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An Open Letter to Ootani Shouhei


Congratulations on making it to the big leagues. You’re finally realizing your dream of playing at the highest level. It was something you were eyeing in your senior year at Hanamaki Higashi, and to be honest I even had a post saying you were as good as gone. But you followed the path of your senpai Kikuchi Yuusei and stayed in the NPB. Which is good because you were able to show that you were even then too good for that league. You proved that there was nothing left for the league to challenge you and now is the time to come to the states. And the fact that you’re foregoing a bunch of money now means that while money might matter, the idea of competing means much more.

The story goes that you’ve already started eliminating teams from your destination list. The questionnaire you sent is good. Allows you to figure out where you have the best chance to succeed. The bidding process leaves you at the whim of the highest bidding organization for better or worse.

To be honest, I don’t really have a reason to write this letter. Sure I’d like you to go to a particular team, but if it’s not a good fit for you, then it’s not a good fit. I’m sure there are factors you are building in for the future, such as teams that will help give you good numbers on both sides of the ball so that you can get that huge second contract that you’re foregoing – if that even matters.

I guess I’m writing this to wish you the best of luck. America is a different beast than Japan, and I’ve already heard stories of the collectors who were out to get your signature for $$ and then basically be racist behind your back. It comes with the territory here. People tend to be out for the almighty dollar, which is why some are incredulous (*ahem*Eric Byrnes*ahem*) that you’re just leaving money on the table. You’ll be shielded from that for the most part, or at least not exposed to that side of it, or perhaps you’ll limit that to begin with. Doesn’t matter, basically you’ll be able to negotiate whatever you want since whatever team gets you is getting you on the cheap. Leverage is such a nice thing.

Probably the biggest difficulty for you will be the fact that the team that gets you, even if it’s for peanuts compared to your value, their fans will expect the moon and the stars, and perhaps at this point the universe from you. You’re like the Holy Grail, the Excalibur and any other one of a kind item rolled up into one. You’re expected to be the panacea to whatever is ailing their favorite team. And if you don’t quickly live up to that, they’ll be disappointed.

Let them.

This is your journey, one that you’ve had in mind for now. Don’t care what anyone else thinks. Perhaps not knowing English in that case will be good (though I imagine some hecklers will still Google Translate some insults to give to you because Americans can be like that). Keep your head down and work on becoming the best you can be. That’s what you came here for.

So that’s it, no sales pitch, no “PLEASE COME TO ***** TEAM OMG WE NEED YOU NAO.”. I generally wish any Japanese player who comes to the states the best of luck (except when facing my team), because I want people to know that Japan isn’t just some AAAA farm team for the majors. It’s an uphill battle because people think America is the best thing since sliced bread, but whatever. I think you can succeed in some capacity here, even if two-ways doesn’t work for you. But ignore the nonsense here and get your shit done, because those of us who have followed you for a while know that you can.




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.


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.

Natsu Koushien Qualifying Update – 7/30

Only 2 finals today, leaving Miyagi to close out qualifying, and they’re delayed one more day because the 2nd semifinal of Touryou and Sendai Ikuei ended in a 2-2 tie.

Nishi Tokyo – Toukaidai Sugao (3rd appearance, 1st in 17 years)

I didn’t think Toukaidai Sugao had a shot, I figured the only way they could win is if they were patient with Waseda’s pitchers because I didn’t think they improved anything despite starting from scratch.

From the records though it seems like they weren’t all that patient, they just beat up new ace Yukiyama with errors contributing to the 3-run 5th inning.

What’s more, it was #11 Matsumoto who held the Waseda offense silent. for the most part giving up just 7 hits while walking 1.

The final indignity was Waseda imploding due to errors in the 9th as they realized their summer might be coming to an end. Matsumoto closes the game out and Toukaidai Sugao denies Kiyomiya a chance at Koushien!

