Author: eigokokoyakyu

What we’ve learned – After all teams have taken the field

What we’ve learned – After all teams have taken the field

(photo courtesy of Sponichi)

Now that we’ve gotten a chance to look at the entire field, what last things can we take away?

Dominating a prefecture isn’t necessarily a good thing

Think about this. There are now 10 graduating classes in Fukushima where if you’re not Seikou Gakuin, your school has never been to Natsu Koushien. That is astonishing.

In the meantime, Seikou Gakuin has generally managed to put together a better than 0.500 record while at Koushien, but haven’t had major success.

Over the last couple of years though, it looked like their vice grip on the prefecture was loosening as teams almost beat them in the finals, though they never did.

This time around felt different. They seemed to be heading back to the dominating team they once were with their run this year. Even still, I pegged them as favorites against Kaisei (Nagasaki) as their resume left something to be desired.

While I didn’t catch the entire game, the parts I did watch felt like a competitive game, but against two teams who really were just not that good. Worse yet, Seikou was on the wrong side of it.

Again, the question should be raised with regards to Fukushima, does the fact that no one else has won the prefecture drained talent elsewhere looking for a better chances?

Nakamori could be worth a look in the draft, if he only looked more confident

Facing one of the higher tiered schools in Hanasaki Tokuharu, Akashi Shougyou’s Nakamori had a hard task ahead of him.

But he was actually keeping his team in the game and looked rather good doing so.

And yet, there were points in the game where Hanasaki Tokuharu were threatening where the camera would zoom in on his face and it looked like he had no confidence at all. I was sure that he’d crumble under the pressure, but instead he held firm as his team narrowly won. I’d like to see another turn with him on the mound to confirm my thoughts.

There are no clear front-runners for the Natsu Koushien title, just guesses

Working backwards from Day 7, these schools might have a better chance of winning it all:

  • Akashi Shougyou (Hyogo) – Nakamori could be a true ace, but he also feels like a pitcher who could just fall mentally apart as well.
  • Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi) – They had to play a really good Chikuyou Gakuen team this year and while they did not dominate, they did not show any big flaws save for their ace’s durability. Which compared to other teams is not all that bad.
  • Kanto Dai-ichi (Higashi Tokyo) – It’s possible the imperfect dual aces manage their way through the field while the offense provides enough offense to make up for any deficiencies.
  • Narashino (Chiba) – Narashino’s problem is that they will walk a tightrope with their relief corps in order to manage ace Iidzuka and could continue to play from behind, which is always playing with fire.
  • Chiben Wakayama (Wakayama) – They’re tentatively on this list because for the first time I think they have a worthwhile team, especially on the pitching front. Their next game vs Meitoku Gijyuku will speak volumes.
  • Seiryou (Ishikawa) – Okugawa is going to be a first rounder. But can his team score enough runs for him?
  • Tsuda Gakuen (Mie) – The least-known team has an ace who could send them deep into the tournament, but like Seiryou, can they provide him with the necessary offense?
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What we’ve learned – Opening rounds (Part 2)

What we’ve learned – Opening rounds (Part 2)

(photo courtesy of Sanspo)

3 more days in the books as we now turn to the shorter brackets to start the 2nd round. 13 teams still left to take the field, but what else have we learned?

Chiben Wakayama has stemmed the tide?

It’s still hard to see if that’s truly the case given that Yonago Higashi wasn’t really a big test for them. And yes, they only pulled away at the end. But the pitching was all right and the offense did eventually flip the switch. Meitoku Gijyuku will be a tougher test, followed by Seiryou (assuming they make it to the Bracket finals).

Oofunato may have lasted only one game anyways

From Hanamaki Higashi’s performance against Naruto, once can extrapolate that even if Sasaki wasn’t injured and helped Oofunato make it, that the offense probably would have just fallen flat against Naruto (assuming a direct substitution). The fact that Nakamori and Nishitate looked that bad against Naruto, but did fairly well against Oofunato tells you all you need to know.

Sendai Ikuei will probably lose their next game

What? But they beat Iiyama 20-1! Surely they’ll take that momentum into the next game.

Not with my experience watching games.

Any time a team blows out the opposition, and scores high teens or more, they almost always tend to fall flat the very next game.

Call it overconfidence, call it running yourselves ragged in the summer heat when you could have given your starters a rest. Either way, these teams struggle.

Plus, they’re facing Naruto who will be a tough challenge for their still underwhelming pitching staff.

Narashino will continue to walk the tightrope

They have decided to not change their strategy from the spring. A relief starter will take the mound for as long as they can, then pass the torch to ace Iidzuka.

Generally trailing, of course.

I said it then, and I’ll say it again. That is a thin tightrope you’re balancing on asking your team to come back again and again. They may have been able to do it, but they couldn’t do it against Touhou in the finals.

Can you really depend on them to do it this time around??

Speaking of which…

Iidzuka should go in the first 2 rounds of the draft

Iidzuka came into the game for Narashino in a tight pinch. While he allowed an inherited runner to score, he shut down the Okinawa Shougaku offense, striking out the side in the 8th and 9th innings allowing the offense to mount a comeback. It got a little hairy in the 10th, but he closed it out.

Narashino has always had trouble with pitching, almost trying to build that poor man’s pitching staff like I mentioned in Jason Coskrey’s article. It never quite worked out.

Perhaps, until now. Iidzuka doesn’t have quite the fireballer’s stuff, but he has good control and a good idea of pitching to the situation. I’m not sure he’ll become someone like Oosera Daichi, but I think he’ll come close.

Kanto Dai-ichi is about as imperfect as I thought they were

Against a Nihon Bunri team that has struggled to revive the run of 2009, ace Tsuchiya struck out an amazing number of batters… but gave up 5 runs as well.

His partner in crime, Tani did a much better job in keeping the Nihon Bunri bats silent, but he walked more batters than he struck out.

Tani probably is the better prospect because at least he’s not hittable. If he can limit the walks, he can be the better pitcher out of the two.

