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.
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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.

 

Pitch limits in Niigata – What does it all mean?

Pitch limits in Niigata – What does it all mean?

(photo courtesy of the Japan Times article and subsequently Kyodo)

So I was eating dinner and decided to read the recent Japanese Baseball news especially since the Carp were losing players (or soon to lose in the case of Kikuchi).

Then the aforementioned article linked above appeared, and I was completely shocked to see this happening.

For those who want a summary of the article, Niigata has decided that for all tournaments starting with the 2019 Spring Taikais, no pitcher can start an inning if they have already thrown 100 pitches. Now, this is slightly different than pitch counts in say Little League, where once a pitcher hits 85 pitches they may finish the batter, but then be immediately relieved.

Now, the player above, Yoshida Kousei obviosuly broke down as the tournament progressed, basically becoming ineffective in the final. Go back further and there’s Anraku Tomohiro who was billed to be the next great pitcher, only to see injuries derail his career for good.

Even with the injuries, the JHBF (Japan HS Baseball Federation) hasn’t really been all that proactive about dealing with pitchers’ high counts overall, and when they’ve implemented something it almost had the opposite effect.

Take for instance the rule they implemented after Matsuzaka’s 1998 performance. In it, he pitched a complete game shutout, then a 17 inning affair against rival PL Gakuen, then closed out the 9th inning, then pitched a no-hitter in the title game.

All on consecutive days.

So what did the JHBF do? They said that any game that was tied after 15 innings would be considered a draw and have to be replayed.

Great, the games now can’t go longer than 15 innings, that’s good right?

But the problem is most teams have just 1 pitcher. Or even if they have a 2nd, there’s a large gap in talent. So now, instead of a game going say 16 innings and finishing, now a game would be called a draw and that same pitcher (generally after just 1 day off) would have to pitch a minimum of 9 more innings.

That’s not really protecting the pitcher now, is it?

The most recent effort by the JHBF is to enact tiebreaker rules, where once the game hits the 13th inning, runners are placed on 1st and 2nd and no out. That probably will end the game sooner, but the game also becomes a crapshoot because now it comes down to a timely hit or a poorly executed bunt. Even more, this would seem to favor the powerhouse schools as runners on base are almost always threats to score.

So, back to the Niigata pitch limits. What will this do? Lets take a look at it from a prefectural view outwards.

Arbitrage means talent may go elsewhere

Wait, what? Arbitrage? Yeah, in a way.

So Niigata is the only prefecture to enforce pitch limits. If you are a pitcher attending middle school in Niigata and you’re looking at what HS school to choose, if you are still under the old-school thinking that you (and only you) want to be the staff ace, there’s no way you’re going to HS in Niigata.

Why?

Because there’s no way you’re going to get through a complete game in 100 pitches or less, which means that you’re going to have to give way at some point in time.

So what do you do then? You just move out of prefecture and the old rules still apply.

Those that do stay will have to be more efficient

Any pitcher for a Niigata school, especially the staff ace, will have to pitch more efficiently to get deeper into games. Waste pitches, especially on a 0-2 count? Not anymore. Pitchers will have to be more around the zone to get either strikes or contact (hopefully for outs). But with more pitches in the zone, it also means…

More balls in play and more offense

Most pitchers won’t be able to cope with throwing in the zone more. They may be able to throw in the strike zone, but either will not have good control or have average velocity. Either of which makes them more vulnerable to good offenses.

Which brings me to my final, and most important point…

The rich will get richer

There is only so much good talent to go around. If you took Kanaashi Nougyou and Yoshida and put them in the new rules, there’s no way they would have made the finals. His inefficiency and pitches that seemed hittable would have knocked him out of the game early, forcing them to go to a bullpen which would be significantly worse.

Flip the script to Osaka Touin now. First, they have an offense that will mercilessly punish bad pitching. And this year they had 2 aces in Kakigi Ren and Neo Akira. Not only that, you can bet that they had even more pitchers in the pipeline should they need it.

As I mentioned before, Shuugakukan put out the template of a successful team when it had not 1, not 2, but 4 ace pitchers. Now, it was mismanaged IMO, but the blueprint nonetheless was still there.

If you are a powerhouse team, and you can already recruit some of the best talent in the country, why not take advantage of that, leverage every spot on your roster and build a pitching staff?