Osaka – Osaka Touin (9th appearance, 1st in 3 years)

In fact both favorites were in trouble early. While Osaka Touin had opened scoring in the 2nd with a Tokuyama timely hit, Ookanmuri had back-to-back 2-RBI doubles by Ihara and Samukawa suddenly gave them the 4-1 lead! Could this be happening?

Well, sure, but it was still early and Ookanmuri would have to survive 7 more innings, and that’s no small feat.

Osaka Touin scored 1 back in the bottom of the 3rd, and when I tuned back in it was manrui in the 5th.

Suddenly Maruyama throws back-to-back oshidashi walks and a 4-2 lead became a 4-4 tie. The break would come at the right time for them as they could regroup. But even still if they wanted a chance they either needed to put up several bagels or score immediately.

Unfortunately neither happened. Not only did they not score in the top of the 6th, leadoff batter Fujiwara hits a HR to right giving Osaka Touin the lead. Even if it was just 1 run, it in my opinion was a death knell.

And in the 8th Ookanmuri just fell apart. Murakami wasn’t effective at all, players were misplaying balls, and Osaka Touin scored 5 to make it a 10-4 ballgame.

Ookanmuri mounted one last comeback in the top of the 9th. 10-4 became 10-6 and then 10-8 when Ihara doubled down the LF line bringing in 2. Samukawa, the second half of that 2-RBI duo in the 3rd was up and could possibly tie the game with one swing.

But instead he’s hit and put on base. Good enough because it brought up Kimu who was just 1-4 on the day. He’s retired and so Osaka Touin survives, though with a very shaky effort 10-8 and will try to achieve their 2nd haru-natsu renzoku yuushou.

God help us if they do.

Natsu Koushien Qualifying Update – 7/29

We’re almost done!

We have just 3 prefectures left to go, and today is all the big name schools looking for (and probably getting) their Koushien bids. The finals yesterday unfortunately were non-competitive.

Champions crowned

Higashi Tokyo – Nishogakushadai Fuzoku (2nd appearance, 1st in 3 years)

This was all Nishogakushadai Fuzoku as Toukaidai Takanawadai just couldn’t keep up from the get to. They were down quickly 8-0 and could not recover.

Kanagawa – Yokohama (17th appearance, 2nd consecutive)

It was all Yokohama here, Masuda HR in the 1st, Ichimura 2-run HR in the 3rd, and then when Toukaidai Sagami pulled within 2 at 5-3, Yamazaki hits a 3-run HR and that was that. 9-3.

Toyama – Takaoka Shougyou (18th appearance, 1st in 2 years)

I unfortunately didn’t catch a lot of this game because of the last one at the bottom, but Kouhou put up a fight for 4 innings… and then it all fell apart. 5 runs in the 5th and that was pretty much it. Kouhou did what they could, drawing 5 walks along with their 5 hits and putting a pair of runs on the board, but they still fell 8-2.

Ishikawa – Nihon Koukuu Ishikawa (2nd appearance, 1st in 8 years)

Couldn’t catch this game either, which is too bad because I root for both aviation schools. But here Nihon Koukuu Ishikawa scored 3 in the 2nd and then 2 more in the 5th to re-establish their 3-run lead. Yuugakukan had many chances, drawing 7 walks against Nihok Koukuu Ishikawa ace Sado but could still only push in 2 runs.

Aichi – Chuukyoudai Chuukyou (28th appearance, 1st in 2 years)

Eitoku had a chance to win the title, but former champs Chuukyoudai Chuukyou stood in the way and stood in the door blocking their way. 9-1 win with 3 HR’s and that was that.

Okayama – Okayama Sanyou (1st appearance)

Okayama Sanyou sent Ooe to the mound again, after giving up 5 runs in 5 innings of work. In a replay, the better pitching usually wins.

But the script was turned upside down. First Okayama Sanyou scored 4 in the 1st. Then 3 more in the 4th for a commanding 7-0 lead.

