Day 1, Game 2 – Kasukabe Kyouei (Saitama) v Takamatsu Shougyou (Kagawa)

Day 1, Game 2 – Kasukabe Kyouei (Saitama) v Takamatsu Shougyou (Kagawa)

(photo courtesy of Asahi)

Kasukabe Kyouei will need all the help they can get (Konata maybe?) if they are to defeat the Shikoku champions. I just didn’t see where they could find a way to win and advance.

Kasukabe Kyouei (Saitama)

  • CF Kurokawa Kei
  • RF Kimura Daigo
  • LF Hiroo Shuuto
  • P Murata Kenichi
  • C Ishizaki Seitarou
  • 2B Hiraoka Daisuke
  • SS Maruta (Akira)
  • 3B Katahira (Susumu)
  • 1B Mori Tsubasa

Takamatsu Shougyou (Kagawa)

  • CF Higura Souta
  • SS Ootsuka Keita
  • P Kagawa Takuma
  • 1B Tateiwa Tomoki
  • RF Asano Rei
  • 2B Tanguchi Seiya
  • LF Kishimoto Shouto
  • 3B Shinohara Ikkyu
  • C Arai Ryuusei

13:07 – First Pitch!

Unfortunately for Kasukabe Kyouei, their appeared average-ness is on display early as Kagawa bookends the inning with strikeouts. Meanwhile Murata is rudely welcomed to the mound as Higura shoots one past him for a base hit, but otherwise gets through the inning unscathed.

Kagawa continues to stifle the Kyouei batters. Gives up a walk, but strikes out the side otherwise. Control isn’t all there, but Kyouei is lending a hand as well looking a bit silly at times. Murata almost gives up a HR to Taniguchi as he hits one to the wall in left center, but again wiggles out of the jam.

More K’s for Kagawa, striking out Katahira before last batter Mori goes the opposite way for a base hit. But Mori strays too far from 1st after a pitch and is easily thrown out. Worse yet, Kurokawa gets a walk, but is thrown out trying to steal 2nd. Just giving away outs left and right (though the caught stealing was somewhat close).

Murata finally yields a run in the 3rd, with 3 consecutive hits starting with Arai and ending in Ootsuka’s single just under the glove of Maruta. He starts a 1-2-3 double play after a conference on the mound though, limiting the damage to just the 1 run, but the offense much like Shiritsu Kure is going to need to find its footing.

Kasukabe Kyouei is finally making progress against Kagawa, but unfortunately have replaced it with getting in their own way. A leadoff base hit can’t be bunted over, and despite a wild pitch and a walk, the 9-1 batters can’t drive them home. In fact, Kurokawa can’t get the bat off his shoulder as he watches strike 3.

That hurts because right before the break the 9-1-2 makes life difficult. Arai and Ootsuka get on base, and when Murata can’t get a strike 3 call on Kagawa, he singles the next pitch scoring both of them extending the lead to 3-0. At this point the lead seems insurmountable.

The white flag may be waving. Kagawa strikes out the side in order making 12 Ks now for him, and we’re only through 6. Meanwhile a walk, and a bad throw on a bunt threaten to blow the game wide open. Murata field his position properly the next time around, but desperately is looking for a way to get out of this self-made pinch. Arai loads the bases and things look bad, but Higura looked to have hit into what would have been a 5-3 double play, but the ball was called foul.

The very next pitch Murata throws it low and a run comes in to score. That opens the flood gates as base hits and errors combine for a total of 4 runs and what is probably game, set and match.

The final score would be 8-0. They have a good 9-3 batters, and ace Kagawa while not really an ace in my opinion, will run roughshod over a weaker team for sure. Shiritsu Wakayama should be put on notice.

Advertisements
Day 1, Opening Game – Shiritsu Kure (Hiroshima) v Shiritsu Wakayama (Wakayama)

Day 1, Opening Game – Shiritsu Kure (Hiroshima) v Shiritsu Wakayama (Wakayama)

(photo courtesy of Nikkan Sports)

This feels right in a way. Two public schools battling. It’s part of the romanticism that I once imagined kokoyakyu to be.

I imagined that Shiritsu Kure would have the advantage, mostly because I couldn’t figure out Shiritsu Wakayama’s pitching. But considering the two teams are not powerhouses, I suppose it could go either way.

Shiritsu Kure (Hiroshima)

  • LF Shiota Kaito
  • SS Kamikouchi Shunsou
  • P Numata Jin
  • CF Numata Ayumu
  • 1B Shinno Yamato
  • C Akiyama Tatsuki
  • 3B Ikeda Shun
  • RF Umeno ? (#18)
  • 2B Kakui Yuu

Shiritsu Wakayama (Wakayama)

  • 3B Yamano Yuuya
  • 2B Shimoida Tomoya
  • SS Ogata Ryuunosuke
  • 1B Kashiyama Shuu (#9)
  • C Yoneda Kouki
  • LF Yamada Tomu (#14)
  • RF Takitani Yuusei
  • CF Katagami Shuuya
  • P Iwamoto Shinnosuke

10:31 – First Pitch!

As expected of each team neither ace is that overpowering (most aren’t). But right off the bat it’s Shiritsu Wakayama who jumps on Numata early with a double, a sac bunt that actually leaves everyone safe, and a double play that scores a run.

And while the 2nd inning goes scoreless, it’s clear that at least early on that Wakayama has the advantage.

But I can’t say I’m surprised by the level of pitching between both sides. In fact, Iwamoto gives Kure a golden chance to tie the game walking 2 batters in the 3rd and letting the trailing runner stead 2nd. But a groundout and a twirling swing by Numata Jin on a slow curve leaves the runners begging.