It’s still possible they make a good run. If managed properly they can run a similar tightrope to Narashino, who they likely will have to play to escape the bracket…

There’s STILL no obvious frontrunner

I’ve still got no clue as to who is the leader of the pack to win this. Generally even before Koushien starts you can point to one or two teams.

But each team seems to have a fatal flaw that just prevents me from picking them outright. Even my homer team in Narashino is not immune to this. (How many times can you ask the offense and Iidzuka to bail you out of your relief corps’ performances??!!)

It’s still possible with the teams left that a frontrunner will emerge. But it could be that from here on out, it’s who has the better matchup that could dictate who wins it all this year.

What have we learned so far?

What have we learned so far?

(photo courtesy of 高校野球ドットコム)

It’s only been the first 2 days and 7 of the 14 teams have taken the field, but there’s still things to parse.

Seiryou may have the best ace, but they may not go far

Okugawa is by far the best pitcher to have taken the mound. Against what should have been an overmatched Asahikawadai side, he threw a complete game 3-hitter striking out 9 and walking 1.

And yet his team won 1-0.

Asahikawadai did not play anyone of note during the prefectural tournament outside of Clark Kokusai who didn’t even have a baseball team until 2014!!

And all Seiryou’s offense could support their ace with was just one run. Imagine if they have to play an actual good team! Which brings me to my second point

There doesn’t appear to be a bonafide favorite to win the tournament

Sure, when Osaka Touin was in the field, you could flip a coin and basically determine if they could win the tournament.

Well, they’re not in the tournament, and there is no team that looks like they have the whole package.

As mentioned earlier Seiryou has excellent pitching, but an offense that is Touyoudai Himeji offensive. It’s quite possible he strikes out double digits and loses 1-0.

Speaking of Osaka, there’s Riseisha, but if not for their early barrage could have easily lost to Kasumigaura. That performance post-break looked more like a team from the rural areas never mind a powerhouse. There’s almost zero chance a team that plays like that will survive long.

Tsuda Gakuen’s Mae Yuito shows flashes of being a true ace, but his inconsistencies plus the same lack of offense means they’re more at-risk than Seiryou.

There a lot of meh teams out there

When you are an average school, you have the average things:

Got a runner on first and less than two outs. Bunt the runner along.

Ahead in the count 0-2? Throw a waste pitch not even close to the plate. (Sure, good teams do that too).

Most of the average pitchers throw a fastball in the 130s.

And there are quite a few bad swings and misses at the dish.

Now, of course these games matter to these teams and they’re certainly doing their best. But, when you see them out in the field or up at the plate they can start looking the same.

We’ll see how teams like Chiben Wakayama, Narashino and Kanto Dai-ichi get on but at this point there aren’t really any surprises with respect to the teams that have advanced so far.

101st Natsu Koushien – Bracket Analysis

101st Natsu Koushien – Bracket Analysis

(Photo courtesy of Asahi)

The draw has occurred, where do all the teams stand?

Note: The numbers before each game represent the day of the tournament and the game. For example, 1-1 means Day 1 of the tournament (August 6th JST), 1st game of the day.

Bracket A

  • 1-2 – Saga Kita (Saga) v Kamimura Gakuen (Kagoshima)
  • 1-3 – Takaoka Shougyou (Toyama) v Iwami Chisuikan (Shimane)
  • 2-1 – Riseisha (Osaka) v Kasumigaura (Ibaraki)
  • 2-2 – Shizuoka (Shizuoka) v Tsuda Gakuen (Mie)

For a team like Riseisha, on the surface you could say they got a break with the draw. But Riseisha never had to play Osaka Touin, and the only team of note they beat is Konkou Osaka. Maybe.

Tsuda Gakuen’s Mae Yuito more than a serviceable pitcher, but the offense is a question.

Then there’s Saga Kita, who seems to have gone back to their 2-pitcher system that worked so well in 2007…

Bracket B

  • 2-3 – Seiryou (Ishikawa) v Asahikawadai (Kita Hokkaido)
  • 2-4 – Akita Chuo (Akita) v Ritsumeikan Uji (Kyoto)
  • 3-1 – Yonago Higashi (Tottori) v Chiben Wakayama (Wakayama)
  • 3-2 – Meitoku Gijyuku (Kochi) v Touin (Oita)

Seiryou’s Okugawa gets one more chance to make his mark at Koushien, and the team gets what looks like a favorable opening two games.

The problem may be escaping the bracket, as while I hate to say it, Chiben Wakayama may be back. It’s still a bit early to tell, but their performance in the spring, if backed up here could be bad news for the rest of the nation, never mind Wakayama.

Bracket C

  • 3-3 – Maebashi Ikuei (Gunma) v Kokugakuin Kugayama (Nishi Tokyo)
  • 3-4 – Tsuruga Kehi (Fukui) v Tomishima (Miyazaki)
  • 4-1 – Hanamaki Higashi (Iwate) v Naruto (Tokushima)
  • 4-2 – Iiyama (Nagano) v Sendai Ikuei (Miyagi)

There are a lot of “maybe’s” in this bracket. Maybe Sendai Ikuei will have enough offense to offset its not-so-good pitching (as always). Maybe Hanamaki Higashi does deserve to be here, but since Sakaki was unavailable to pitch we’ll never know. Maybe Maebashi Ikuei has found their form from 2013 and 4 consecutive appearances at Natsu Koushien is a plus, but the results have been average at best.

Bracket D

  • 4-3 – Narashino (Chiba) v Okinawa Shougaku (Okinawa)
  • 4-4 – Takamatsu Shougyou (Kagawa) v Tsuruoka Higashi (Yamagata)
  • 5-1 – Nihon Bunri (Niigata) v Kanto Dai-ichi (Higashi Tokyo)
  • 5-2 – Kumamoto Kougyou (Kumamoto) v Yamanashi Gakuin (Yamanashi)

Narashino probably got a favorable draw here, as most of these teams here probably don’t pose that big of a threat here.

The one exception may be Kanto Dai-ichi who appears to have 2 pitchers who can throw over 140. However, neither pitcher posts above average K rates, and their walk rates are concerning. Over their last 3 games, the dual aces had a K:BB ratio of 16:13 over 25 innings pitcher, and none of the schools save for maybe Koyamadai, and they’re a Tier 3 school. These raise red flags for me as to their actual ability.