Second was ace Ooe for Okayama Sanyou.

No-hitter, through 5…

Through 6…

Through 7…

Through 8!!!

Ooe was suddenly just 3 outs away from a no-hitter!

And then Kobayashi gets a hit off Ooe to lead off the 9th.

He’s replaced, and there’s some shakiness, but they close out the 9-2 win for their first ever title!

Contested Titles

Nishi Tokyo (2100 PDT/0000 EDT) – Waseda Jitsugyou (Tier 1) v Toukaidai Sugao (Tier 3)

So Toukaidai Sugao did shutout Nichidai-san, and avoided a letdown in an 11-8 battle with Nichidai-ni. But they’re fighting the Kiyomiya’s who haven’t played anyone of note, haven’t blown out anyone, and who basically redid their entire pitching staff with their C taking over as their #2 pitcher.

Still, good luck Toukaidai Sugao. To win, you need to be patient against the pitching staff and get walks.

Osaka (2100 PDT/0000 EDT) – Ookanmuri (Tier 3) v Osaka Touin (Tier 1)

Ookanmuri had a run in 2015 where they reached the semifinals. And here they make a run to the finals, but have avoided any of the competition.

Of course that ends now with the Haru Koushien champs. It’s been a bit more shakier on the pitching front, but they have beaten both Konkou Osaka and yesterday Riseisha in a rematch of the Haru Koushien final.

Ookanmuri will have a very tough job which probably will not come to fruition. Sorry.

Natsu Koushien Qualifying Update – 7/28

So much to cover, and still many games to go.

Champions crowned

Nara – Tenri (28th appearance, 1st in 2 years)

Tenri, still can claim Tier 1 status since they’re the only other team outside of Chiben Gakuen that gets to go to Koushien from Nara it seems.

Tenri scored a couple of runs early and one perhaps thought that they were on their way versus Naradai Fuzoku.

Wasn’t really the case. Despite getting more opportunities, Tenri appears stuck in the old ways of baseball and it almost cost them. as Naradai Fuzoku made one last stab at it in the late innings. They got one in the 8th to make it a 2-1 ballgame.

But then the panic start setting in. Bottom 8th still, 2 out, runner on 1st. Groundball to 2nd, toss to 2nd, but the runner is called safe! The SS continues to sell it instead of going to 1st and as a result everyone’s safe. Ace Usui gets a groundball to 2nd again to end the inning, but the team appears to be nursing the game home.

Come the 9th and Usui is pitching out to the left-handed batters. With no threat to go inside, they start attacking those pitches. First batter lines it down the 3B line, but the 3B makes a great save for the out. But the second one does the same and this time the 3B can’t come up with it. It goes for a double and Tenri is in trouble.

But Naradai Fuzoku is undone by one unlucky play. Liner to short, runner is taking his normal lead. Maybe he could have gone back to 2nd earlier, but the SS tosses to 2nd and he’s doubled off ending the game and giving Tenri the victory.

Wakayama – Chiben Wakayama (23rd, 1st in 2 years)

It may seem like I give up early on games, but when Hayashi hit a 2-run HR giving Chiben Wakayama the 2-0 lead I thought perhaps the dream was going to die hard.

But as I was watching other games, I flipped back to see that somehow Kioukan had scored 2 right after and tied the game! And as the innings progressed and as the 0’s continued piling up I wondered if Kioukan could actually do it.

Then in the 7th, Morimoto gets a base hit to left, steals 2nd on the K to Hayashi. And when Kurano delivered the timely hit to put Chiben Wakayama up 3-2 I thought that might be it.

Until the 9th…

One out Nakamura gets a base hit. Perhaps in a panic Kurahara replaced by Oosaki. He gives up a base hit to Tokunaga and Ishikata loading the bases! And still 1 out! A base hit could end the game!