As the game progresses, you see Shiritsu Wakayama’s batters making harder contact on the ball while Shiritsu Kure can’t move runners along even on a bunt. As the trend continues the score might as well be 10-0.

And as they hit the break insult is added to injury. Iwamoto has Kure completely hitless while in the span of three batters, Wakayama extends their lead to 2-0. A base hit almost makes that 3-0, but a great throw in from center guns the runner down as the teams hit the break.

Kure’s struggles continued until the 7th. Shinno gets plunked and is moved to 2nd, but there’s 2 outs. But Ikeda with one swing breaks both the no-hitter and the shutout with a single to center! They pull to within 1, but that’s as far as they go in the lucky frame. While Kure prevents the bagels, finding another run still seems rather improbable.

Kure almost gets things started in the 8th. Kakui hits a hard liner to right, but Shimoida climbs the ladder and robs him of the base hit. Immediately the next two batters are retired and Kure just like that is down to their final 3 outs.

After Numata Jin rolls over a grounder, his other namesake Ayumu connects on an improbable triple to the right center field wall! And then Sanada somehow dives and makes contact on a pitch almost in the other batter’s box, and even more improbable than that, Ayumu not only isn’t called out of the base paths avoiding the tag, but he dives on the plate tying the game! Kure has found the tying run!

They can’t find the go-ahead though, and must survive the bottom half of the inning to head to enchousen.

And out of nowhere, Kure finds it’s defense. A great stop by Kaminouchi for the 1st out and a great throw by Shiota to 2nd, gunning down Yamano sends the opening game into extras.

Kure though needs to find one more run, and that’s still proving difficult. They’re quickly retired in the 10th.

The game continues scoreless until in the 11th, it takes just 2 batters to end it. With one down Yamada singles to right, but Umeno boots it allowing Yamada to take 2nd. And then on the next pitch Katagami singles to center and the throw home is too late allowing Shiritsu Wakayama to walk it off 3-2 in 11 innings.

That was the first hit by the bottom third of the lineup. Shiritsu Wakayama can be fortunate to advance, but as expected their prospects look a bit dim.

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.

No Osaka Touin? Who’s the front-runner for the 91st Haru Koushien?

No Osaka Touin? Who’s the front-runner for the 91st Haru Koushien?

(photo courtesy of Kyodo News)

With Osaka Touin shockingly not in the picture to defend their Haru-Natsu titles, the field opens up immensely to the announced field. There is no overshadowing team that is oppressing the rest of the schools (at least for now). Who then is better equipped to take advantage of this opportunity?

Instead of going team by team, where there would probably be a lot of saying the exact same thing – weak pitching, black holes at the bottom of the lineup, etc. I’m going to talk about teams in what are effectively cliques.

And yes, I’m using anime references. And some may not be familiar to you, so I’m providing the series.

Shuchiin Gakuin Seitokai (Kaguya-sama wa kokurasetai)

  • Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei
  • Yokohama
  • Seiryou
  • Ryuukokudai Heian
  • Chiben Wakayama
  • Kouryou

These schools here get most of the attention, given that they’ve been here before numerous times before. Some have won the title, others still seeking that final win to cement their school’s name in the history books (well, outside of losing 3 straight calendar finals – sorry Kousei, but it’s kinda true).

Surely at this point the whispers come about that one of these schools should become the front runner to win the title.

The favorite by far has to be Seiryou. Ace Okugawa Yasunobu returns, and he’s still putting up more than a K/IP. However the 2 questions that still remain for them are (1) will they let him go and pitch longer stints and (2) can the offense really hold up against tougher competition? Last year he was relieved early in their losses and the bullpen couldn’t keep it together. On the offensive side, low output against both Keishin and Sapporo Ootani are definitely a worry.

Yokohama and Kouryou both suffer from questions about their pitching. Both also struck out a batter an inning, but both seem to have inherent flaws. Kouryou’s ace struck out a lot of batters, but in the case against Seiryou, also gave up a bunch of runs. His velocity is not exceptional, so there has to be something in his pitching that good teams can key up on, even though he still strikes out his fair share. For Yokohama’s Oyokawa Masaki, his problem is control. He throws hard, but if players are willing to wait it out, they’ll find something to hit.

Ryuukokudai Heian stays true to their MO of low-scoring games and razor thin margins which will keep them in games, but that’s about it.

At the bottom are Kousei and Chiben Wakayama. Kousei’s pitching is better than Chiben Wakayama, but that’s not saying much really. They may however be able to avoid being one-and-done, which is more than what I can say for the big red “C”.

Fumidzuki Gakuen 2-F (Baka to test to shoukanjyuu)

  • Moriokadai Fuzoku
  • Touhou
  • Riseisha

In as much as these schools want to beat those in the upper echelons of kokoyakyu, these schools have not yet been able to join those ranks.

The closest has been Moriokadai Fuzoku who in recent years have turned from one-and-done to the 3rd round, to now the Best 8 two years ago. But by now that batch of students have probably left and a new set has to try and move the school one more step further. Yet it’s hard to find a path for any of these schools to move forward, much less this squad. If Kousei isn’t great shakes, then Moriokadai Fuzoku losing to them can’t portend great things. Touhou may have won the Toukai region, but they too lost to Kousei – this time at Meiji Jingu.

Finally there’s Riseisha, the only school to really be considered a persistent thorn in Osaka Touin’s side. They’re good enough to beat Osaka Touin, but not consistent enough it seems to make an extended run to win Koushien. Their shutout loss to Ryuukokudai Heian is a good example of that fact.

