99th Natsu Koushien – Handicapping the field

So a couple of new developments. First, after trying the redraw after each round for 4 years, the JHBF apparently has reverted back to the redraw after the 3rd round (Best 8), which means that we are more likely to have the bracket of death. Perhaps they’ve realized that while the new method got us the more likely winner, that’s not what helps keep interest in non-dominant areas. The last non-metropolitan school to win was Saga Kita back in 2007.

  • Kanto
    • Gunma – Maebashi Ikuei
    • Tochigi – Sakushin Gakuin
    • Tokyo – Nichidai-san
    • Kanagawa – Toukaidai Sagami
  • Toukai
    • Aichi – Chuukyoudai Chuukyou
  • Kinki
    • Osaka – Osaka Touin (3)
  • Kyushu
    • Okinawa – Kounan

You might be able to argue that Okinawa isn’t metropolitan, but it is experiencing population growth, which is more than can be said for other prefectures.

So as you can see, Hokkaido, Tohoku, Hokushinetsu, Chuugkoku, Shikoku and Kyushu (to some extent because you could argue Okinawa is it’s own area) have been shutout of the main title. It’s not as bad if you include Haru Koushien, but the problem still exists.

This reversion to the old method might be a way to give those teams a fighting chance for better or worse.

So analysis this time around will be from bracket-to-bracket, and I will go in order from my spreadsheet which can be found here.

Bracket A

  • Day 1, Game 2 – Saibi (Ehime) v Touchiku (Fukuoka)
  • Day 1, Game 3 – Fujieda Meisei (Shizuoka) v Tsuda Gakuen (Mie)
  • Day 2, Game 1 – Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi) v Moriokadai Fuzoku (Iwate)
  • Day 2, Game 2 – Matsushou Gakuen (Nagano) v Tsuchiura Nichidai (Ibaraki)

Front-Runner – Sakushin Gakuin

When Kobari-kantoku talked about a 10-year plan, I’m sure he meant for it to continue once he reached the mountaintop.

And outside of a 3-2 semifinal win over Seiran Taito, they completely steamrolled the competition.

Interesting bit this team. The ace listed is Oozeki Shoutarou (大関 秀太郎), but he’s the complete opposite of a dominating #1 pitcher. He actually pitched almost all of the Seiran Taito game, gave up 2 runs on 6 hits, walking 4 while striking out only 1. From the video of their Haru Koushien game, he is dependent on good control to get the job done.

The other main part of this pitching staff is their #10 Shinohara Seiya (篠原 聖弥) of whom we have no video of, but he’s the one who averages almost a K/inning. It will be interesting to see how Kobari-kantoku manages this situation.

The only problem is their offense. At Haru Koushien they lost a 3-2 game against Shuugakukan. And while the offense wasn’t starved for runs for the most part in qualifying, the Shuugakukan game shows that against good pitching they could be in trouble. But by building from the pitching to the hitting, it at least gives his team a chance.

Main Threat – Moriokadai Fuzoku

Interestingly, the main threat to the defending champs are their first opponent. Moriokadai Fuzoku will throw up ace Hiramatsu Ryou (平松 竜也), who has done nothing but impress both in his Haru Koushien game and during Natsu qualifying averaging about a K/9 or better.

But you have to wonder who is favored, because he only pitched the opening game, while #11 Miura Mizuki (三浦 瑞樹) pitched the Chiben Gakuen and Riseisha game. Bit of a head-scratcher if you ask me how Sekiguchi-kantoku plays his pitching staff , but Miura did at least pitch the former game okay.

And catching Sakushin Gakuin right off the bat might be the best time to catch them because they could be flat-footed.

 

Dark Horse – Touchiku

Touchiku doesn’t make their first appearance in 21 years beating Fukuoka Koudai Jyoutou, Nishi-Nippon Tankidai Fuzoku AND Fukuokadai Oohori without having something there. It has to be their ace Ishida Akinori (石田 旭昇) who doesn’t strike out a lot of batters, walks a couple, but still gets the job done through inducing poor contact. Only problem is that the offense isn’t all that potent, so they need to survive low-scoring games which shrinks their margin of error.