Bracket E

  • 5-3 – Okayama Gakugeikan (Okayama) v Hiroshima Shougyou (Okayama)
  • 6-1 – Chikuyou Gakuen (Fukuoka) v Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi)

Sakushin Gakuin got a dream draw. They drew into the 2nd day, and outside of a possible trap game against Chikuyou Gakuen, just about have a golden ticket to the Best 8.

Bracket F

  • 6-2 – Toukaidai Sagami (Kanagawa) v Oumi (Shiga)
  • 6-3 – Chuukyou Gakuindai Chuukyou (Gifu) v Hokushou (Minami Hokkaido)

Oumi and their ace Hayashi are out to prove that they would’ve been the better team if not for that 2-run sayonara bunt (that still sounds odd to say now). The only problem is that their first round opponent is the offensive-minded Toukaidai Sagami. Hayashi will have no time to settle into a groove, he’ll have to figure it out right out of the blocks, else his team might be sent home before they can even make their case.

Bracket G

  • 6-4 – Hanasaki Tokuhari (Saitama) v Akashi Shougyou (Hyogo)
  • 7-1 – Uwajima Higashi (Ehime) v Ube Koujyou (Yamaguchi)

Once again, the bracket falls to one game, and that is Hanasaki Tokuharu v Akashi Shougyou. Hanasaki Tokuharu has pretty much dominated Saitama over the last couple of years, and parlayed that into a title in 2017. Akashi Shougyou burst out into the scene in 2016, and did so once again this past spring. This Natsu Koushien will go a long way into possibly cementing them as a powerhouse in Hyogo if they can match their performance in the spring.

Bracket H

  • 7-2 – Kaisei (Nagasaki) v Seikou Gakuin (Fukushima)
  • 7-3 – Chiben Gakuen (Nara) v (Winner of)
    • 1-1 – Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei (Aomori) v Homare (Aichi)

Seikou Gakuin is back in the field. Again. This makes 10 straight graduating classes now in Fukushima that a school not named Seikou Gakuin graduates without ever seeing Natsu Koushien. In fact, since the turn of the century, only 3 years has Seikou Gakuin not represented Fukushima.

Despite all that, they’ve never advanced past the Best 8, though they have gotten there 5 times. This bracket provides perhaps another opportunity to get there as maybe only Chiben Gakuen presents the only major opposition, and maybe not even that. Perhaps Homare can be a dark horse, but that doesn’t seem likely.

Honestly I’m not sure there’s one team that shines above the rest. Most have a flaw somewhere along the line, mostly on the mound, which means that anything can happen. Those that have better pitching will have an advantage over the rest, though how much that advantage will last will depend on if those arms can be either properly managed or outlast the other arms under the insufferable summer heat.

 

101st Natsu Koushien – Complete Field

101st Natsu Koushien – Complete Field

(Photo courtesy of Mainichi)

The field is now set for the 101st Natsu Koushien. Who is in the field?

Instead of just listing them from North to South, East to West, I’m looking at it from the perspective of how often we see these schools at Koushien (both spring and summer). I have a general tier list which I use to rate these schools. It used to be basically 3 tiers:

  1. Schools who have a high likelihood of advancing to Koushien.
  2. Schools who are perennially in competition for their prefecture’s bid and occasionally succeed.
  3. Schools who perennially advance deep into the prefectural tournament, but generally are stonewalled.

Schools could move in between tiers as it’s based on recent performance. For instance, Maebashi Ikuei has moved from a Tier 3 school when it won Koushien in 2013 to a Tier 1 school now after qualifying for its 4th consecutive Natsu appearance.

There was technically a 4th tier, but I considered it a no-tier since these were teams off the radar completely. There are a handful this year.

But now I’m including a Tier 0 school. I’d use something like “S”, but since I was using numbers, I decided to just go to 0. These schools are almost guaranteed shoe-ins to make both tournaments each year.

My tier list is below, but this does not equate to performance at Koushien, just the school’s ability to get there.

Tier 0 Schools – Perennial appearances at Koushien

  • Fukushima – Seikou Gakuin (13th consecutive, 16th overall)
  • Tochigi – Sakushin Gakuin (9th consecutive, 15th overall)
  • Saitama – Hanasaki Tokuharu (5th consecutive, 7th overall)
  • Nara – Chiben Gakuen (1st in 3 years, 19th overall)
  • Wakayama – Chiben Wakayama (3rd consecutive, 24th overall)

Tier 1 Schools – Regular appearances at Koushien

  • Aomori – Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei (2nd consecutive, 10th overall)
  • Iwate – Hanamaki Higashi (2nd consecutive, 10th overall)
  • Miyagi – Sendai Ikuei (3rd consecutive, 28th overall)
  • Gunma – Maebashi Ikuei (4th consecutive, 5th overall)
  • Yamanashi – Yamanashi Gakuin (4th consecutive, 9th overall)
  • Niigata – Nihon Bunri (1st in 2 years, 10th overall)
  • Ishikawa – Seiryou (2nd consecutive, 20th overall)
  • Fukui – Tsuruga Kehi (2nd consecutive, 9th overall)
  • Osaka – Riseisha (1st in 3 years, 4th overall)
  • Tokushima – Naruto (2nd consecutive, 13th overall)
  • Kochi – Meitoku Gijyuku (1st in 2 years, 20th overall)

Tier 2 Schools – Regular top finishers, occasional appearances at Koushien

  • Minami Hokkaido – Hokushou (2nd consecutive, 5th overall)
  • Yamagata – Tsuruoka Higashi (1st in 3 years, 6th overall)
  • Higashi Tokyo – Kanto Dai-ichi (1st in 3 years, 8th overall)
  • Kanagawa – Toukaidai Sagami (1st in 4 years, 11th overall)
  • Toyama – Takaoka Shougyou (3rd consecutive, 20th overall)
  • Shizuoka – Shizuoka (1st in 4 years, 25th overall)
  • Shiga – Oumi (2nd consecutive, 14th overall)
  • Kagoshima – Kamimura Gakuen (1st in 2 years, 5th overall)
  • Okinawa – Okinawa Shougaku (1st in 5 years, 8th overall)

