’s take a look at the ages of the kantoku’s that reached the best 8:

  • Kouryou – Nakai Tetsuyuki (55)
  • Tenri – Nakamura Ryouji (49)
  • Toukaidai Sugao – Wakabayashi Hiroyasu (51)
  • Hanasaki Tokuharu – Iwai Takashi (47)
  • Sendai Ikuei – Sasaki Jyunichirou (57)
  • Meihou – Kawasaki Jyunpei (35)
  • Sanbonmatsu – Kusaka Kouta (33)
  • Moriokadai Fuzoku – Sekiguchi Seiji (40)

There are some older kantoku’s (Kouryou, Toukaidai Sugao and Sendai Ikuei) who have been at the job for a while, but then you look at the rest and there are some in their 30’s, and you can forgive Tenri’s kantoku – he played in NPB.

And don’t forget last year’s champ, Sakushin Gakuin. Kobari Takahiro won the title at 33 years of age and took over the job at the ripe young age of 23.

The influx of younger kantokus and in some cases kantokus with NPB experience could also be part of the change you see in terms of tactics.

Ok, that’s all well and good you may ask, but how is this leading to the downfall of the sport?

Maybe I exaggerated a bit, but what this all means to me is that the powerhouses will continue on getting stronger as they utilize their rosters more to accommodate more pitchers and build their team more pro-style. The game appears to be moving that way, so those teams that already have a talent advantage will probably continue distancing themselves more from the others. Which means that rural prefectures that already suffer from lack of talent due to lack of numbers could see the gap get worse.

That’s good I guess for those who are fans of those powerhouses, but it will mean more non-competitive games which isn’t good for the sport in my opinion.

But that’s where we’re headed. We’ll just have to see what happens in the following years…

99th Natsu Koushien – Quarterfinals, Game 4 – Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama) v Moriokadai Fuzoku (Iwate)

99th Natsu Koushien – Quarterfinals, Game 4 – Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama) v Moriokadai Fuzoku (Iwate)

(photo courtesy of Daily Sports)

Hanasaki Tokuharu

Road to the title

  • def Kaisei (Shimane) 9-0
  • def Nihon Koukuu Ishikawa (Ishikawa) 9-3
  • def Maebashi Ikuei (Gunma) 10-4

I can just copy paste the opening bit from their last game. I mean, read this:

One more game has passed, and the story stays the same. Dominated opponents, bottom of lineup struggling, pitching doing enough to win.

I mean, what else is there to say?

The team’s prospects for winning the title have increased significantly with the elimination of Osaka Touin, but that bottom of the lineup could prove to be troublesome eventually.

Moriokadai Fuzoku

Road to the title

  • def Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi) 4-1
  • def Matsushou Gakuen (Nagano) 6-3
  • def Saibi (Ehime) 12-7 (10 inn)

That game against Saibi was just nuts. 2 manrui homeruns in the same inning, a HR in the 9th to tie the game, and then a complete collapse of Saibi’s pitching in the 10th.

But as we’ve seen from that game, the pitching is vulnerable. We knew it could be from the prior matchups. It’s just a matter of if a team can take advantage of it. As the games have progressed, each successive opponents seems to have done more and more, which would leave me concerned if I was a fan of theirs that their time might be up.

Lineups

Hanasaki Tokuharu

  • CF Tachioka
  • 2B Chimaru
  • LF Nishikawa
  • 1B Nomura
  • C Sunaga
  • 3B Takai
  • RF Ogawa
  • P Sunawaki (#10)
  • SS Iwase

Moriokadai Fuzoku

  • LF Hayashi
  • 3B Oosato
  • CF Ueda
  • SS Higa
  • C Matsuda
  • 2B Kobayashi
  • 1B Yabuuchi (#16)
  • RF Usui (#11)
  • P Miura Mizuki

16:25 – First Pitch!

2nd Inning

The pitching on both sides has an uneventful 1st, but

PING.

Nomura exits the box fist in the air, he knows it as it goes around the left foul pole for a 1-0 Hanasaki Tokuharu lead.

Moriokadai Fuzoku strikes back immediately. Higa leads off with a single. Now at 2nd with 2 out, Yabuuchi drives a ball off the padding in left bringing Higa in to tie the game at 1-1.

3rd Inning

Teams are trading jabs it seems. Sunawaki singles to lead off the inning. 2 down and at 3rd now Chimaru hits a ball to short, but Higa’s throw handcuffs Yabuuchi and he can’t make the pick. Sunawaki scores to give Hanasaki Tokuharu back the lead.