Bracket B

  • Day 2, Game 3 – Maebashi Ikuei (Gunma) v Yamanashi Gakuin (Yamanashi)
  • Day 2, Game 4 – Nichidai Yamagata (Yamagata) v Meitoku Gijyuku (Kochi)
  • Day 3, Game 1 – Kisaradzu Sougou (Chiba) v Nihon Koukuu Ishikawa (Ishikawa)
  • Day 3, Game 2 – Kaisei (Shimane) v Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama)

Front-Runner – None

There is no clear-cut favorite to come out of this bracket, though there are a pair of teams who could meet-up in the bracket “final” who are the main challengers

Main Threats – Meitoku Gijyuku/Hanasaki Tokuharu

For Metioku Gijyuku they may not have done well at Haru Koushen in recent years but they at least get up for Natsu Koushien. Not bad for a team from a region who has seen some decline in prominence in recent years.

The team wasn’t really threatened in their games, which is a good thing, and looking into the numbers further one might think there’s some gamesmanship going on.

That’s because while Kitamoto Yuuto was listed as their ace (北本 佑斗), it was their #11 Ichikawa Yuuta (市川 悠太) whose numbers really stood out. Looks like he throws from a 3/4’s armslot, maxing out in the mid-130s. But the arm action is probably why he averages at least a K/inning. This compared to Kitamoto who max fastball is slower and is more of a contact pitcher. I would not be surprised to either see Ichikawa featured more though he isn’t be wearing the #1 jersey due to seniority.

The stumbling point could be an inconsistent offense, though their cleanup hitter Taniai Yuuto (谷合 悠斗) is perhaps the most reliable part of it. Work around him though and it could really be a long day for them.

Hanasaki Tokuharu was impressive in just about all their games blowing out almost each opponent, and even in the non-mercy rule games it felt one-sided. But while the scores were dominant there’s some underlying issues that crop up, especially in the final against Urawa Gakuin.

First, their ace Shimizu Tatsuya (清水 達也). Pitched in 5 games, but had longish stints in just 3 of them and started 2. For the attention he has received from scouts the numbers in his appearances has not been mind-blowing (6 K/9, 3 BB/9). And while he may have been saved for the summer, one wonders how effective he will actually be though maybe his final stint against Urawa Gakuin (3 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 5 K) can be taken as something promising.

That being said it is amazing to think that they started the semifinals with #10 Tsunawaki Sui (綱脇 慧) who while only gave up 2 runs, but struck out none and walked 2. So he is the prototypical innings eater. But he has shown to be serviceable and could easily help rest Shimizu for more important games.

Offensively, the bread and butter is the middle of the lineup in Nishikawa Manaya (西川 愛也) and Sunaga Hikaru (須永 光), but the bottom of the lineup is a bit lacking in punch.

Both teams have vulnerabilities and is the reason why I don’t have one favored over the other, but if I had to choose, I’d probably pick Hanasaki Tokuharu, but not by much.

Wild Card – Maebashi Ikuei

I actually debated about including them here because I’m not sure what to make of them. According to reports they have 4 players who can throw the ball around 140, something similar to what Shuugakukan had. However, at best they appear to be what Shuugakukan’s duo this year was – last year. Now, if that’s not the case and they’re better than that then there’s a possibility of a Shuugakukan-like run.

Dark Horse – Nihon Koukuu Ishikawa

This is admittedly a bit of a stretch, but there are some good points that if they translate could provide trouble. Firstly, ace Sado Yuujirou (佐渡 裕次郎) struck out 30 in the final 3 games against Komatsu Ootani, Seiryou and Yuugakukan – 3 of the best teams in the prefecture. The downside is that he walked 11, 7 of which were in the final. You could attribute that to fatigue as that was his 3rd game in 4 days, but he’ll have to do that too if they progress further.

The second and final bit is another double edged sword. It’s been the bottom half of the lineup that’s been producing for them. That’s great, but only if the top half is producing as well. Otherwise you have to worry about the lineup as a whole because you’d want your best hitters at the top.