Tier 3 Schools – Regular top finishers in-prefecture, rare/no appearances at Koushien

  • Kita Hokkaido – Asahikawadai (2nd consecutive, 9th overall)
  • Ibaraki – Kasumigaura (1st in 4 years, 2nd overall)
  • Chiba – Narashino (1st in 8 years, 9th overall)
  • Nishi Tokyo – Kokugakuin Kugayama (1st in 28 years, 3rd overall)
  • Gifu – Chuukyou Gakuindai Chuukyou (1st in 3 years, 7th overall)
  • Mie – Tsuda Gakuen (1st in 2 years, 2nd overall)
  • Kyoto – Ritsumeikan Uji (1st in 37 years, 3rd overall)
  • Hyogo – Akashi Shougyou (2nd consecutive, 2nd overall)
  • Okayama – Okayama Gakugeikan (1st in 4 years, 2nd overall)
  • Hiroshima – Hiroshima Shougyou (1st in 15 years, 23rd overall)
  • Tottori – Yonago Higashi (1st in 28 years, 14th overall)
  • Shimane – Iwami Chisuikan (1st in 4 years, 10th overall)
  • Yamaguchi – Ube Koujyou (1st in 7 years, 2nd overall)
  • Kagawa – Takamastu Shougyou (1st in 23 years, 20th overall)
  • Ehime – Uwajima Higashi (1st in 9 years, 9th overall)
  • Fukuoka – Chikuyou Gakuen (1st in 16 years, 2nd overall)
  • Saga – Saga Kita (1st in 5 years, 5th overall)
  • Nagasaki – Kaisei (1st in 5 years, 18th overall)
  • Kumamoto – Kumamoto Kougyou (1st in 6 years, 21st overall)
  • Oita – Touin (2nd consecutive appearance, 3rd overall)

No Tier – All other schools

  • Akita – Akita Chuo (1st in 45 years, 5th overall)
  • Nagano – Iiyama (First appearance)
  • Aichi – Homare (First appearance)
  • Miyazaki – Tomishima (First appearance)

The amazing bit is that 28 schools out of the 49 (57%) of the field consists of schools whose last appearance at Natsu Koushien has been in the past 3 years. Another 7 schools have last been to Natsu Koushien in the last 5 years upping the percentage to 71% of the field. And if you count Haru Koushien appearances 86% of the field has been to Koushien at some point within the last 5 years.

Those are some staggering numbers.

 

 

91st Haru Koushien Draw – Quick Analysis

91st Haru Koushien Draw – Quick Analysis

(photo courtesy of Nikkei.com)

The draw was completed back on the 15th, and here’s where we stand, and where I think the winners and losers are:

Quadrant 1

  • Shiritsu Kure (Hiroshima) v. Shiritsu Wakayama (Wakayama)
  • Takamatsu Shougyou (Kagawa) v Kasukabe Kyouei (Saitama)
  • Riseisha (Osaka) v Seiryou (Ishikawa)
  • Nisshou Gakuen (Miyagi) v Narashino (Chiba)

By the fate of the draw Riseisha, the one that would like to be a dominating force in Osaka will have to prove their mettle early by facing the favorites to win it all.

The rest of the bracket is unfortunately suffering from death by association in the bracket. Both of the shiritsu schools get the benefit of playing each other, but I think Kure has the advantage. The school of Lucky Star won’t get any favors against the Shikoku champions and I think the prior experience means Takamatsu Shougyou should advance. Finally Narashino should get an easy game right off the bat, but then immediately go to the other side of the spectrum facing Seiryou.

At this point it’s Seiryou’s Best 4 bid to lose. If they do lose it’s to Narashino and if that happens, then I imagine it being 50-50 between them and Takamatsu Shougyou.

Quadrant 2

  • Meihou (Oita) v Yokohama (Kanagawa)
  • Yonago Higashi (Tottori) v Sapporo Ootani (Hokkaido)
  • Tsuda Gakuen (Mie) v Ryuukokudai Heian (Kyoto)
  • Moriokadai Fuzoku (Iwate) v Ishioka Dai-ichi (Ibaraki)

Quite a few teams got a reprieve here in that they’re getting a fairly docile quadrant thereby increasing their chances of advancing. Meihou probably faces the best offense in this quadrant in Yokohama, so the only way they can advance is to out score them which is prolly unlikely.

Despite the fact that this is Sapporo Ootani’s first shindig at Koushien, I don’t imagine them having too much trouble with Yonago Higashi. The Meiji Jingu curse may still trip them up, but not in the 1st round.

Ryuukokudai Heian might actually be in a spot of trouble here. It’s possible Tsuda Gakuen’s offense is actually not bad and their ace Mae could give an already anemic offense fits. If they can get through this game though, the rest of the quadrant may open up for them.

That includes the winner of the last matchup. Morioka Dai-ichi should get a good warmup game in against Ishioka Dai-ichi.

It’s possible we get to a Meiji Jingu rematch for a spot in the Best 4. If Heian can get past their first game it’s quite likely. If that happens, don’t be surprised if Heian reverses the loss when it matters most.

Quadrant 3

  • Yamanashi Gakuin (Yamanashi) v Sapporo Dai-ichi (Hokkaido)
  • Chikuyou Gakuen (Fukuoka) v Fukuchiyama Seibi (Kyoto)
  • Kouryou (Hiroshima) v Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei (Aomori)
  • Tomioka Nishi (Tokushima) v Touhou (Aichi)

None of these teams in my eyes are title contenders, so there will be a scramble to reach the Best 4. Yamanashi Gakuin should be able to handle a weak Sapporo Dai-ichi squad. Chikuyou Gakuen may actually have a chance against Fukuchiyama Seibi with as bad of an offense as they have. Kouryou at this point needs to prove me something, especially opening against Kousei. Finally, despite Tomioka Nishi’s good performance in the super-regionals, Touhou should be able to win and advance.