Rest of game

From the first couple of innings you could tell that Moriokadai Fuzoku was on borrowed time. Sunaga’s leadoff double in the 4th would come around to score making it 3-1.

The 4th would be the breaking point though.

The team batted around, with Mizuki giving up 2 hits early, walking one then hitting the aforementioned Sunaga to bring in a run, Takai brings in 2 and Ogawa one more. All in all 4 runs and Hanasaki Tokuharu carried a commanding 7-1 lead into the break.

It was pretty much clinical after that, with Hanasaki Tokuharu adding 3 more in the 9th after Moriokadai Fuzoku brought in their ace making the final margin 10-1. So they and Toukaidai Sugao, the two teams who have been blowing out the competition, will face off for the right to play in the title game. Much to the relief of Kouryou and Tenri who have a significantly easier matchup against each other.

99th Natsu Koushien – Quarterfinals, Game 3 – Kouryou (Hiroshima) v Sendai Ikuei (Miyagi)

99th Natsu Koushien – Quarterfinals, Game 3 – Kouryou (Hiroshima) v Sendai Ikuei (Miyagi)

(photo courtesy of Sankei)

Kouryou

Road to the title

  • def Chuukyoudai Chuukyou (Aichi) 10-6
  • def Shuugakukan (Kumamoto) 6-1
  • def Seikou Gakuin (Fukushima) 6-4

Kouryou apparently had met an equal in Seikou Gakuin, having to face 3 separate pitchers, throwing their strategy into chaos it seemed. They tried to jump on the relievers, but in Seikou’s case they were throwing them first and relieving one with another when their spot in the lineup came about – which is actually a smart idea. Now, they flirted with danger many times and avoided serious damage, so when they brought in their ace I though the game would get tough for Kouryou.

And it was. It took until the 9th inning and an error for Kouryou to finally make good with a 2-run HR by Nakamura.

Their strategy is working, the question is can they carry it to the title?

Sendai Ikuei

Road to the title

  • def Takikawa Nishi (Kita Hokkaido) 15-3
  • def Nihon Bunri (Niigata) 1-0
  • def Osaka Touin (Osaka) 2x-1

Sendai Ikuei shouldn’t be here. Really they shouldn’t. Nakagawa should have gotten that 3rd out, but a collision in the 7th might have put the thought in the back of his head and next thing you know his foot misses the edge of the bag and the very next batter Osaka Touin is walked off.

The game for the most part was uninspiring. I didn’t think either side pitched well despite the low score as the starters were missing locations constantly. They just weren’t missing in the wrong places to get punished. At least until the 8th when Osaka Touin scored.

I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, but at the same time if you can hold Osaka Touin to 1 run, you can’t entirely discredit that either.

Lineups

Kouryou

  • CF Takada Masaya (#9)
  • 2B Yoshioka
  • C Nakamura
  • LF Kagawa
  • RF Murakami (#14)
  • 1B Oohashi
  • 3B Matsuoka
  • SS Maruyama (#15)
  • P Yamamoto (#10)

Sendai Ikuei

  • SS Nishimaki
  • 3B Suzuki
  • LF Yamada
  • P Sagawa (#8)
  • RF Sugiyama
  • C Ozaki (#12)
  • 1B Maeda
  • 2B Saitou
  • CF Funaki (#18)

13:00 – First Pitch!

1st Inning

A good start as Masaya strikes out to start the game, albeit on a 3-2 pitch.

But Sagawa leaves a fastball over the plate and Nakamura doesn’t hit it for a home run, but instead a double to center. And with runners in scoring positon Kagawa drives a ball to deep right. Sugiyama makes the over the shoulder catch, but Yoshioka scores to make it 1-0.

Sagawa then uncorks a wild pitch bringing home Nakamura to make it 2-0. Oohashi would single to center making it 3-0.

Kouryou’s ouen-dan wearing out Miyajima-san in the 1st.

They test Sugiyama’s arm with Maruyama’s single to right. Oohashi is sent home.. and is thrown out by a country mile.

Probably not the best thing to do there with Sagawa on the ropes.

3rd Inning

After a quiet 2nd in which the CF is pinch-hit for (and I swore that Hasegawa was coming in at that point, but didn’t), Kouryou’s bats come alive again.