Tokisadame Koukou (Nichijyou)

  • Sapporo Dai-ichi
  • Yamanashi Gakuin
  • Akashi Shougyou
  • Shiritsu Wakayama
  • Fukuchiyama Seibi
  • Shiritsu Kure
  • Takamatsu Shougyou
  • Matsuyama Seiryou

These schools are like the background schools who have made it to Koushien recently, but for the most part have not really done anything to date. These schools are generally average and have no strength that they can lean on to make an extended run.

It also means these schools have a lot to prove if they are to be seriously considered as title contenders. Many of the schools do not have the resume or the strength of opposition they lost to to justify such consideration. Sapporo Dai-ichi and Fukuchiyama Seibi immediately drop off the list as the former lost their need-to-have game in the Hokkaido final, and Fukuchiyama Seibi was shutout by Riseisha.

Shiritsu Wakayama, Shiritsu Kure, and Yamanashi Gakuin are next off that list, both with narrow losses but extenuating circumstances knocking them down a couple of pegs as well.  For Shiritsu Wakayama they scored more than the average run total versus a generally stingy Ryuukokudai Heian, but also lost to Chiben Wakayama in the prefectural final. Shiritsu Kure barely lost to Kouryou and Yonago Higashi (the two other representatives) which was a good thing, but then seeing Kouryou easily being routed by Seiryou resets the overall view. Finally Yamanashi Gakuin lost in their prefecutral final, lost narrowly to Kasukabe Kyouei, but they in turn lost to Touin Gakuin who was blown out at Meiji Jingu to Chikuyou Gakuen.

Moving on to Akashi Shougyou and Matsuyama Seiryou, the former properly dispatched Chiben Wakayama and narrowly lost to Ryuukokudai Heian in 12 despite allowing 16 baserunners. And Heian could have eliminated eventual Meiji Jingu champs Sapporo Ootani if they had just played a clean game (neither did by a wide margin). The 7 walks in that game though is cause for concern. Matsuyama Seiryou meanwhile despite finishing runner-up in the Shikoku super-regional only won one game when they faced named competition, and that was the 3rd place game against Imabari Nishi to advance to the super-regionals. The only interesting bit about them is that they used a bunch of pitchers, never consistently, in each of their games. What that means I’m not sure, but sometimes weaker schools have to leverage what they can.

Finally, there’s the aforementioned Takamatsu Shougyou. 3 years ago they came from nowhere (they hadn’t even made an appearance in 20 years) and reached the finals, losing to Chiben Gakuen. However, that run was on the backs of teams that were for the most part weak, Shuugakukan being the only exception and yet could be argued they had their own handicaps. This time around, they won their super-regional and got a game versus Kousei, but the fact that if not for some late 9th inning runs they would have been “blown out” 7-1 to Seiryou dampens any title chances they might have.

Akashi Shougyou by far has the best chance. They lost to a stingy Ryuukokudai Heian but otherwise looked very solid – which in this particular year might be good enough. The only other school possibly worth mentioning is not the Shikoku champs but the runner-ups Matsuyama Seiryou, but they’re a big “?” at best.

Matsumoto Koukou (Onegai! Series)

  • Kasukabe Kyouei
  • Narashino
  • Touin Gakuen
  • Kokushikan
  • Tsuda Gakuen
  • Yonago Higashi
  • Meihou

These schools have been left by time (a decade at least) and only now are they making their way back to Koushien. Of course, having been gone for so long, you have to wonder what they have to offer now that they’ve returned to the hallowed grounds.

Tsuda Gakuen and Meihou both actually have been to Koushien recently, but 2 years ago for Natsu Koushien. Neither totally impressed, but if you had to take one at the time, you’d probably have taken Meihou.

The same goes for this year’s Haru Koushien as well. Meihou has the better chance out of the two, if nothing else because the pitching has potential for being successful. Despite using 4 pitchers in their loss to Chikuyou Gakuen in the Kyushu Super-Regional Final, they still struck out a batter an inning and did not walk a batter either. Only problem is, they all gave up at least 1 run in their outing. Their best pitcher appears to be Hazama Taiki, but given they’ve used multiple pitchers in their outings, they’ll have to lean on the rest of the staff, which is questionable.

Tsuda Gakuen has their ace Mae Yuito, who has gotten attention for how hard he throws, but when he was asked to throw against Touhou in the Toukai super-regional final he did not fare so well.

Touin Gakuen may have been withholding their ace as much as possible. Apparently, their ace is Hasegawa Hayate, and yet only pitched in the super-regional final. He didn’t even pitch in their only game at Meiji Jingu. Instead, in the early games of the super-regional they turned to #11 Irei Kaito who carried them through their first 3 games, including victories over Jyousou Gakuin, Sano Nichidai and Narashino. It would suggest that they either do not have a true ace, or the person wearing the ace number isn’t actually their ace. However, the lack of offensive output against the middling Kyushu champs Chikuyou Gakuen combined with Irei’s poor performance against them just puts a whole big “?” around their team. Not that they wanted to give the region another team (in case Yokohama wasn’t chosen for the floating bid).

Touin Gakuen’s evaluation then trickles down to Kasukabe Kyouei and Narashino, who both lost to Touin Gakuen. Narashino comes worse off, because already having lost in their prefectural final they get to the aforementioned Irei. Despite that, they might finally have an ace in Iidzuka Shuuto. Kasukabe Kyouei took advantage of errors (which Touin Gakuen is prone to), and scored enough runs to spur them to sending in their ace. It was still in a loss though and they failed to ding Hasegawa for a run, so….