Bracket C

  • Day 3, Game 3 – Seikou Gakuin (Fukushima) v Okayama Sanyou (Okayama)
  • Day 3, Game 4 – Waseda Saga (Saga) v Seishin (St.) Ursula (Miyazaki)
  • Day 4, Game 1 – Kouryou (Hiroshima) v Chuukyoudai Chuukyou (Aichi)
  • Day 4, Game 2 – Yokohama (Kanagawa) v Shuugakukan (Kumamoto)

Front-Runner – Shuugakukan

Bracket C starts Day 4 and what could be called the day of blockbuster games. One of which features the favorite, Shuugakukan.

Shuugakukan has had 3 semifinals appearances over the last 3 calendar Koushien tournaments. Nothing to sneeze at, but as I’ve documented in the past, they could easily have had more if not for mis-management.

But despite that here they are again – not as dominant as last year, but certainly good enough. Kawabata Yuuto (川端 健斗) and Taura Fuminaru (田浦 文丸) may have improved since the spring, going a combined 33 K’s and 12 BB’s in 26 innings. They were the worst part of the 4-headed monster from last year, but if they have indeed made some headways on the mound the duo could still be effective (though Kawabata is leaned on more).

Offensively, they depend on the top of the lineup to get the engine running. Takewa Ryousuke (竹輪 涼介), Hanjyou Touma (半情 冬馬) and Kimoto Ryuuga (木本 凌雅) will need to hit or else the offense grinds to a halt.

Main Threat – Chuukyoudai Chuukyou

Are they back?

Chuukyoudai Chuukyou had a good run in the 2000’s culminating in the 2009 Natsu title over Nihon Bunri. Problem was their kantoku soon retired after that and the team just disappeared off the map.

But they resurfaced in 2015 and not just that but almost made the quarterfinals. What about this year’s iteration of the team?

Hard to say. No landmark wins (Aikoudai Meiden doesn’t count anymore), though Aikoudai Meiden was their closest game. The offense having 5 K’s and 23 BB’s in their final 3 games is impressive if in a vacuum. But again, limited competition where here they will face a refreshed Hiramoto from Kouryou, and if they win probably Shuugakukan.

The pitching staff isn’t as clear either, because despite Koumura Atsushi (香村 篤史) wearing the ace number, it was #10 Isomura Shunpei (磯村 峻平) that started both the Aikoudai Meiden game and the final against Eitoku. Not only that, but his numbers were better than Koumura’s as well. I would expect him to start their first 2 games as well should they advance.

Dark Horse – Kouryou

It doesn’t feel like that long ago that Saga Kita beat Kouryou in that Natsu Koushien final, but as we know from the lead in, it was 10 years ago. Kouryou has faded since then replaced by rival Jyosuikan and Hiroshima Shinjyou.

Hoping to bring them out of that funk is their ace Hiramoto Ginjirou (平元 銀次郎) who seems to do well.. as long as he isn’t playing against Hiroshima Shinjyou. In fact in his 2 games against them he’s gone exactly 6.2 innings and given up 7 and 5 runs. Now, that could just be a bugaboo against one team, but that one team has been the representative of Hiroshima the past 2 years and you could argue has gotten better.

It would have been better for Kouryou to have won a low-scoring affair instead of a slugfest because it puts into question how good Hiramoto is to begin with.

Offensively there is no standout player, though if I had to mark one person it would be Oohashi Shouki (大橋 昇輝). The offense does seem to center around the middle third of the lineup, but that 1-0 game against Hiroshima Shougyou where they just managed 5 hits is another red flag.

Bracket D

  • Day 4, Game 3 – Kounan (Okinawa) v Chiben Wakayama (Wakayama)
  • Day 4, Game 4 – Osaka Touin (Osaka) v Yonago Shouin (Tottori)
  • Day 5, Game 1 – Takikawa Nishi (Kita Hokkaido) v Sendai Ikuei (Miyagi)
  • Day 5, Game 2 – Nihon Bunri (Niigata) v Naruto Uzushio (Tokushima)

Front-Runner – Osaka Touin

No-brainer right? Haru Koushien champs, defeated the runner-ups (again), and ready to sweep another year. They are cementing themselves as a dynasty of sorts even though they may not have been to as many Koushien tournaments as others.