Instead more hearbreak. Yamamura, hitless on the day lines a shot to short. Nakamura perhaps forgot about the baserunning rules because he takes off for home. He’s on one knee trying to turn back, but Nishikawa’s toss easily gets there before he does and Chiben Wakayama holds on 3-2…

Hyogo – Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku (2nd appearance, 1st in 3 years)

Here, this game was pretty clear-cut. Pro prospect Inoda hits a 2-run HR of his own in the first and Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku really didn’t let off the gas. Though they only scored 4 runs, ace Okano gave up just 3 hits and 1 walk in a complete game effort.

Ehime – Saibi (5th appearance, 1st in 4 years)

It was all Saibi in this one as well, though early on one thought that perhaps the teams would be trading runs all night. In fact it was all one way traffic as well. Tied 1-1, Utsunomiya gets a 2-RBI double to make it 3-1. And then in the 3rd, Yoshioka, Shiraishi and Yano with RBI’s making it a 6-2 ballgame and knocking out relief starter Takahashi Kenshin and bringing in Takahashi Kentarou.

Too little too late, and perhaps wouldn’t have mattered anyways. Saibi adds on 4 more runs in a 10-3 rout securing their 5th appearance.

Yamaguchi – Shimonoseki Kokusai (1st appearance)

The game seemed all in Shimonoseki Kokusai’s favor. They were getting more than their fair share of chances compared to Ube Koujyou, but the on thing they weren’t doing was turning that into runs though by the end of their half of the 8th they were ahead 4-1.

Was it going to be enough though? Beacuse Ube Koujyou started making a late inning rally scoring 2 in the bottom of the 8th making it just a 1-run ball game.

And things looked bad in the 9th. After a great leaping catch by Shimatani to save an extra base hit, Ueno gives up a single back up the middle to Masaki. After Furutani lines one hard, but right at Shimatani, Tateishi draws a walk despite being behind 0-2. With Kaita in to PR for the runner at 2nd the stage was set for a possible comeback. And it could come at the hands of ace Hyakutome.

And in the AB he takes a letter high pitch down the LF line and it has the distance, but goes foul! Straighten that out and he’s won the game!

But instead he swings under a high breaking pitch and Ueno and Shimonoseki Kokusai celebrate their first ever Yamaguchi natsu title!

Fukuoka – Touchiku (6th appearance, 1st in 21 years)

With the stuff I had been reading about Fukuokadai Oohori, especially considering they had players on the U-18 squad, including their ace Miura, that this would be a big task for Touchiku to get the upset.

And when Kubota hit a triple in the 1st and the throw got away from Sakaguchi allowing him to score, you wondered if they were going to be up for it.

Instead Morita hits a HR in the 2nd followed later by a Kitamura squeeze play giving Touchiku the 2-1 lead. And Mizukami would add a timely double to make it 3-1 by the end of the 3rd. And still it seemed like Touchiku was getting the better chances while Fukuokadai Oohori struggled to create any offense against ace Ishida.

And in fact the game would end 3-1 in a seemingly comprehensive victory by Touchiku to get to their first Natsu Koushien in over 2 decades!

Finals contested

Higashi Tokyo – Toukaidai Takanawadai (Tier 3) v Nishougakushadai Fuzoku (Tier 2)

Nishougakushadai Fuzoku is on on the verge again for heading to Koushien having defeated their heated rivals Kanto Dai-ichi, and by mercy rule no less. And after giving up 4 runs in their first game, it’s been almost nothing since.

The last step in the process is Toukaidai Takanawadai, who has been mired in the upper, but not top tier of Tokyo. The win against Teikyou isn’t worth as much as it used to, and Toua Gakuen is another 3 team. I don’t really fancy their prospects in this final.

Kanagawa – Yokohama (Tier 1) v Toukaidai Sagami (Tier 1)

It hasn’t taken that long for Yokohama to recover after the retirement of Watanabe-kantoku. They’ve gone to Koushien last year and look to do so again. The major obstacle was Toukou Gakuen, which they pulled away late against in a 10-6 slugfest. The pitching isn’t stellar as you see them giving up runs every game, but the offense has been more than enough.