Looking at Kokushikan’s resume a bit deeper perhaps shows why Yokohama was taken instead for the floating bid. First of all, their loss to Sapporo Dai-ichi is actually worse than it appears. The 4 pitchers used struck out 3 while walking 7, and their apparent ace while giving up no runs struck out just 2 and walked 4 over 5 innings. Worse yet, in the final against Toukaidai Sugao they struck out just 1 and walked 2. There’s only so much leeway a pitch-to-contact team can go, and I’m not sure this team can walk that line.

Last of all, Yonago Higashi has a pretty remote chance of making a run. Despite the fact that ace Morishita was not available for their loss against Kouryou in the final, he’s not necessarily fair shakes either. For instance, in their quarterfinal win against Kurashiki Shougyou, he struck out none and walked 2. And while he did much better in the 13 inning affair against Shiritsu Kure, (8 K, 2 BB) there are enough question marks on either side of the ball to toss them out as potential contenders.

Yotsuba!

  • Sapporo Ootani
  • Keishin
  • Chikuyou Gakuen
  • Oita
  • Nisshou Gakuen
  • Ishioka Dai-ichi
  • Tomioka Nishi
  • Kumamoto Nishi

For these schools, Haru Koushien is a completely new experience. While all of them will take it very seriously, others will be looking to enjoy the experience. Either way, these schools generally have the outsidest of outside shots to win the tournament.

But there is one glaring exception and that is Sapporo Ootani. The Hokkaido Super-Regional champions, and the Meiji Jingu champions.

Before we go on though, there needs to be one thing said. The last time a Meiji Jingu champion went on to win the Haru Koushien, you have to go all the way back to the 1997 Yokohama team.

Their ace… Matsuzaka Daisuke.

Before that, you have to go to 1984 and Iwakura (Tokyo). Oddly, the ace – Yamaguchi Shigeyuki, despite beating a PL Gakuen squad that included Kuwata Masumi and Kiyohara Kazuhiro, he was drafted as a position player and unfortunately did not have a successful career.

So, that being said, being the Meiji Jingu champion generally means you’re not winning the Haru Koushien. You’re probably not winning the Natsu Koushien either. Just goes to show how hard it really is to win single eliminations tournaments back-to-back. It also goes to show perhaps that some of the major teams don’t necessarily take the Meiji Jingu tournament seriously.

Because I mean if you winning allows another team from your region to go, and if you were the Kinki champions and that meant Osaka Touin would get in, would you really try that hard to win the tournament?

Keishin on the surface is an interesting case. Coming out of the same region as Seiryou, actually pulling them to a 2-2 draw in the final forcing a replay are certainly non-trivial things. But the part the troubles me is that in the entirety of the super-regionals, the Keishin pitching staff struck out 19…. and walked 24.

Not only is that a K rate of 3.35, but that’s a K/BB rate of 0.79. Not only that, but opposing pitchers strike them out at a clip of 7.06/9 innings.

That’s not good…

7 K/9 doesn’t sound like a whole lot, I know. But if you were to adjust it for the region chances are that probably increases to about a K/IP.

The next 3 schools are the 3 newcomers from the Kyushu region, including champions Chikuyou Gakuen.

Chikuyou Gakuen was a Tier 3 school, who seemingly was destined to stay that way. But they found their way to the Kyushu Super-Regional title, defeating some decent teams in the process. Their wild card seems to be Nishidate Kouta, who didn’t even wear the ace number. He was very stingy with his walks (at most 3 in any one game and a 1.23 BB/9 rate) which is imperative given that he doesn’t quite strikeout the numbers you’d like to see. The offense is what you would expect from a first-timer squad (which isn’t good).

Oita and Nisshou Gakuen both gave up double digit runs to Meihou, and while you think Oita might be the worst off losing to Meihou in the prefecturals and then Chikuyou Gakuen in the super-regionals, it’s actually Nisshou Gakuen who is actually the worst off in this picture. While Oita’s pitchers are not very good, the offense consistently got hits off the opposition. This is in comparison to Nisshou Gakuen whose pitchers are significantly worse (8 K, 21 BB in 25 IP during the super-regionals).

What’s left are the three 21st century teams, almost all of them picked on their actual merit on the baseball field. While that may be the case, Tomioka Nishi and Kumamoto Nishi despite getting to the super-regionals had the same issue (pitching) but for different reasons. For Tomioka Nishi, their ace Ukihashi Kouta both strikes out and walks a large amount of batters. Kumamoto Nishi’s pitchers both strikes out and walks a very low amount of batters. In either case, neither situation is even close to ideal. Ishioka Dai-ichi may have had key revenge wins against teams that continually defeated them but that won’t translate when they get to Koushien.

Summary

In all, while the Haru Koushien is in some ways up for grabs, it’s still a handful of teams that could realistically have a shot at actually winning it all. Of course, circumstances could for instance give a team a cake walk to the finals, but all else equal, the teams with an actual fighting chance are:

  1. Seiryou (Ishikawa) – Generally offense for days, has an ace pitcher but questions linger about his ability to fully carry the team (he probably can’t).
  2. Ryuukokudai Heian (Kyoto) – Pitching to contact and defense can carry you a long way, but their margin for error is always razor thin. Even last summer when they showed offensive output, it eventually fizzled under the summer heat. Nonetheless, the defense may play up here absent of a true offensive squad (outside of Seiryou).
  3. Akashi Shougyou (Hyogo) – True ace Miyaguchi Hiroki is supported by a team that seemingly got better as the Kinki taikai progressed. It’s likely then that they stand more than a puncher’s chance once they reach Koushien.