Think about this, over the past 10 years they have been to 10 Koushien tournaments and won 5.

5!

And amazing yet, once they reach the Best 8, their only failure was Haru Koushien in 2015 when Tsuruga Kehi’s Hiranuma shut them out.

But it’s not that simple. Maybe.

Because after winning their first 5 games by a combined 44-3, their final 3 games were 33-21. And in their final 2 games, they had to pull away late.

Ace Tokuyama Souma (徳山 壮磨) was perhaps saved by the bell in the final against Ookanmuri. That and his offense. Because when he was given a 6-run cushion, he gave back 4 of those runs in the 9th before finally crossing the finish line. Osaka Touin has never been known for pitching. I mean, Nakata Shou became a part-time pitcher and their best ace Fujinami Shintarou while making his own name still struggles with walks averaging 3.72 BB/9 over the past 2 years. Compare that to Ootani Shouhei who averaged a full walk per game less during the same time span.

Basically their strategy on the mound is outside with the occasional inside pitch to keep them honest. But even still, he is beatable as long as you have a disciplined team.

  • First, you can check the C with a glance for inside/outside (probably outside)
  • Second, you need a team who can be patient.
  • Third, you need a team who can take the ball the other way. Crowd the plate if you have to.
  • Lastly, be prepared to punish any ball down the middle.

Riseisha failed I think on the third point, something that Ookanmuri was actually able to do.

Now, of course that’s a lot to ask for. But really the third point is the most important. If you can’t take an outside pitch the other way, chances are you’re just rolling the ball over for an out.

Offensively, just point at the team and be done is generally how they operate. The team is generally not wont for offense so it’s up to the opposing ace to shut them down.

The weakness is and will almost always be their pitching.

Main Threat – Kounan

Kounan may be the closest thing to a competitor for Osaka Touin, but there are question marks, especially on the mound.

Because it was super-rookie #11 Miyagi Hiroya (宮城 大弥) who pitched in the final, striking out 13 and giving up his only run in the tournament. He’s not gone under the radar as he was selected to the U-15 team last year.

Compare this to ace Kawamitsu Hiroto (川満 大翔) who has not received nearly as much attention.

The offense is not as potent as the 15-1 final would indicate, which would mean added pressure for the pitching staff, not that it needed it.

Dark Horse – None

It’s hard to make any team a dark horse because Osaka Touin makes it hard. About the only team you might make a case for is Naruto Uzushio. But they didn’t face anyone notable, and while ace Kawano Naruki (河野 成季) averaged just about a K/IP but you have to imagine that will be reduced at Koushien. And since the team suffers from the expected maladies of a black hole at the bottom of the lineup they might take a game or two, but once they hit Osaka Touin it’s probably the end of the road.

Bracket E

  • Day 5, Game 3 – Hokkai (Minami Hokkaido) v Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku (Hyogo)
  • Day 6, Game 1 – Oogaki Nichidai (Gifu) v Tenri (Nara)

Front-Runner – Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku

Ace Okano Yuudai (岡野 佑大) pitched against Kansai Gakuin, Houtoku Gakuen and Akashi Shougyou and gave up just 1 run. Which was important because his team scored on 7 during that stretch. But just 13 K and 2 BB during that stretch as well means that there will be a lot of action in the field – though if the scores are any indication it will be routine stuff.

Compare that to the other teams in this bracket , and no other team really has a pitcher that can outshine him. But as I stated earlier the offense is a problem though it looks like the team is used to it by now.

Main Threat – Hokkai

Hokkai’s team is weird. Weird in that their main pitchers are their outfielders Sakaguchi Yuusuke (阪口 皓亮) and Tama Shunsuke (多間 隼介). The latter had more success against the main competition Hokushou, Hakodatedai Yuuto and Toukaidai Sapporo (fka Toukai Dai-yon). The problem is that the pair wasn’t able to keep runs off the board. They do get to face Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku who has offensive issues, so this may be the perfect matchup, or a disaster waiting to happen.