In their way is fellow powerhouse Toukaidai Sagami who hasn’t played anyone of note, and whose offense isn’t that great, but at least isn’t giving up as much runs.

Still, Toukaidai Sagami has never been known for their pitching, so it would be impressive if ace Saitou could stifle the Yokohama offense.

Toyama – Kouhou (No Tier) v Takaoka Shougyou (Tier 2)

Kouhou has pretty much come from nowhere in 2017 to challenge the powerhouses in Toyama. And this summer they can put a win against Toyama Dai-ichi to their name who have tried to dominate the prefecture. But a come-from-behind 10-9 win aver Toyama Kokusaidai Fuzoku might signal that their pitching staff is being stretched to the limit.

What’s more, their opponent in the final is Takaoka Shougyou, another strong team in the prefecture, who dispatched Shin-Minato 6-2 in the semifinals. After a couple of unnecessary close games early, they have seemed to pick up momentum as the rounds have progressed, which can’t be a good sign for Kouhou.

Ishikawa – Nihon Koukuu Ishikawa (Tier 3) v Yuugakukan (Tier 1)

The main school may not have made it, but their secondary school in Ishikawa has made the finals for the 2nd straight year, losing to Seiryou the year before. They held on to beat them this year 8-7 and that along with a 7-4 win over Komatsu Ootani could be enough this year to put them over the top.

But one last powerhouse awaits and that is Yuugakukan, who has been one of the main teams to come out of Ishikawa in recent years. They’ve been involved in several close games, but none against top tier competition. This will be their first real test coming in, how will they handle it? And against an ace in Sado Yuutarou who struck out 13 against Seiryou?

Aichi – Eitoku (Tier 3) v Chuukyoudai Chuukyou (Tier 2)

Eitoku comes to the final after a fairly successful run which was culminated in a 9-2 mercy rule win over Touhou which one would hope help given them confidence going into the final. This despite the fact that their ace Kamaya doesn’t strike out many batters.

Chuukyoudai Chuukyou kind of dropped off the map after their famous win in 2009 over Nihon Bunri. It didn’t help their kantoku retired as well. After popping back up in 2015 to take the title, they’re at it again and if they win this game they could be back once again, and no one in Aichi is hoping that happens.

But here they are, with their closest game against Aikoudai Meiden, who has been relegated to the masses it seems. They also have a mass of pitching they use, though none are ace “dominant”. Still, I imagine the former Natsu champs will look to take it to the Cinderella’s early and smash their hope before it can gain momentum.

Okayama (replay) – Okayama Sanyou v Soushi Gakuen

The two teams return less than 24 hours after the umpires decided to call the game instead of resuming from a rain delay. The two teams were tied in the 8th with Komatsu recording an out in the top of the 11th.

I had written Okayama Sanyou off for dead after Soushi Gakuen scored 4 in the 3rd. But when my feed talked about manrui for Okayama Sanyou, I figured I’d take a look. Not only was it manrui, but Imoto, Abe and Komatsu all had timely hits to bring the margin back to 6-5! And when PH Ogawara walked it was tied up at 6-6! 2 batters later, Kawata singles and of all things Okayama Sanyou had the 7-6 lead!

Suddenly Okayama Sanyou was on the verge of winning the title!

But it wasn’t going to be that easy was it?

Single, double for Soushi Gakuen and the sayonara runner was in scoring position. Unlike Soushi Gakuen, Okayama Sanyou decided not to walk with 1st open which proved costly. A base hit tied the game and a sac fly later gave Soushi Gakuen the 8-7 lead. And now it would be their turn to try and close the game.

But a leadoff single brings back ace Nanba to the mound perhaps to play the handedness factor. Sac bunt put the runner in scoring position.