What a pitch count will do is accelerate that process giving those teams that can recruit enough talent a significant edge. Niigata might be ahead of the curve getting their schools accustomed to this, especially if they bet that the JHBF will eventually make this a nationwide mandate.

But even then, schools like Nihon Bunri, Niigata Meikun and Chuuetsu will all immediately benefit as their 2nd pitcher will generally be better than the average Niigata school’s 2nd pitcher.

The long-run impact

Pitch counts are not a bad thing, and in the case of kokoyakyu, it perhaps is needed to prevent pitchers (and kantoku’s) from detrimentally hurting themselves in the long-run.

However, pitch counts means schools will have to carry an actual pitching staff which means that the powerhouses will immediately benefit both because they can take advantage of mistakes and because their pitching staff will generally be deeper. If you thought there was already a concentration of schools that regularly make the Koushien tournament, that pool of schools may continue to dwindle as fringe schools struggle to develop a 2nd competent pitcher.

Projected 91st Haru Koushien Field

Projected 91st Haru Koushien Field

(picture courtesy of Kyodo News)

With the fall taikais and the Meiji Jingu Taikai complete, we can get a good sense of who we should be seeing in next year’s Haru Koushien.

Hokkaido (1)

  • Sapporo Ootani – 1st appearance

This was not a cheap title run for Sapporo Ootani, defeating 4 former Koushien participants in succession in the super-regionals to take the title (Takikawa Nishi, Shirakawa Gakuen, Komadai Tomakomai, Sapporo Dai-ichi).

Meiji Jingu Bid (1)

  • Sapporo Dai-ichi – 3rd appearance, 3rd consecutive

The thing is – Sapporo Ootani didn’t stop there. They started from the depths of the Meiji Jingu Taikai, barely holding on against Ryuukokudai Heian, handling lesser competition in Kokushikan and Chikuyou Gakuen, before defeating what seemed like a backup squad from Seiryou to take the title. That title (their 1st obviously), allows the more well-known Sapporo Dai-ichi to enter the tournament via the Meiji Jingu bid. The resume though is something left to be desired though, as despite wins against Sapporo Nichidai and Asahikawadai, they were slugfests which do not bode well for the squad going forward.

Tohoku (2)

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

This isn’t necessarily new here out of Tohoku. Kousei, no matter what the iteration (i.e. name) continues to chug along winning and making appearances, but not replicating their heyday when they made 3 consecutive calendar Koushien finals. And despite defeating a who’s who of teams (Aomori Yamada, Senshuudai Kitakami, Haguro, Hanamaki HIgashi, and Moriokadai Fuzoku) it still feels like they haven’t quite gotten back to where they want to be.

Moriokadai Fuzoku on the other hand is seemingly making steady progress. From being one-and-done through 2012, to reaching the 3rd round and now reaching the quarterfinals at Koushien, the appearance is that they’re building a sturdy foundation for years to come. Though I would say that the hill gets much steeper from here and future progress will be hard to come by, and a resume this time around that lacks in name recognition makes it harder to make a case for in this iteration.

Kanto ex Tokyo (4)

  • 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

This selection is pretty straightforward. All 4 semifinal teams blew out their opposition, so there’s no risk of any of them being passed up for one reason or another.

The selection is notably void of many of the powerhouses in the region, continuing to highlight the downswing the region has taken as a whole. It’s not necessarily that the teams listed above are worse (though they might be), but it does feel like the representatives that come out of a metropolitan areas such as the Kanto region should be doing better than they are. What’s worse, none of these teams have many quality wins to their name outside of each other (Kasukabe Kyouei did defeat Yokohama and Yamanashi Gakuin did defeat Maebashi Ikuei, but that’s about it)  and even the champion Touin Gakuen didn’t even win their prefecture!

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

Tokyo (1 + floating bid w/Kanto ex Tokyo)

  • Kokushikan – 9th appearance, 1st in 10 years
  • Toukaidai Sugao – 4th appearance, 1st in 3 years

Toukaidai Sugao gets the gift of the floating bid thanks to the weak Kanto region, though one could say they easily deserved it defeating both Nishogakushadai Fuzoku and Waseda Jitsugyou. Now, their games once they started to face tougher competition started to look like Toyodai Himeji’s games in that they were low scoring affairs. The pitching has to keep up with that, which is the big query.