Possible dark horses are:

  1. Matsuyama Seiryou (Ehime) – The unknowns who came out of nowhere the last time could do so again. Their kantoku, Nikadori Hideaki is not beneath throwing out whatever pitcher he thinks could be useful in a game. Admittedly it is far from pretty, but he for the most part got the job done.
  2. Touin Gakuen (Kanagawa) – If perhaps Irei can get past his first game of the tournament (which seems to be his worst), he can set the foundation for a title run. Actual ace Hasegawa is still a wild card given his sparse appearances.
  3. Narashino (Chiba) – I try not to be a homer when it comes to my favorite team. I generally know what they are, a scrappy team with very average pitching – even when carrying a “deeper” pitching staff. Their ace this year gives me a little more hope, but until they prove they’re more than at best a Best 8 run, you can’t take the team too seriously.
  4. Sapporo Ootani (Hokkaido) – I should just be writing them off outright, but they did defeat Seiryou, who would have had no problems letting Ueda Nishi into the Senbatsu field should they have actually won the Meiji Jingu tournament. What’s baffling is the fact that they won it in the first place despite the fact that for instance they defeated Komadai Tomakomai in the Hokkaido Super-Regional semifinal… without striking out a single batter. If they are to have a chance, there has to be something I’m not seeing here.
  5. Keishin (Fukui) – Perhaps the longest shot of those with a shot to begin with, their chance is pinned behind the fact that somehow took a full-strength Seiryou, ace Okugawa and all, and played to a 2-2 draw in the Hokushinetsu Super-Regional. This despite the fact their 2 main pitchers walked as many batters as they struck out.
The 91st Koushien Field Announced

The 91st Koushien Field Announced

(screencap courtesy of Mainichi Broadcasting Corporation)

So the full field finally was announced Friday in Japan, and while things fell as expected, there was one major bombshell that reverberated across fans of kokoyakyu.

In order of announcements:

21st Century Bids (3)

  • East – Ichioka Dai-ichi (Tokyo) – First Appearance
  • West – Tomioka Nishi (Tokushima) – First Appearance
  • Wild-Card – Kumamoto Nishi (Kumamoto) – First Appearance

So the JHBF changed course from prior years and outside of Kumamoto Nishi (who seemed all but guaranteed in my opinion of receiving a bid), they chose teams based upon performance instead of other factors. Ichioka Dai-ichi almost defeated 3 teams in a row that had given them fits over the last couple of years. Tomioka Nishi narrowly lost to Tokushima Shougyou, but bounced back to defeat Ikeda in the prefecturals, and then defeating Kochi and Teikyou Dai-go before losing to eventual runners-up Matsuyama Seiryou.

Since the JHBF has gone on performance for selecting their teams, there is a chance each of these teams could steal a game with the right matchup, but that’s about as far as their resumes will probably take them.

Hokkaido (1 + Meiji Jingu Bid)

  • Sapporo Ootani – 1st appearance
  • Sapporo Dai-ichi – 3rd appearance, 3rd consecutive

No surprises here, Sapporo Dai-ichi gets the Meiji Jingu bid and Hokkaido gets 2 teams at Senbatsu. However, prospects seem pretty dim, even for Dai-ichi.

Tohoku (2)

  • Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei (Aomori)  – 10th appearance, 1st in 2 years
  • Moriokadai Fuzoku (Iwate) – 5th appearance, 2nd consecutive

Both schools make it, but until a school like either of these can break through, they’re just good, but not good enough schools.

Kanto ex Tokyo (4 + floating bid w/Tokyo)

  • Touin Gakuen (Kanagawa) – 6th appearance, 1st in 16 years
  • Kasukabe Kyouei (Saitama) – 3rd appearance, 1st in 22 years
  • Narashino (Chiba) – 4th appearance, 1st in 10 years
  • Yamanashi Gakuin (Yamanashi) – 3rd appearance, 1st in 5 years
  • Yokohama (Kanagawa) – 16th appearance, 1st in 5 years

The Best 4 of the Kanto Super-Regionals all get the call, and as stated before none seem like they’re really all that strong.

It’s looking like another lost tournament for the Kanto super-region…

And yet, Yokohama gets the floating bid, probably because of their name brand over Toukaidai Sugao. Yes, they defeated Toukaidai Sagami, Keiou Gijyuku and Touin Gakuen, but the mercy rule loss to Kasukabe Kyouei has to mean something.

But it doesn’t. Brand name does.

Tokyo (1)

  • Kokushikan – 9th appearance, 1st in 10 years

Kokushikan is the only representative from Tokyo, much to my dismay. Toukaidai Sugao I think is cheated out of a bid, but I guess what can you do.

Hokushinetsu (2)

  • Seiryou (Ishikawa) – 13th appearance, 2nd consecutive
  • Keishin (Fukui) – 1st appearance

Seiryou looks to go forward again after the setback of the tiebreaker in the summer. They only had a few hiccups along the way, and the pitching depth continues to be an issue, but the offense seems to be just fine.

Keishin will make their first appearance, but it does seem unlikely they’ll make a run though they could steal a game or two.

Toukai (2)

  • Touhou (Aichi) – 30th appearance, 2nd consecutive
  • Tsuda Gakuen (Mie) – 3rd appearance, 1st in 17 years

With the decline of Aikoudai Meiden and Chuukyoudai Chuukyou, the days of the Tokoha schools well behind them, and Mie nowhere to be found, there is a bit of a vacuum in the Toukai region. Yes, Touhou has taken up the banner, but it kind of feels like they’re just the new flag bearers because there’s no one else to take it up.

Which is really sad. I liked Mie. Not so much Chuukyoudai Chuukyou.