Out of the 8 teams, probably Touhou has the best chance to advance. If not them, I’m not quite sure who. Maybe Yamanashi Gakuin? It’s really open.

Quadrant 4

  • Akashi Shougyou (Hyogo) v Kokushikan (Tokyo)
  • Matsuyama Seiryou (Ehime) v Oita (Oita)
  • Keishin (Fukui) v Touin Gakuen (Kanagawa)
  • Kumamoto Nishi (Kumamoto) v Chiben Wakayama (Wakayama)

This quadrant is the other challenging one, with 4 possible title contenders in Akashi Shougyou, Matsuyama Seiryou and Keishin/Touin Gakuen (since one of them will be immediately eliminated). The last matchup may be the most inconsequential, but if Keishin can follow up their performance in the fall by beating Touin Gakuen, Chiben Wakayama could actually have a chance to reach the Best 8.

Akashi Shougyou has the ability despite the tough bracket to reach the Best 4, but if Matsuyama Seiryou’s kantoku can effectively manage his staff, don’t be surprised if they don’t give them a run for their money.

In the end I expect this to be chalk with Akashi Shougyou facing Touin Gakuen for a spot in the Best 4. If Touin Gakuen’s ace Hasegawa is legit, Akashi Shougyou is in for a dogfight. if not, Akashi Shougyou has a good chance to not only reach the semifinals, but the finals. The wild card is probably Matsuyama Seiryou, If they win their first game and finds a way to beat Akashi Shougyou all bets are off.

Either way, the winner of this quadrant is in good shape to reach the finals.

Summary

In general, while there are some big matchups in the first round, overall there is a good possibility that we could be rather scratch in the end. It won’t preclude us from having close games, but much like March Madness the big teams should be able to reach the Best 4.

91st Haru Koushien – Players to Watch

91st Haru Koushien – Players to Watch

(picture courtesy of baseballgate.jp – If you want to win Koushien, you might have to go through him)

Now that senbatsu is less than a month away, who might be the keys to success for each team in the field? Not necessarily who is the best player, but which player could be imperative for the team to make a successful run.

Sapporo Ootani – Oota Ryuusei (太田 流星)

With the Meiji Jingu champions, I’m not looking towards their ace, but rather his backup in Oota Ryuusei.

Why?

Because ace Nishihara Kenta I don’t think can be relied upon to carry the team. His strikeout and walk numbers are not good and even though he held Seiryou to 1 run and struck out 8, he also walked 4 which is about on par with his overall figures.

If Sapporo Ootani is to break the trend of Meiji Jingu champs unable to win Haru Koushien, then Oota must be part of that picture. He’s a sidearmer who may not strike out may batters himself, but he was tasked with saving the team in the super-regional semifinals and finals, and single-handedly defeated Kyushu champs Chikuyou Gakuen.

He may not be draft-worthy, but he’ll be key to the team’s success.

Sapporo Dai-ichi – Ootsubo Renya(?) (大坪 蓮弥)

For Sapporo Dai-ichi the pitching seems rather suspect to begin with, and there’s no one person that could carry the load for the team, so I’m looking elsewhere. Their 1B and 3-hole batter, Renya batted 0.625 including 3-5 in the final with a double and an RBI. If the pitching is going to struggle the hitting will have to make up for it, and Renya will need to drive in runs every opportunity he gets.

Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei – Shimoyama Koudai (下山 昂大)

Kousei Gakuin as it once was called has not been able to get back to the days where it went to 3 straight Koushien finals (though they lost). Again, like Sapporo Dai-ichi the pitching is a bit suspect at best and while I could point to ace Gotou Takemi he feels like more of a game manager at best. Again, this puts a bit more pressure on the offense, and Shimoyama Koudai is the last defense against the black hole at the bottom of the lineup. He’s gone 5-8 against Hanamaki Higashi and Moriokadai Fuzoku, and was 3-10 at Meiji Jingu.

At Koushien he may not afford to be able to take walks, instead needing to deliver a timely base hit to drive in runs before the opportunities pass the team by.

Moriokadai Fuzoku – Ogawa Kensei (小川 健成)

Moriokadai Fuzoku has this figured out (or at least it appears to me that they have). Ace Abe Hidetoshi (阿部 秀俊) put up great numbers up until the final against Kousei where he struggled, giving up 7 hits and 5 walks in their 5-3 loss.

So, once again the offense will need to help carry the team and Ogawa has done well as his team’s last defense against the bottom of the lineup. He was 9-17 during the super-regionals with no walks and just 1 strikeout meaning that he is performing his job of putting the ball in play and moving runners along with 5 RBIs. He’ll need to continue to fulfill that role to give his team a fighting chance.

Kokushikan – Kamada Shuuma (鎌田 州真)

Kokushikan’s ace in the hole is a super rookie who was part of the U-15 team for Japan 2 years ago and is their starting shortstop (despite wearing #16 in the fall). Batting out of the #6 spot, he was 9-17 with 6 RBIs and even drew 3 walks. Against Kanto Dai-ichi, he was 2-3 with a double and 2 walks. He’ll need to pick up the slack that the pitching will inevitably create in the tournament.

Touin Gakuen – Hasegawa Hayate (長谷川 颯)

Here we break the streak of position players and focus our attention on the ace.

Or at least the player that’s wearing the ace number. Hasegawa pitched just one game, finishing the super-regional final (which didn’t even matter) pitching 4 shutout innings, walking 2 and striking out 2. Why did they keep him under wraps for the most part until that game? And in reality why did they even pitch him at all in that case? I don’t have any information on him and he’s not coming up significantly in searches, so it’s just possible he’s not really an ace. But I think he’s got to be one in some respect if they’re going to make any type of run.

Kasukabe Kyouei – Kimura Daigo (木村 大悟)

For Kasukabe Kyouei, it’s the top of the lineup that needs to setup the team for success. Kimura, batting out of the #2 spot, got on base at a 0.588 clip and scored 5 times in their 4 games of the super-regional.

The team looks average on both sides of the ball, which at least means that they’re not a total black hole at the bottom of the lineup, but that also means that players like Kimura need to do their part to allow the rest of the lineup a chance to make significant contributions.

