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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