Nakamura leads off the inning with a single. 2 out and Nakamura on 2nd Oohashi doubles to the wall in center bringing him in, making it 4-0.

Matsuoka and Oohashi trade places on his double down the LF line, 5-0.

With that Segawa is traded straight up for ace Hasegawa which is also surprising.

He gets out of the inning, but not before allowing the inherited runner to score on a base hit by Maruyama. 6-0.

Sendai Ikuei gets one run back thanks to a Nishimaki double and two productive outs…

4th-5th Innings

But otherwise nothing of note happens until the break as Kouryou continues to sit on their lead.

6th Inning

Post-break, Sendai Ikuei starts hitting Yamamoto.

2 down, Hasegawa starts the hit parade with a single to center. Sugiyama follows that up with a ball through the left side.

Ozaki lands the final blow to Yamamoto with a double past a diving Matsuoka driving in 1. 6-2 and Hiramatsu is in the game now with Yamamoto on standby at 1st.

Hiramatsu isn’t really close and he loads the bases. Sendai Ikuei sends #16 Manome to hit. He’s the one who got the sayonara hit to defeat Osaka Touin.

No such luck this time as he grounds out.

7th Inning

Kouryou gets that run back right away. Hiramatsu leads off with a single, moved to 2nd and scores via Oohashi’s base hit. 7-2.

Sendai Ikuei continues to make more headway it seems. This after 2 outs here in the lucky 7th. Suzuki hits a ball off Maruyama and reaches safely. Yamada hits a ball also to the left side and Maruyama makes a great running stop but his only throw to 2nd isn’t in time. Throw in a hard Hasegawa single to right and it’s manrui for Sugiyama.

But he flies out to 2nd and the inning is over.

Rest of game

The teams trade runs in the 9th as Yamamoto has to return to the mound to finish the game. The final tally is 10-4 as Kouryou moves on to the Best 4 and is one step away from the finals.

But the pitching is strained and Yamamoto is trying to be saved as much as possible but the relief staff is not as effective anymore.

99th Natsu Koushien – Quarterfinals, Game 2 – Tenri (Nara) v Meihou (Oita)

99th Natsu Koushien – Quarterfinals, Game 2 – Tenri (Nara) v Meihou (Oita)

(picture courtesy of Au One)

Tenri

Road to the title

  • def Oogaki Nichidai (Gifu) 6-0
  • def Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku (Hyogo) 2-1 (11 inn)

This might be a new version of Tenri. Instead of hiring a manager who is part of the school staff, they went to Nakamura Ryouji, who played in the pros with Kintetsu and Hanshin, and before taking the Tenri job in 2014, was the Tenri Daigaku kantoku.

And I think his influence is showing. He’s built a team centered around defense, which then allows his pitching to have more leeway (which they’ve needed because they don’t have the top talent other teams have). But I think he’s doing the most with what he has.

In addition, his strategies, especially in the Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku game, lead me to think he’s in a more pro mindset which is amazing all things considered. I’m finally turning around on Tenri, but not fully there yet.

Meihou

Road to the title

  • def Sakai (Fukui) 7-6
  • def Kamimura Gakuen (Kagoshima) 9x-8 (12 inn)

Meihou has been in two very tough, hard fought games – coming from behind to defeat Sakai, and then having to rally after blowing a late lead to Kamimura Gakuen and then again down 3 in extras.

Having those types of games you wonder if (a) this team is just mentally built for these games, or (b) they’re just one step away from falling apart. The Kamimura Gakuen game showed that they perhaps were the latter, but when they survived Kamimura Gakuen’s comeback in regulation they were able to win the battle of pitcher attrition (though being the home team might have helped).

How many lives do they have left?

Lineups

Tenri

  • LF Miyazaki
  • CF Sugishita
  • SS Oota
  • RF Jinno
  • C Shiroshita
  • 3B Morimoto
  • 1B Yasuhara
  • 2B Yamaguchi
  • P Usui

Meihou

  • SS Mimura
  • 2B Ryuu
  • LF Hamada (#17)
  • 1B Sugizono (#7)
  • RF Satou Yuuki
  • 3B Matsutani (#14)
  • C Yoshimura
  • P Hashidzume
  • CF Kan

10:20 – First Pitch!

1st Inning

So Hashidzume is on the mound, an the question will be if his pitching can hold up against Tenri.

Miyazaki single up middle and Sugishita single to the right side not a great start. A one out walk to Jinno loads the bases.