Instead though Abe takes advantage of the strategy, taking an outside pitch the other way into the gap in RCF for a game tying double! 8-8!

And on a flyout to right, the runner at 2nd tags up and somehow makes 3rd base! Now, with another base open, Soushi Gakuen walks to create the force. Kataoka with 2 hits lines a ball, but right to short and the game heads to enchousen.

Okayama Sanyou would get another chance in the 10th. Kawata leads off with a walk. After a bunt, the next batter is put on. Imoto pops up to shallow right, and while the 2B catches it, Kawata takes off for 3rd and just beats the throw!

After another intentional walk to load the bases Komatsu stands in to try and deliver the win. Instead he’s jammed and pops back up to Nanba to end the inning!

At that time, the tarp was being put on. No rain, but clouds were surrounding the stadium. And almost when they finished putting it on, the downpour started. It was your typical summer Japanese rain and when it finally subsided 30 minutes later I thought the game was going to continue.

Instead the umpire comes out and puts up his hand and just like that the game is called. It’s a “no-game” officially, but could be considered an 8-8 tie as well.

So the teams get a night to sit and think, but they’ll have to return to Muscat Stadium to do it all over again. Usually in replays the better team wins as the pitching suffers. That would be Soushi Gakuen, so we’ll see if that’s the case.

Natsu Koushien Qualifying Update – 7/27

9 champions crowned yesterday and our field is almost rounded out.

Champions Crowned

Aomori – Aomori Yamada (11th appearance, 1st in 8 years)

The final was pretty much an even affair, but as with the recent tussles between the two Aomori Yamada has Kousei Gakuin’s number. In the late going, Aomori Yamada scored 1 run in the 7th and 2 in the 9th, which was just too much. Kousei’s Koike had a 9th inning solo HR, but that was all as they fell 5-3.

Ibaraki – Tsuchiura Nichidai (3rd appearance, 1st in 31 years)

I honestly do not know what happened in this game. Last I had left this matchup it was all Kasumigaura, up 7-2 with just 3 innings left.

Then I check it again and it’s 8-4.

Then 8-6.

Then 9-wait… It’s 9-8 Tsuchiura Nichidai?!

So I watch again as Kasumigaura has to find a run in the 9th. And they do. Base hit, bunt, timely single and they’re tied. Can’t push through the sayonara run, and they head to enchousen.

And now the innings start to tick off. I start seeing 10th, 11th, 12th inning on the scoreboard and neither team seems to be doing anything. After the 13th now it becomes dangerous because the teams are at-risk of having a replay.

Top 15th and the pressure is on Tsuchiura Nichidai. Fail to score in the top of the inning and the best they can do is draw.

But the leadoff batter doubles and now the shoe is on the other foot now. Next thing I know they’ve driven the go-ahead runner in, and I know that barring the team being able to quickly regroup Kasumigakura is done.

And in the bottom of the 15th that was indeed the case. Kasumigaura loses it at the death, and Tsuchiura Nichidai finally makes the trip back to Koushien.

Saitama – Hanasaki Tokuharu (5th apperance, 3rd consecutive)

Urawa Gakuin seemed a bit on the back foot, as relief starter Watanabe had been struggling. In the 5th it came all to a head as he got himself into a manrui situation due to walks/hit batters then waked in a run. Reliever Kuwano came in for one batter and he too walked in a run. Not until Sano came in, did they finally got out of the inning – but he also walked his first batter, so 3 of the 4 runs scored by Hanasaki Tokuharu were via the walk.

And that was pretty much it. Shimizu gave up a 2-run HR, but otherwise it was all Hanasaki Tokuharu as they won 5-2 and earn yet another bid to Natsu Koushien.

Gunma – Maebashi Ikuei (3rd appearance, 2nd consecutive)

Kendai Takasaki tried to be their gritty selves, but Maebashi Ikuei seemed to have opportunities every inning and it didn’t help that Kendai Takasaki was issuing free passes putting runners on base.