Kinki (6)

  • Ryuukokudai Heian (Kyoto) – 41st appearance, 1st in 3 years
  • Akashi Shougyou (Hyogo) – 2nd appearance, 1st in 3 years
  • Riseisha (Osaka) – 8th appearance, 1st in 2 years
  • Chiben Wakayama (Wakayama) – 13th appearance, 2nd consecutive
  • Shiritsu Wakayama (Wakayama) – 6th appearance, 1st in 3 years
  • Fukuchiyama Seibi (Kyoto) – 3rd appearance, 1st in 5 years

Osaka Touin is OUT.

Given the opportunity, the JHBF decided to pass on selecting the reigning haru-natsu champions. That seems completely asinine by the JHBF.

Except it’s not.

It’s as if the JHBF read my article about breaking kokoyakyu and decided the best way to not have that happen is to leave out Osaka Touin. If they’re not invited, they can’t win it, right?

And besides, it’s not like it’s for forever, just right now. They can go win the summer again and it’ll be all right.

Nope. Not buying it. Sorry JHBF, I know what your jig is.

Taking Osaka Touin’s place is actually the team I thought would be the first team out – Fukuchiyama Seibi. Which at least I can take some solace in knowing I had the order right (if I didn’t think the JHBF was trying to prevent kokoyakyu from breaking).

Chuugoku (2 + floating bid w/Shikoku)

  • Kouryou (Hiroshima) – 24th appearance, 1st in 6 years
  • Yonago Higashi (Tottori) – 9th appearance, 1st in 23 years
  • Shiritsu Kure (Hiroshima) – 2nd appearance, 1st in 2 years

No surprises here, Kouryou is the best chance of the three here by far, even though Shiritsu Kure played them so close in the prefectural final.

Shikoku (2)

  • Takamatsu Shougyou (Kagawa) – 27th appearance, 1st in 3 years
  • Matsuyama Seiryou (Ehime) – 2nd appearance, 2nd consecutive

Even though Chuugoku gets the extra bid, it’s probably Shikoku’s champion that has the better chance of succeeding at Koushien – though that might not be saying much when all is said and done.

Kyushu (4)

  • Chikuyou Gakuen (Fukuoka) – 1st appearance
  • Meihou (Oita) – 3rd appearance, 1st in 10 years
  • Nisshou Gakuen (Miyazaki) – 1st appearance
  • Oita (Oita) – 1st appearance

Again, no surprises other than the teams that wound up in the Best 4. 3 first-timers and none really standing out a whole lot.

Summary

With Osaka Touin not in the picture, this year’s senbatsu seemingly becomes a free-for-all with many teams now not just saying that they have a chance – they now legitimately do have a chance. Should be interesting when I do my individual team reviews.

91st Haru Koushien – Projecting the 21st Century Candidates

91st Haru Koushien – Projecting the 21st Century Candidates

(photo courtesy of Kushiro Kouryou HS)

There’s one final bit to try and project, and that is the three 21st century candidates which will round out the field. Recently I had found that it wasn’t just picking 3 of the teams nominated from the super-regional areas, but that the JHBF would pick 1 from Western Japan, 1 from Eastern Japan, and 1 wild card.

Of course, projecting these teams are much harder because we don’t know what will be the JHBF’s priorities each year.

Anyways, with that said, let’s look at the 9 nominees.

Hokkaido – Kushiro Kouryou – No prior appearances

Kushine Regionals

  • def Kushiro Konan 5-4
  • def Kushiro Meiki 6-3
  • def Bushuukan 5-0

Super-Regionals

  • def Sapporo Eiai 14-12
  • def Wakkanai Ootani 10-0 (6 inn)
  • lost Sapporo Dai-ichi 5-1

Kushiro Kouryou profiles as a good candidate in that they’re not been overly strong throughout the years, though they did make it to the quarterfinals of the qualifiers for the 2016 Natsu Koushien. Mostly that’s been a by-product of not being very good, but in recent years it’s been because they’ve had to continuously run into Bushuukan, who themselves have started to make a name for themsevles. This fall they have finally slayed the beast that is Bushuukan to reach the Super-Regional where they had another decent win against Wakkanai Ootani before a very good loss to Sapporo Dai-ichi (who also is now in the field). As part of their application, it was mentioned that this was their first Best 4 appearance in 61 years.

The resume looks excellent, and the timing would be good if not for 2 things:

1) The JHBF has seemed to operate on a lag when it comes to rewarding teams, like fellow Hokkaido brethren Engaru several years ago. This seems too timely for them to award them this spot.

2) More importantly, and perhaps counter-intuitively, Sapporo Ootani won the Meiji Jingu Taikai, giving the prefecture an extra bid. A normally weak prefecture now has 2 spots at Koushien, and if Kushiro Kouryou were to be invited, 3 teams would be coming from Hokkaido. I have a hard time believing that the JHBF will let that fly, but I’ve been wrong before. So despite their credentials, circumstance may prevent them from making the trip.

Tohoku – Furukawa (Miyagi) – No prior appearances

Hokubu Regionals

  • lost Iwagasaki 2-1

Hokubu Regionals – Repechage

  • def Furukawa Reimei 5-2
  • def Nakaniida 5-0

Miyagi Prefecturals

  • def Matsushima 5-0
  • def Tohoku Gakuin 6-3
  • def Tohoku 4-3
  • def Oosaki Chuuou 4-0
  • lost Sendai Ikuei 17-3 (7 inn)

Super-Regionals

  • def Hirosaki Higashi 4x-3 (10 inn)
  • def Akita Shuuei 3-1
  • lost Moriokadai Fuzoku 10-0 (6 inn)

That has to be one of the longer resumes I’ve seen. Mostly because of the regionals and the repechage when they were immediately sent down. Even still, they were able to work their way out, defeated some decent schools, but in the case of the prefecturals and the super-regionals, they were unceremoniously ousted by Tier 1 schools.