Kokushikan managed to dodge most of the tough competition facing Kanto Dai-ichi in the 3rd round before facing Toukaidai Sugao in the finals. In fact, the storyline for both teams is about the same so if you root for either one, the same flaws appear (primarily pitching).

Hokushinetsu (2)

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

The beat goes on for Seiryou. not challenged in either the Super-regionals or the Meiji Jingu taikai until the late stages. They also sat their ace in the final and still almost beat Sapporo Ootani. Needless to say they play with some air of arrogance that even rivals that of Osaka Touin (though we all know who can actually justify said attitude).

Keishin finally makes their first appearance at Koushien, breaking through the powerhouse roadblocks and eking their way through the Super-regionals to earn their bid. It may have been cheap at the prefectural level, but at least they did face some known competition in the Super-regionals in Toyama Dai-ichi, Yuugakukan and Ueda Nishi, and perhaps best of all, forcing a replay against Seiryou in the finals.

But the pitching doesn’t seem like it’s all that strong, and the offense struck out 17 times in that draw so…

Toukai (2)

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

It used to be before that when we referred to Aichi, it was either Aikoudai Meiden or Chuukyoudai Chuukyou. In recent years though, Touhou can make a good case that they’re now the powerhouse of the prefecture even banking at least one win in each of their appearances dating back to 2004. Now, it wasn’t until 2014 that they started to make regular appearances, but they’ve at least made good when they get there.

The resume this time around is a bit lacking with only Chuukyoudai Chuukyou in the prefecturals, and no one of real note in the Super-regionals (no, not Tsuda Gakuen either). In addition, in their loss to Hachinohe Gakuin Kousei the pitching was not stellar which does not bode well for them come the spring.

Tsuda Gakuen’s resume is not all that great either as they suffered a loss in regional play to Inabe Sougou Gakuen, then lost in the semifinals to Komono, and then getting blown out by Touhou in the super-regional finals. There are some okay wins, Kaisei in the 3rd place game to advance to the Super-regionals and Oogaki Nichidai and Chuukyoudai Chuukyou in the Super-regionals. But those latter two wins do not carry as much weight as they used to.

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
  • Osaka Touin (Osaka) – 11th appearance, 5th consecutive
  • Shiritsu Wakayama (Wakayama) – 6th appearance, 1st in 3 years

The Kinki region also projects to be straight forward as well with 3 clear tiers of teams. The two finalists had called games in the semifinals, and then in the quarterfinals those teams that were blown out had good wins in the quarterfinals. Finally, Osaka Touin losing in the quarterfinals meant that 1 potential spot that would go to a team that hadn’t gone before (though in this case it was non-applicable) would just be awarded to Osaka Touin because well… they’re Osaka Touin.

Ryuukokudai Heian does not appear to have the high-powered offense they had last summer, and are back to mostly being a pitching and defense squad, but note that they did not even win their prefecture and instead went to the Super-regionals as the 3rd place team.

Akashi Shougyou banked some quality wins en route to the Super-regional finals defeating Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku, Houtoku Gakuen and Chiben Wakayama. Of course at the same time they kind of represent the old guard when it comes to the group of powerhouse teams.

I wasn’t surprised to see Chiben Wakayama blown out in the semfinals, but I was surprised to see that Riseisha had been. Though, if you discount their win over Osaka Touin because they do not seem to take the tournament as seriously than at Koushien, then perhaps it makes a little more sense.

Heck, Osaka Touin lost to Chiben Wakayama. That really should never happen now. Ever.

Shiritsu Wakayama gets the last spot IMO merely for the fact that they weren’t shutout in their quarterfinal loss. It’s quite possible they choose someone like Fukuchiyama Seibi because they see wins against Kyoto Subaru, Kyoto Gaidai Nishi and Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku. While not bringing as much weight as it used to, the committee may decide that enough to take a different quarterfinal loser as the 6th team.

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

Kouryou makes it back to Koushien again, but there were some early hiccups that could give one pause, especially when they were blown out of the super-regionals by Seiryou at Meiji Jingu.