Who while they initially tied it up at 2-2 in the 3rd, Maebashi Ikuei put up runs over the next 3 innings which was enough to put it out of reach. Maebashi Ikuei is starting to cement themselves as a fixture in Gunma.

Fukui – Sakai (1st appearance)

Sakai (or partially the former Harue Kougyou), dominated Tsuruga from start to finish. Ace Yoshikawa Hiroto gave up just 2 hits and walked none as Sakai went on to win 3-0. He was part of the U-15 Japan team back in 2015 so there’s something there, but not sure how much as while he only allowed 2 hits, he struck out only 3 so he’s certainly a contact pitcher.

Gifu – Oogaki Nichidai (4th appearance, 1st in 3 years)

Oogaki Nichidai controlled things early before ace Shuugyou Keito faltered in the 7th leading the defending champs to tie the game. But Chuukyou Gakuindai Chuukyou was already on their 2nd pitcher at the time, and actually went to their 3rd pitcher to start the 8th. That didn’t go well as reliever Fugo Yuuma (who actually was on the U-15 roster in 2016) got just one out in 4 batters and was pulled for Shigemoto who did not help things. All of those baserunners Fugo put on scored and that was that.

Tottori – Yonago Shouin (3rd appearance, 1st in 17 years)

Yonago Shouin won the game, but it was Yonago Higashi who actually out-hit the eventual champions, but it was a key 2nd inning with RBIs from Ueda, Yamaguchi and then a 2-out 2-RBI hit from leadoff batter Babahata. Those 4 runs were more than enough for Yonago Shouin and ace Tatsumi Shinyu as he managed those baserunners to a 5-2 win.

Shimane – Kaisei (10th appearance, 1st in 3 years)

Much like the Tottori final, while Kaisei led from wire-to-wire, Masuda Higashi actually out-hit them as well. However, the top of Kaisei’s lineup, led by cleanup hitter Ueda with his 2 RBI’s, were more than Masuda Higashi could handle, this despite the fact that Nakamura and Katahara struck out just 2.

Naruto Usuzhio – Naruto Uzushio (1st appearance) fka Naruto Kougyou (7th appearance, 1st in 9 years)

Despite the fact the new version of Naruto Kougyou had been unable to go to Koushien, asking Itano to beat them was probably a lot to ask for.

2 innings in and Itano was already down 4-0. The final margin would be 6-0 as Naruto Uzushio finally makes their return to Koushien.

Contested Finals

Nara (2100 PDT/0000 EDT) – Tenri (Tier 1) v Naradai Fuzoku (Tier 3)

Tenri is about to make a return trip to Koushien, but they have not been able to have success like their main rival in the prefecture – Chiben Gakuen. They managed to beat them in a head-to-head matchup (they almost blew the lead), and should sit as the favorites in the matchup.

Naradai Fuzoku has at least poked its head outside of the prefecture, able to go to Haru Koushien back in 2015. No success once they got there, but at least perhaps they could gain some confidence. And in fact they did beat Tenri in the spring taikai so perhaps they aren’t afraid of the matchup.

Wakayama (2100 PDT/0000 EDT) – Chiben Wakayama (Tier 1) v Kioukan (Tier 3)

Chiben Wakayama is on the decline, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t still considered a formidable opponent. They still put up double digits on every opponent save for last year’s representative Shiritsu Wakayama.

Kioukan will be the most recent opponent to try and take their licks against the powerhouse. They’ve survived 3 one-run games against lesser opposition but I wonder how they will do in the finals. If this was several years ago, I’d give them no chance. But now? They might have one.

Hyogo (2100 PDT/0000 EDT) – Akaishi Shougyou (Tier 3) v Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku (Tier 2)

Akashi Shougyou broke through for their first Koushien experience last spring and rewarded their fans with a quarterfinal experience defeating Nichinan Gakuen and Touhou. They’ve reached the finals, but have not played any top tier teams and have had close affairs in their last 2 games.