Narashino – Iidzuka Shouto (飯塚 脩人)

For the first time in a long time, Narashino has an ace. Being a public school it’s generally harder for these types of teams to recruit good talent. And yet here they are with what will be a 3rd year pitching lights out, with a very good 10.43 K/9 rate while sporting a 1.84 BB/9 during the super-regionals.

The only knock is that he’s kokoyakyu efficient, which means he’s not efficient at all, and any sustained run will put a lot of strain on him that I don’t know he can withstand.

Yamanashi Gakuin – Aizawa Tosen(?) (相澤 利悛)

Yamanashi Gakuin is a weird case. Their current ace number, Nakagome Akito (中込 陽翔) did not pitch at all during the fall and might have suffered injuries in the past. In fact, he has played in just one game that I was able to find.

So in his place, or at least I think in his place, are three pitchers. Two of them are Satou Yuuji (佐藤 裕士) and Komai Yuusuke (駒井 祐亮). Combined they struck out 14 in 11.2 IP with just 1 walk, which is amazing! They should be in good shape, right?

Well, 11.2 IP doesn’t account for all of the innings pitched. The remaining of the innings go to their 1B, and that’s Aizawa.

His line in the super-regionals? 13.2 IP, 4 ER, 11 H, 3 K, 6 BB.

Compared to the other two, it’s not a great line. His ERA and WHIP are good, but his K and BB rates are not leading one to believe that he was overperforming his numbers. But, he can’t be omitted from the overall strategy though, he has to eat innings.

The question is, can he successfully eat innings and give his team a chance to win?

Yokohama – Oote Haru (大手 晴)

People might point to ace Oyokawa Masaki as the key for Yokohama, but Yokohama hasn’t had a good ace it feels since the days of Matsuzaka Daisuke. Furthermore, he suffers from very high walk rates and inconsistency which have plagued him since his debut as a first year.

If that’s the case the offense will have to make up the difference, and Oote sitting 7th in the lineup will be key for the offense to succeed. He’s been patient at the plate, averaging at least 4 pitchers per AB and does take his walks. But for him to be successful he’ll need to turn those advantageous counts into hits, not just walks before the lineup hits the 8-9 spots.

Seiryou – Okugawa Yasunobu (奥川 恭伸)

Okugawa is by far, an ace among aces. Good enough to be selected to Japan’s U-18 squad this past fall for the BFA Asian tournament, he almost certainly will be drafted in the opening round should he declare for the draft this fall. With seemingly plus pitches all around, including a wicked curveball, in recent games he has learned to pitch with almost major league efficiency, allowing him to not fully exert himself like other ace pitchers who easily go 130+ pitches in an outing.

What might be allowing him to pitch even more free is 2nd year Ogihara Ginya (荻原 吟哉), who was called to the Japan U-15 team in 2017 (along with Kokushikan’s Kamada), and was asked to pitch both against South Korea and Chinese Taipei, which if you think about it puts a lot of trust in his abilities. If he’s the backup, then Okugawa perhaps can go all out knowing that he’s got someone in the wings just in case.

If that’s the case, the rest of the field better watch out.

Keishin – Azumi Kouta (安積 航大)/Uramatsu Taku (浦松 巧)

Keishin’s offense is almost offensive.

No offense.

The team batted 0.238 during the super-regionals and had an atrocious 0.286 OBP. That simply won’t play at Koushien. And it’s not like you can become Osaka Touin level offense overnight (or heck, even something average-ish like Yokohama).

Which means the onus comes directly to their ace – or in this case aces (if you want to call them that) since Azumi and Uramatsu basically split time. If they can somehow continue to win despite combined having K and BB rates under 4, then more power to them.

That just looks like an uphill battle though…

Touhou – Ueda Yuuki (植田 結喜)

Ueda is not Touhou’s ace, but in this case it may not matter. The player wearing the ace number Ishikawa Takaya (石川 昂弥), was their 3B not too long ago. Now, the numbers he’s put up in limited use aren’t bad for sure (13 IP, 9 K/9, 2.077 BB/9) but as I just mentioned, it’s in limited use. Ueda on the other hand is just a pitcher and has put up similar numbers 9.1 IP, 9.64 K/9, 2.89 BB/9.

It’s way too strange to put a position player in as your ace, and generally doesn’t portend success. So I think the bullpen is going to have to play a key role in any type of run for them, and Ueda might be the centerpiece of that.

Tsuda Gakuen – Mae Yuito (前 佑囲斗)

There’s no way the Tsuda Gakuen offense is as strong as their super-regional numbers indicate. The 2-run effort versus Touhou in the final is probably more indicative of their offense than their other wins despite the fact that they did defeat Oogaki Nichidai and Chuukyoudai Chuukyou in the process. Neither team has really come back to prominence as of yet, so it’s getting harder to count victories against these squads as quality wins.

All that being said then, the responsibility will probably drop down to the ace to keep the score low and buy time for the offense. Mae’s K and BB rates aren’t terrible, striking out almost a batter an inning while running a 3.2 BB/9 rate. The concerning part is that against Touhou those numbers look about the same, but he wound up yielding 8 runs in the process.

It may just be a fluke, Touhou could have been just dead on the ball that day. But if Mae’s pitches are that hittable to a seasoned (but unremarkable) veteran, then the team could be in way over their heads.

Ryuukokudai Heian – Nozawa Shuugo (野澤 秀伍)

Heian wins the Kinki super-regional thanks to their MO of pitching to contact and defense. Generally defense doesn’t slump and theirs is almost robotic and error-free. Any offense they get is just a bonus – last year showed that they can try to dress up their team as an offensive powerhouse, but in the end they are who they always are.

Nozawa isn’t even their ace, or at least their ace number. But he’s been the one asked to pitch against Riseisha and Akashi Shougyou. Of course, this was at the point in which the team was pretty much guaranteed a spot at Koushien.