Yonago Higashi doesn’t necessarily have a good resume to boot, with wins over Kaisei (Shimane) and Kurashiki Shougyou.

And Shiritsu Kure gets the floating bid only because the resumes of the schools in Shikoku are about as comparable with their key win against Okayama Ridai Fuzoku.

Shikoku (2)

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

Takamatsu Shougyou gets some bonus points from their fall taikai. First, for playing Seiryou close at Meiji JIngu, and then from earlier in the process by defeating Meitoku Gijyuku and Kochi Shougyou.

The same can’t be said for Matusyama Seiryou, who can only point to a win against Imabari Nishi, which isn’t all that good. And as mentioned before, the resumes are too poor to consider sending the floating bid across the Naruto Strait.

Kyushu (4)

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

3 first-timers from Kyushu??!! What in the world is going on here?

Well, Chikuyou Gakuen has always been a Tier 3 school for a good while. This run though, was not totally cheap. They needed to defeat both Iidzuka and Kyushu Kokusaidai Fuzoku to win the prefecture. Then in the Super-regionals they beat Kounan, and Meihou. So it’s not bad, but the strikeout numbers the pitching staff tallied isn’t all that great, so they don’t have a power ace on the mound. Doesn’t mean they don’t have a control ace, but there’s less leeway either way.

The other 3 teams’ resumes appear whelming at best with Nisshou Gakuen defeating Kyushu Kokusaidai Fuzoku, and Oita defeating Kamimura Gakuen. Either way, there’s not much to say.

Summary

At first glance this field is a feast for the powerhouses as there are a lot of middling teams that appear likely to receive the phone call. Even in a down year for Osaka Touin, it’s possible this Koushien is to be had.

Breaking Kokoyakyu – Creating an Osaka Touin Dynasty

It is at this point, with Osaka Touin completing it’s second Haru-Natsu Renzoku Yuushou (winning both spring and summer titles), that I figure Kokoyakyu needs to fundamentally break.

I’ve already gone over the fact that despite a large amount of schools participating, it’s basically the same 150-200 schools making it for the most part, and in some prefectures it’s been the same team for over a decade.

So the thought of any team making it is there, but it’s so remote, and so difficult, that even when given the opportunity, some schools blow it (sorry Komatsu Ootani…).

And now you have Osaka Touin.

Established in 1983, they made their first Koushien appearance 8 years later (that’s 5 full classes). They would lose in the quarterfinals in the Haru Koushien, but then win their first appearance at the Natsu Koushien.

It would be a full decade before they would reappear, and have their only appearance in 2002 Natsu Koushien that resulted in a one-and-done.

But it would be in 2008 when the effective dynasty of Osaka Touin would bear fruit.

Starting in the 2008 Natsu Koushien to their championship today, their stats are the follwing:

  • Appeared in 7 of 10 Haru Koushien tournaments and 6 of 11 Natsu Koushien tournaments
  • Eliminated in the 2nd round twice
  • Eliminated in the 3rd round three times
  • Eliminated in the semifinals once
  • Won 3 Haru Koushien and 4 Natsu Koushien titles, including 2 Haru-Natsu titles.

It is in effect a dynasty, and for those that know me, I hate it.

I hate it because of the fact that in most cases you know going in that Osaka Touin can and probably will win it. The odds are basically flipping a coin.

So now, the Koushien tournament becomes like a glorified prefecture, where Osaka Touin runs roughshod against all other teams.

Where is the romanticism in that? Cheer for the front-runner? Great. Have at it.

In that case I want Osaka Touin to win at least the next 4 years haru-natsu all the way. Create the super dynasty that everyone wants. And surely with each successive win, they’ll get even more talented players, and build a de facto major league team which means they can win even more titles.

All this because at some point people will realize there IS no point to the tournament other than to hand Osaka Touin the title once again.

And once that realization happens, my hope is kokoyakyu in its current state will break. Who knows how badly, but it would and my hope is whatever emerges will be better.

That’s it. At this point I will now hope Osaka Touin crushes all opposition underfoot much like this final against Kanaashi Nougyou. Face Riseisha? Ha. They’re just another nobody. Nichidai-san? They don’t have the pitching to keep up with us. Sakushin Gakuin? You were talking about a 10 year plan to win it all. We have an annual plan.