Meanwhile Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku has had to play both Kansai Gakuin and Houtoku Gakuen, winning both by just 1 run. It will be up to ace Okano to keep the game low-scoring and give his team a chance to take the title.

Okayama (2100 PDT/0000 EDT) – Okayama Sanyou (Tier 3) v Soushi Gakuen (Tier 2)

Soushi Gakuen, after years in the shadows of other schools in Okayama broke through in 2016 and is on the verge of perhaps becoming the king of the prefecture should they win this game. It would be 4 straight calendar Koushien appearances.

Not only that, but in this particular run they defeated both Okayama Ridai Fuzoku and Kanzei fairly handily.

If the times are a changing, it’s not good news for Okayama Sanyou, who themselves have been mired in Tier 3 status. They can at least show a win to Tamano Kounan to their name, but otherwise it’s been against no-name competition. They will need to play their best game ever to make their first ever appearance.

Yamaguchi (1800 PDT/2100 EDT) – Shimonoseki Kokusai (Tier 3) v Ube Koujyou (Tier 2)

Ube Koujyou is trying to raise its status in the prefecture, but so far, they’ve had to depend on Haru Koushien appearances to promote their name.

This run to the final has not been smooth sailing nor convincing as they came back from down 4-0 to walk off 6-5, then gave up 7 runs versus Tokuyama Shoukou. It may have been a mercy-rule win, but the amount of runs given up are a red flag.

Shimonoseki Kokusai is looking for their first title. There were doing the same 2 years ago but fell short against Shimonoseki Kougyou.

This run has been more impressive, with a 4-0 win against Takakawa Gakuen and an 8-7 win over Ube Shougyou. And in the latter game, they rallied several times, including the final 2 innings before taking the lead for good in the 11th. If there is a team that might be able to take on Ube Koujyou, it might be them.

Ehime (2030 PDT/2330 EDT) – Teikyou Dai-go (Tier 3) v Saibi (Tier 3)

It’s odd to consider Saibi a tier 3 school, but while they have had success past the turn of the century, it’s been sporadic and not sustainable. They reach the finals with only a quality win vs last year’s champs Matsuyama Seiryou.

Teikyou Dai-go finally got their chance at Koushien with a Haru appearance last year. Yeah, they got a couple of breaks to go their way, but they still earned it nonetheless.

They got similar breaks, only having to face Saijyou in the 3rd round as significant competition. However in the semifinals, they had to rally from down 5-0 against Kawanoe and won 16-11 in extra innings. I don’t think that will fly in the finals though.

Fukuoka (2100 PDT/0000 EDT) – Fukuokadai Oohori (Tier 3) v Touchiku (Tier 3)

Both schools have basically been in the muck that is Fukuoka. Up until recently Fukuoka was generally up for grabs between one of almost double digit teams who could regularly make deep runs. As of late it has been Kyushu Kokusaidai Fuzoku.

They’re not here in the finals this year, and that opens it up for that mass of schools. This year it’s Fukuokadai Oohori and Touchiku.

Fukuokadai Oohori is looking to make it a Haru-Natsu appearance, having reached the quarterfinals earlier this year. They reach the finals having avoided the big names, but the run last fall/spring cannot be ignored.

Touchiku houwever, is looking for their first appearance in 29 years, not only that, but they’ve defeated both Fukuoka Koudai Jyoutou and Nishi-Nippon Tankidai Fuzoku in consecutive games to get to this point.

While Fukuokadai Oohori does have players in the U-18 national team, I think Touchiku might have a chance in this matchup.

Natsu Koushien Qualifying Update (7/26)

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

Crowned Champions

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

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

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

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

Shizuoka – Fujieda Meisei (1st apperance)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mie – Tsuda Gakuen (1st appearance)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contested Finals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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