Yet, in those two games he game up just 1 run in 19 innings, striking out 11 and allowing 6 free passes. That’s not nothing. And he actually did well at Meiji Jingu if not for… well the defense actually slumping. While he gave up all 6 runs to Sapporo Ootani, only 2 were actually earned.

Akashi Shougyou – Miyaguchi Daiki (宮口 大輝)

Akashi Shougyou, for years a Tier 3 school out of Hyogo has finally come into its own in recent years. It’s been as a result of a vacuum where schools like Touyoudai Himeji, Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku and Houtoku Gakuen unable to stake a claim.

I haven’t yet been able to figure out a modus operandi for them, other than just being a solid team. Which in its own right is pretty good since as a public school (a) it’s generally harder to recruit talent and (b) funding isn’t as good. Though if you were to take the pessimistic side, you could argue that the only reason why it’s become visible in recent times is precisely because those top teams in Hyogo are getting weaker, not that Akashi Shougyou is strong.

This year’s team tries to put that perception to bed though with not one, but apparently two good pitchers. But my key person isn’t their ace Nakamori Shunsuke (中森 俊介), but their other ace Miyaguchi Daiki. In his games at the super-regional which included starting against the aforementioned Houtoku Gakuen and Ryuukokudai Heian, he struck out 25 in 26.2 IP. He did walk 10 during that time, but that’s better than their ace by a whole walk per 9. So while it may be that Nakamori is their ace, don’t be surprised if you see Miyaguchi on the mound sooner rather than later.

Riseisha – Shimizu Taisei (清水 大成)

While Riseisha has been the only team regularly successful at being a thorn in Osaka Touin’s side (which still isn’t all that often), they have yet to do what Osaka Touin has many times over – win a Koushien tournament, though they have reached the Haru Koushien finals twice in 2014 and 2017.

You could argue that Riseisha is in some ways a poor man’s Osaka Touin, a good offense but not necessarily as good as them, and a pitching staff that is just about as good (read: bad).

Shimizu is the ace of the team this year and he certainly has racked up the strikeouts – 11.638 K/9. But the fact that he gave up 3 runs in 3.1 IP (including a HR) to Ryuukokudai Heian, a known defensive school, does not sit well. There’s a good video of him here, and from what I see his velo is slightly above average so he’s not going to blow by batters. Now his location is decent, going either up or away in the zone. It looks like he’s got the standard slider, a slow curve, and a possible changeup. The slow curve seems to buckle knees whenever he throws it, but while his slider and changeup does get some swings and misses I’m not sure they are plus.

Because of that, I think what can trip him up is if he faces a team with a discerning eye. Since his off-speed offerings pitch outside of the slow curve are not devastating in nature, it allows the batters to feel a little more comfortable at the place.

Chiben Wakayama – Ikeda Taiki (池田 泰騎)

I found highlights of the Chiben Wakayama win against Osaka Touin and it explains a lot as to why Osaka Touin wasn’t chosen. The pitching was not great, the defense looked sketchy at times and the offense looked rather pedestrian.

What I still can’t square is that a pitcher who held Osaka Touin to just 2 runs in 8 innings had otherwise given up 6 runs in just 4 innings of work. That is the conundrum that is Ikeda Taiki. Oh, and he’s not the ace pitcher either. Unfortunately, there isn’t much other information on him so he’ll have to remain a conundrum for now.

Considering that Chiben Wakayama has been weak with respect to pitching, they’ll need any help they can get. I don’t know if Taiki is going to be that person, but compared to the rest it might have to do.

Fukuchiyama Seibi – Oohashi Shouta (小橋 翔大)

Fukuchiyama Seibi is basically in the same boat that Chiben Wakayama is in. I don’t really know how they managed to get as far as they did, outside of maybe their ace Oohashi Shouta. The only problem is that he wasn’t what you would call an ace carrying an ERA of almost 4.50 with a K rate of  just around 3. But he is their ace, and did pitch both games of the super-regional, so he’s probably all they got. On a team whose offense seems to be rather inconsistent, he’s going to have to help toe that line between ineffective and competent to keep his team in it.

Shiritsu Wakayama – Ogata Ryuunosuke (緒方 隆之介)

Shiritsu Wakayama doesn’t have much chance in the tournament. But for what it’s worth, the top of the lineup at least seems to perform well. Part of that top of the lineup is Ogata Ryuunosuke. He was 5-8 during the super-regionals with a double, but more importantly he’s the last line of the top batters. Even though one would normally associate the #4 batter as their strongest hitter, they can’t afford that so they’ve just loaded the top of the lineup instead.

Kouryou – Nakatomi Hiroki (中冨 宏紀)

Unfortunately for Kouryou, their 2017 finals seem to have been more of a fluke, and nothing like the team from 10 years past under now ace Nomura Yuusuke.

They’re back at Koushien this time around, hoping to turn around their poor performance from the summer. But, they’re still unfortunately not strong on the mound, so my focus is going to their #2 batter Nakatomi. He takes pitches (he took 33 pitches in 5 plate appearances versus Soushi Gakuen), but also knows when to take a swing when he needs to. They’ll need his 7-17 at the top of the lineup to help setup the offense they’ll so desperately need.

Yonago Higashi – Toki Shouji (土岐 尚史)

Just about anything that will involve success for the Chuugoku region will hinge on the offense being able to score runs. Mostly because it’ll be hard to put all the pressure on the aces of each of the staffs.

For Yonago Higashi, that responsibility goes to Toki who is their last line of defense in the lineup. He was hitting 7-16 in the prefecturals against Koushien-grade schools. With the bottom of the lineup the typical black hole of offense, he’ll need to stand and deliver timely hits to help the team survive and advance.

Shiritsu Kure – Numata Jin (沼田 仁)

The one exception in the group is the team benefiting from the floating bid – Shiritsu Kure. They’re not bad shakes as a team in general, and did win their first ever game at Koushien, defeating Shigakukan.

Numata Jin isn’t a dominant ace, but at the same time he’s not bad either. He struck out 11 in the extra inning loss to Yonago Higashi and while he gave up 6 runs, 3 of them were in the 13th where they now play with tiebreaker rules, and as a pitcher, it’s really hard to fault him for giving up runs in such a disadvantageous system. Despite having just a 6.83 K/9 rate, he has a 22:2 K/BB ratio which mean he won’t cheat himself out of an opportunity to win.