As part of their application, it is mentioned that the team only has 2 hours of practice everyday (which is less than you might think). In addition, they continue to take the assistance angle as it is mentioned the school has assisted when the Shibui River ran over its banks during heavy rains, and after the Tohoku Earthquake, the school participated in assistance efforts.

That’s not to say they don’t deserve a spot. In fact, the JHBF seems to prefer schools who have actually not done as well – mostly to avoid having a 21st century team suddenly run laps around the field much like Rifu did some years back. They appear to be a team that can make life difficult for the lower rung teams, but will almost certainly be outmatched if they play a Koushien regular.

Which might be perfect for the JHBF.

Kanto/Tokyo – Ishioka Dai-ichi (Ibaraki) – No prior appearances

Minami Regional Pools

  • def Edosaki Sougou 11-0 (5 inn)

Ibaraki Prefecturals

  • def Mito Kougyou 1-0
  • def Meishuu Hitachi 10-6
  • def Tsuchiura Nichidai 4-2
  • lost Fujishiro 5x-4 (13 inn – Tiebreak initiated in 13th)

Ishioka Dai-ichi is a weird team. They’ve not been a strong team, and yet if you look at their Koushien qualifying, their losses are to some notable teams:

  • 3 losses – Kasumigaura, Jyousou Gakuin
  • 2 losses – Fujishiro, Meishuu Hitachi, Tsuchiura Nichidai
  • 1 loss – Suijyou

13 of their 21 losses in Koushien qualifying since 2006 have been to teams that have made it to Koushien. That’s pretty unprecedented considering that they’re not considered a Tier 2 school.

Part of the resume includes having to play 3 of those schools back-to-back-to-back. They defeated 2 of them and were short-circuited in the semifinals due to the tiebreak rules (which by the way favor the better schools, but that’s another article). The only notes made other than baseball related are that it was, and still is an agricultural-oriented school despite not having the Nougyou designation (農業).

They look like another candidate for the JHBF. A schools that’s not overly strong, who were able to almost avenge three thorns in their side.

If there is some consolation, both Ibaraki teams that advanced to the super-regionals lost narrowly to the Kanto Super-Regional Champion and Runner-up in the first round. Can’t get a better loss that that I guess.

Hokushinetsu – Kanadzu (Fukui) – No prior appearances

Fukui Prefecturals

  • def Takefu 11-6
  • def Tsuruga Kehi 2-1
  • def Keishin 6-5
  • lost Fukui Koudai Fukui 12-0

Super-Regionals

  • lost Matsumoto Dai-ichi 6-0

Kanadzu’s resume is also short and has very distinct good and bad bits within it.

The good? They defeated Tsuruga Kehi, a Koushien regular. And to a lesser extent, you can include the win over Keishin as well.

The bad? They were blown out by Fukui Koudai Fukui in the prefectural final, and then were shutout by a weak Matsumoto Dai-icihi squad in the super-regional.

As part of their description, Kanadzu is the only HS left in the region due to declining populations (typical for rural areas nowadays, unfortunately), and the team only numbers 22 people in all. In addition they have started teaching Tee-ball to the kindergarten children as well as developing a relationship with the elementary school teams.

With that additional information, it makes sense that their two losses are very stark in nature. It also could speak more to the win they had against Tsuruga Kehi. While I’m not sure if it puts them on par with Ishioka Dai-ichi if we were to take resumes into account, that additional information might help.

Toukai – Shimizu Sakuragaoka (Shizuoka)

Chubu Regionals

  • def Yaidzu Suisan 7-3
  • def Jyounan Shizuoka 10-6
  • def Shizuoka 5-3
  • def Shizuoka Shiritsu 7-3
  • lost Suruga Sougou 9-3

Shizuoka Prefecturals

  • def Izu Chuuou 5-1
  • def Toukaidai Shizuoka Shouyou 5x-4
  • def Katou Gakuen 4-1
  • lost Gotenba Nishi 6-5 (11 inn)

Super-Regionals

  • lost Gifu Dai-ichi 5x-4 (11 inn)

It looks like the super-regions are learning what might constitute a good candidate to the JHBF. A not overly strong school, who has a good win here and there. For Shimizu Sakuragaoka, it’s defeating Shizuoka in the regionals. The rest of the resume is rather underwhelming, though at least in the prefecturals and super-regionals were enchousen losses, though the teams they lost to will get a certain ding against.

Additional information passed on is that the school was as a result of a merger between Ihara and Shimisu Shiritsu Shougyou, of which the latter has been to Koushien before (Haru – 1963, 1968 & Natsu – 1986). The team has to share a field with the soccer team, who are regulars at the national tournament. They are also involved in the “Active Learning” program instituted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in which players help determine policies for teams in all aspects (practice, games, etc.).

The problem with schools picking similar schools is that it’s easier to put them in order, and for Shimizu Sakuragaoka they too fall behind someone like Ishioka Dai-ichi. They’d have to hope that the items outside of performance help push them over the top.

Kinki – Yao (Osaka) – 6 Haru appearances (last 1952), 4 Natsu appearances (last 1959)

Osaka Prefecturals (A Block)

  • def Nishi/Minami/Ogimachi Sougou 13-0 (5 inn)
  • def Senyou 9-2
  • def Ootori 8-7
  • def Kishiwada Shiritsu Sangyou 6-2
  • lost Minato 13-11

Perhaps it seems like the Kinki region went a little too far in nominating someone off the map as it were, though it seems this is the farthest the team has gone in a while. It seems that the selling point is that the school used to be a powerhouse way back when, and in fact of their 10 appearances, they appeared in the semifinals 4 times and the finals once though they didn’t win the title.