Shiroshita avoids the double play with hustle to 1st, but Meihou still gets the force at home.

Morishita though gets Tenri on the board with a soft liner to left. Sugishita and Jinno score to make it 2-0.

PING.

Oh boy. Hashidzume grooves one of his pitches into the strike zone and Yasuhara does not miss. In fact it goes out to dead center and it’s a 5-0 ball game.

PING.

Eh?

Yamaguchi drives one to left and are you kidding me, it’s gone!

Back-to-back home runs for Tenri and they’re up 6-0!

Meihou has come back before, but 6 runs?

Well, they’re going to try if nothing else because early on they’re battering Usui.

Mimura liner to right, then Ryuu does a push bunt into no-man’s land for a base hit. Throw in two hard shots to left by Hamada and Sugizono each bring in a run to make it 6-2.

2nd Inning

Meihou changes pitchers to #18 Mizoguchi but that doesn’t get off to a good start as he gives up a walk and a single to start the inning. But after a sac bunt, he gets the heart of the lineup to fly out to end the inning.

It’s not easy for Usui either. 2 down and he should have gotten out of the inning, but Oota whiffs on a grounder and the lineup turns over. Mimura gets his 2nd single in as many at bats and one wonders if he’s in trouble.

But a great throw and swipe tag nails Mimura trying to steal 2nd and the inning is over.

3rd Inning

Not sure I agree with Tenri’s strategy in the 3rd. Despite Morimoto and Yasuhara getting base hits, Nakamura-kantoku has Yamaguchi bunt, which he fails and gets the lead runner thrown out. Usui also lays down a bunt to turn over the roster, but with 2 out Miyazaki strikes out to end the inning. You might has well have then swing away.

Meanwhile Meihou perhaps unbenounced to Tenri is clawing back the margin. Ryuu hits a single to center and Sugishita overruns it allowing him to reach 2nd.

Hamada singles to center putting runners at the corners and Sugizono’s sac fly cuts the original lead in half at 6-3.

Yuuki then singles to left and once again runners are at the corners. Tenri is quickly letting this lead slip away.

Finally though, Tenri shows their defense as Oota charges a slow grounder and starts the 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. But they should look at that scoreboard and not get complacent because Meihou is not going away anytime soon.

4th-5th Innings

But whatever momentum Meihou had seems to have dissipated. They don’t create any additional opportunities on offense while Tenri is still getting runners on base.

6th Inning

Next thing I know, Tenri gets right on the warpath after the break.

Sugishita triples to right center. Oota bloops a ball just out of the fielder’s reach down the RF line to make it 7-3. Jinno doubles to right center and now it’s 8-3.

Mizogami gets 2 flyouts and perhaps he’s gotten out of the jam. But then he walks Yasuhara and…

PING.

Guess not.

Yamaguchi with all the freedom in the world to swing away homers to left putting Tenri up 11-3.

Tenri adds on two more runs to make it 13-3 and I was about to write about a comprehensive victory.

Tenri sends in Wajima to finish out the game.

Except he doesn’t.

Yuuki singles…
Honda doubles…
Yoshimura walks…

PING.

And PH Miyoshi hits a manrui HR to left center making it 13-7.

Wajima out, Sakane in.

Kan triples past a drawn in Miyazaki, and is sent home…

SENT HOME AND THROWN OUT. YOU’RE DOWN 6. THAT RUN DOESN’T MATTER YET.

So Tenri finally has the first out. But the pitching struggles as Sakane hits Mimura.

Ryuu pops out and now they just need one more out, but as we’ve seen it’s not easy…

Hamada singles…
Sugizono walks…
Yuuki up again with the bases loaded… singles past a diving Yamaguchi bringing in 2 and making it 13-9…

With 2 on, PH Miyoshi is on deck as the potential tying run. At this point you have to be concerned that Tenri will completely crater despite the fact that they’ve been slowly getting each out.

Honda up for the 2nd time, and pops it up! Yasuhara secures it and the game is finally over. Tenri makes the 10-run lead stick, but wins 13-9.

My only critique of the situation is that given the nature of Meihou, Nakamura-kantoku should have kept Usui in the game on the field in case he needed to bring him in. By subbing him out completely he could not go back to him in case of an emergency.

But if he’s learned anything from this, it’s that he really can’t depend on his relievers at all. Which means that Usui will have to pitch 2 more games to give Tenri the title.