He’s pretty efficient for an ace as well, which will suit them if they can avoid being a one-and-done team. The question will be if he can be sufficiently good enough when he takes the mound at Koushien.

Takamatsu Shougyou – Asano Ren (浅野 怜)

The Shikoku champions are making do with their pitching (much like most other teams), but has enough offense to rise above the masses.

That’s in part thanks to Asano who was on fire during the prefecturals going 8-10 with a double and 3 RBIs hitting the ball to all field and acting as the backstop of the heart of the lineup. He cooled off and was 0-3 with 2 Ks against Seiryou in their Meiji Jingu loss, but if he can handle average pitching, he could be a main lynchpin of the offense and their attempt at a run.

Matsuyama Seiryou – Nikadori Hideaki (荷川取 秀明)

It’s not often that a manager is a key to a team’s success, but as we’ve seen (Shuugakukan, that’s not going to get old) a manager can inhibit a team’s ability to win. Matsuyama Seiryou’s kantoku at least from what I see is a major part of his team’s success.

He’s managing a pitching staff of 4 people, none of which are outstanding, but together seem to do an admirable job:

  • #1 Nemoto Tairen (根本 大蓮) – 7.2 IP, 3 ER, 1.696 WHIP, 5.87 K/9, 2.35 BB/9
  • #10 Sano Kouki (佐野 幸輝) – 4.2 IP, 2 ER, 5.786 WHIP, 1.93 K/9, 9.64 BB/9
  • #13 Takamatsu Yutaka(?) (髙松 亨有) – 5.2 IP, 1 ER, 1.235 WHIP, 6.35 K/9, 3.18 BB/9
  • #12 Henzan You (平安山 陽) – 15 IP, 4 ER, 1.20 WHIP, 10.20 K/9, 6.6 BB/9

As you can see, none of these pitchers have solid stats across the board. The closest would be Henzan, but his BB rates are atrocious despite his stellar WHIP.

Somehow though, Nikadori-kantoku has patchworked these guys together to the Shikoku super-regional final and kept that game close as well. He’ll need to work his magic at Koushien though to make this ragtag bunch serviceable at Koushien.

Chikuyou Gakuen – Ebara Yuuya (江原 佑哉)

How in the world did a team that batted 0.245 in the super-regionals actually win? You could argue that we should focus on ace Nishi Yuudai (西 雄大), who with below average K rates did most of the yeoman’s work on the mound.

But I’m going to focus on the one batter who managed to hit over 0.300, and that’s Ebara Yuuya. He was 8-19, with 2 RBIs (but that’s out of 14 total runs scored) and had a hit in each of their games at Meiji Jingu. It’s not a lot, but when there’s little to go on, it’s better than nothing.

Meihou – Nobe Yuudai (野邊 優汰)

It’s still a wonder that Meihou, with offense to spare couldn’t do anything against Chikuyou Gakuen. Even still, their offense consists of solid players, and their #3 hitter Nobe is by far their best example.

While only 5-14 during the super-regionals, he still walked 5 times and drove in 8 runs. He’s come into his own here entering his last year at Meihou, though his hitting has played throughout since his freshman year averaging over 0.400 during his kokoyakyu career.

Meihou could prove very troublesome to teams this year, and Nobe will look to have long stays at Koushien.

Oita – Egawa Yuuto (江川 侑斗)

Oita if they are to have any chance will need the top of the lineup to constantly get on base and create opportunities to score. Egawa is their #3 hitter and was 5-11 with two walks. While that is pretty good for a catcher, more will probably be asked of him in terms of driving in runs if his team is to have a chance of advancing.

Nisshou Gakuen – Fukakusa Toshiya (深草 駿哉)

Nissou Gakuen’s best player also could be arguably their catcher as well as Fukakusa went an amazing 8-11 (including 2 doubles in their semifinal loss) with 5 runs scored and 2 RBIs. Despite that, he doesn’t seem to be garnering much attention but will be key in setting the table for the heart of the lineup.

Which will be important since the bottom of the lineup is about as much of a black hole as you can get.

No, seriously, it’s bad.

Ishioka Dai-ichi – Iwamoto Daichi (岩本 大地)

Ishioka Dai-ichi at least in terms of results is the least qualified having only made it to the prefectural semifinal, so there’s less information to go off of.

But one name does show up when researching the team, and that’s their ace Iwamoto. While he sported an average ERA (3.77), it’s his last 2 games that jump out at you where he struck out 28 which included 16 against Fujishiro in an extra inning loss (via tiebreak rules sadly). Surely those numbers won’t translate completely to Koushien, but it’ll be interesting to see how he does, especially if the team gets a favorable draw in the opening round.

Tomioka Nishi – Sakamoto Kenya (坂本 賢哉)

Tomioka Nishi made it all the way to the Shikoku super-regional semifinals so it’s not like they were a terrible team, but when your ace’s line during the tournament was:

27 IP, 18 ER, 19 K, 24 BB, 1.741 WHIP

You’re not going to look to the ace to save you.

The weirdest bit about this team is that the middle of the lineup (3-4-5), is the only effective part of the team. Sakamoto leads that group with a line that looks more like a leadoff hitter than a heart of the order hitter – 6-9 with a triple,  8 R, 1 RBI, 4 BB, 1 K.

It’s their ace that has been the main run producer, driving in 8 runs, but if Sakamoto can’t get on base, there’s no one for Ukihashi to drive in. And with 3 batters who are hitting under 0.100, they need to stand and deliver every time they’re at bat.

Kumamoto Nishi – Shimoue Koutarou (霜上 幸太郎)

As with most teams, generally the best player ends up being the ace, and here it’s no exception. Though in Shimoue’s case it’s probably more on the offensive front than him on the mound. Batting in the 3-hole, he was 4-7 with a walk.

While that doesn’t seem like a whole lot, when you score 4 runs in 2 games, and give up 8 runs to Nisshou Gakuen, there isn’t a whole lot to go on.