Which is nice and all, but it probably would have helped if they had done this last year when they were having the X0’th Haru Koushien. Even still, if the JHBF wants to commemorate a school from the past, this team seems as good as any to give a spot – though one would imagine they’d be in over their heads no matter who they played.

Chuugoku – Hirata (Shimane) – No prior appearances

Shimane Prefecturals

  • def Goutsu 3-1
  • def Izumo Kougyou 3-2
  • def Hamada 3-2
  • def Yakami 2-0
  • lost Taisha 8x-7

Super Regionals

  • lost Soutoku 12x-5 (7 inn)

While the loss to Soutoku was rather significant, they almost won the prefecture if not for giving up 5 runs in the bottom of the 9th inning to Taisha. Also, given the fact that they scored 11 runs in the prior 4 games, this type of offense in the final, against a better known team is rather impressive.

Unfortunately, stop me if you’ve heard this story. Originally established as an agricultural school, the school also excelled in the literary and military arts. Due to declining population the school has been proactive volunteering with the community while the baseball team has been doing outreach to nursery and kindergarten schools.

This means that they are in line with both Ishioka Dai-ichi and Kanadzu. And while the school is on the Western side and wouldn’t be in direct competition, I find it hard to believe that the JHBF is going to take two schools with the same story. This puts them between a rock and a hard place unless the JHBF actually wants to emphasize the declining population issue and wants to push some kind of initiative to revitalize those areas…

Shikoku – Tomioka Nishi (Tokushima) – No prior appearances

Tokushima Prefecturals

  • def Komatsushima 12-1 (5 inn)
  • def Jyoutou 7-0 (7 inn)
  • lost Tokushima Shougyou 3-2 (10 inn)
  • def Ikeda 9-3

Super-Regionals

  • def Kochi 8-7
  • def Teikyou Dai-go 10-6
  • lost Matsuyama Seiryou 5-3

Shikoku has gone totally on the performance front seeing as though they probably will lose the floating bid. Tomioka Nishi was no slouch, defeating teams like Komatsushima and Ikeda in the prefecturals, and Kochi and Teikyou Dai-go in the super-regionals. Not only that, the losses were narrow as well.

The additional information on Tomioka Nishi still is baseball-related in that they share a compact shared ground, and yet are still able to produce good results. That and a short statement about contributing to the community.

If the JHBF wants to give a bid to a strong resume team, Tomioka Nishi could be that team (though one wonders what Furukawa would count as).

Kyushu – Kumamoto Nishi – 1 Natsu appearance (1985)

Kumamoto Prefecturals

  • def Ushibuka 7x-0 (7 inn)
  • def Asou Chuuou 11x-1 (5 inn)
  • def Nanryou 5-1
  • def Kikuchi 4-2
  • def Kumamoto Kougyou 6-5
  • lost Kumamoto Kokufu 11-9

Super-Regionals

  • def Saga Gakuen 3-2
  • lost Nisshou Gakuen 8-1 (7 inn)

Kumamoto Nishi has come from nowhere (the team had won 3 consecutive games only twice in the prior 9 years) to reach the quarterfinals of the Kyushu Super-Regionals defeating a team like Kumamoto Kougyou in the process.

The huge catch? They did it entirely with a team whose prior experience was in rubber baseball (軟式 or nanshiki).

WHAT?

That’s right, the members before reaching HS seemingly had not played with a hard baseball.

If that’s really true, then this is unprecedented.

Tragically, this could also lead to potential issues if players have not had extensive experience. Back on November 18th #19 on their roster, Shinoda Taishi was struck on the head by a batted ball and died of his injuries the following day.

With the announcement of the super-regional nominees done on the 14th of this month, surely this was taken into account when submitting them for nomination.

So while there is mention of the team reaching out to elementary school students and the fact that they have management controls for things like the netting and the club room, surely this will be something overhanging it all.

And while it might be unfair, and they may have been chosen anyways on its story, it is all but certain that Kumamoto Nishi will be selected as a representative – though maybe as the wild card so as not to give the feeling of being emotionally held hostage as some might think.

So I imagine the three projected teams to be:

  • West – Kanadzu
  • East – Yao
  • Wild Card – Kumamoto Nishi

Here’s what I figure, with Kumamoto Nishi almost certainly guaranteed to get a bid, it hamstrings the JHBF and who they could choose.

West

Kushiro Kouryou is probably out due to Hokkaido having 3 teams if they were included. Furukawa is probably out due to the fact that Tohoku schools have been chosen each of the past 3 years.

The other 3 teams have a compelling argument. Ishioka Dai-ichi was able to (almost) exercise the demons against the powerhouses in its own prefecture. Kanadzu would be picking a team fighting the decline of the area. And Shimizu Sakuragaoka could be chosen to promote the program they’re associated with.

My teams chosen are in themes. For Kanadzu it’s the present and dealing with regions with declining populations.

East

With Kumamoto Nishi taking the wild-card spot, that leaves Yao, Hirata and Tomioka Nishi. Hirata and Tomioka Nishi were both nominated due to their results, which I think means that Yao will get chosen due to a celebration of the past.

Wild Card

Kumamoto Nishi will be awarded this spot because it will allow the JHBF to choose this team to honor their fallen teammate, while acknowledging their ability to convert from rubber to hardball.