Bracket F

  • Day 6, Game 2 – Sanbonmatsu (Kagawa) v Shimonoseki Kokusai (Yamaguchi)
  • Day 6, Game 3 – Meiou (Akita) v Nishougakushadai Fuzoku (Higashi Tokyo)

Front-Runner – Nishougakushadai Fuzoku

Nishogakushadai Fuzoku is almost like a giant among minnows. Firstly they have ace Ichikawa Atsushi (市川 睦), who throws in the low-140s and he struck out 40 in 35 innings (though perhaps his 4 Ks in 7 IP versus Kanto Dai-ichi might be a little more realistic). Still, his BB/9 is a paltry 1.80 which means regardless he exhibits good control.

Offensively the team couldn’t be stopped with the smallest margin of victory being 5 runs. Akihiro Ryouta (秋広 涼太) and Toba Kouhei (鳥羽 晃平) lead the charge. To be honest their ticket to the Best 8 might already be issued.

Dark Horse – Meiou

If there is a team that might be able to challenge them it might, and I mean might be Meiou. #11 Yamaguchi Kouki (山口 航輝) is not their ace, but does seem to start the games, take the majority of innings, probably throws in the high-130’s/low-140s, and strikes out just about a batter per inning.

Bracket G

  • Day 6, Game 4 – Meihou (Oita) v Sakai (Fukui)
  • Day 7, Game 1 – Kyoto Seishou (Kyoto) v Kamimura Gakuen (Kagoshima)

Front-Runner – Kyoto Seishou? (Maybe?)

I have to say I’m a bit uninspired by all 4 teams. Meihou blew out their opponents, but the pitching doesn’t implicate dominance, but rather ineptness on the other side. Sakai did beat Fukui Shougyou but the team batted a paltry 0.289 through qualifying, and that will only get worse at Koushien. Kyoto Seishou eliminated Ryuukokudai Heian in the finals, but it was anything but a clean victory as it was 12-6 and the pitching staff allowed a bunch of baserunners. And finally Kamimura Gakuen had to come back to defeat the only known team in their run to the title – Shounan, to which they cobbled 5 pitchers together for the win. That despite the fact they struck out 10 times in the game.

Maybe you can give Kyoto Seishou’s Kitayama Kouki (北山 亘基) a pass in the final since it was his 4th game in 5 days and fatigue probably played a factor. I guess the question becomes how has his arm healed up since then and if they make a large run can he be depended upon. And even when tired he still struck out 8 batters.

Bracket H

  • Day 7, Game 2 – Takaoka Shougyou (Toyama) v Toukaidai Sugao (Nishi Tokyo)
  • Day 7, Game 3 – Aomori Yamada (Aomori) v
    • Day 1, Game 1 – Hikone Higashi (Shiga) v Hasami (Nagasaki)

Front-Runner – Toukaidai Sugao

You don’t go up and beat both Nichidai-san and Waseda Jitsugyou soundly and not attract attention. What should also attract your attention is that the ace responsible for shutting down those two offenses has been promoted to the ace position.

That would be Matsumoto Kengo (松本 健吾), who in those 2 games gave up just 2 runs, struck out 15, while only walking 2. In fact, those 2 walks were the only 2 he gave up in qualifying. He has slightly above average velocity (touching 140) and is reported to have a slider, forkball and splitter (which is very interesting).

Still, Toukaidai Sugao is not without its weaknesses, specifically the bottom of the lineup. They were 3-26 with 7 K’s and 0 RBIs. Given, it was against the best the region had to offer, but you would hope for just a little more success.

Main Threat – Takaoka Shougyou

It’s not a ringing endorsement, but Takaoka Shougyou could find a way to shut down Toukaidai Sugao’s offense. Their pitching duo of Doai Shinnosuke (土合 伸之輔) and Yamada Ryuusei (山田 龍聖) could rack up the Ks and put bagels on the board. Yamada is the fireballer of the two supposedly reaching mid-140s, but while he struck out 15 in 12 innings of work, he also walked 8.

And they too suffer from the bottom of the lineup woes that would easily waylay a contender. But Takaoka Shougyou’s woes would be more pronounced when compared to Toukaidai Sugao given the competition faced.

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