Beat them all. Feed the fans. Because someday it won’t be fun anymore.

100th Natsu Koushien – Semifinals

100th Natsu Koushien – Semifinals

(photo courtesy of goo news, and please God no I don’t want that final)

I almost don’t want to do this review because I have a feeling it will be the same old Koushien…

Semifinal 1 – Kanaashi Nougyou (Akita) v Nichidai-san (Nishi Tokyo)

Kanaashi Nougyou

  • def Kagoshima Jitsugyou (Kagoshima) 5-1
  • def Oogaki Nichidai (Gifu) 6-3
  • def Yokohama (Minami Kanagawa) 5-4
  • def Oumi (Shiga) 3x-2

Nichidai-san

  • def Orio Aishin (Kita Fukuoka) 16-3
  • def Naradai Fuzoku (Nara) 8-4
  • def Ryuukokudai Heian (Kyoto) 4-3
  • def Shimonseki Kokusai (Yamaguchi) 3-2

One time I sports hate with a passion, the other I’m not sure what to think.

Kanaashi Nougyou has gotten here mostly on the back of ace Yoshida Kousei who has averaged a tick under 154 pitches per game so far, and he has 2 more to go. His pace would put him around 60 pitches short of Saitou Yuuki’s record, and that was with one extra game in for good measure (15 innings no less).

They were seriously bailed out by a controversial play in the bottom of the 9th. Manrui, no out they go for the suicide squeeze. Oumi’s defense was not crashing in, so when 3B Kenichi charged in, he had to quickly pickup and fire the ball to 1st yielding the douten run. The trailing runner recognized the fact they weren’t paying attention and went for home, beating the throw and therefore scoring 2 runs on a squeeze bunt.

I understand the sentiment. Generally a lot of us (including myself) hate the fact that 高校野球 does sacrifice bunts way too often. And in recent years, it actually has gotten better, though generally with the powerhouses because they know they have the talent to not play that game.

That being said, it could be around the time now that the squeeze becomes relevant again. Before it was done so much, defenses were basically prepared for it. Now, you do expect it at times, but it’s not as automatic.

In a sense if you’re looking for 1 run, you want a sac fly at the worse, base hit at the best. If you’re going to try and trade an out for a run, does it matter if it was via the bunt or the fly?

The worst thing that happens when hitting the ball in play is something like a 1-2-3 double play where you cut down the runner at home, and there’s 2 outs. A suicide squeeze, as long as the other runners are playing safe, could also result in a double play at worst.

So if you’re more comfortable with the bunt as opposed to hitting a deep enough sac fly, then given the current environment regarding bunts, I don’t necessarily have a problem with it.

Which, given how much I hate bunts, does seem weird to say.

With respect to Nichidai-san, I don’t really have much comment other than they’re doing what they normally do. The offense is good, not great and the pitching is the same, but brand name carries them quite a ways. Shimonoseki Kokusai held them hitless for 6+ innings, but they collapsed late and here we are.

The game really just pivots around Kanaashi Nougyou ace Yoshida. If he can somehow still be effective, they have a good chance of winning this game. But that’s a big if having one day off of two days of 140+ pitching performances.

Semifinal 2 – Saibi (Ehime) v Osaka Touin (Kita Osaka)

Saibi

  • def Chuo Gakuin (Nishi Chiba) 5-4
  • def Seiryou (Ishikawa) 13x-11
  • def Kochi Shougyou (Kochi) 3-1
  • def Houtoku Gakuen (Higashi Hyogo) 3-2

Osaka Touin

  • def Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi) 3-1
  • def Oki Gakuen (Minami Fukuoka) 8-4
  • def Takaoka Shougyou (Toyama) 3-1
  • def Urawa Gakuin (Minami Saitama) 11-2

Saibi has made the most of their second chance. Seiryou let them stay in the tournament perhaps by being a bit too full of themselves, and one can now wonder if they are starting to believe they’re capable.

No, the resume is not strong, but they’ve beaten who they’ve needed to beat. It’s just that this particular matchup is quite unlike what they’ve faced.

Osaka Touin actually has pitching! Or at least more than just competent pitching at the minimum. That has allowed them to survive some low scoring games that they may not have been able to otherwise.

The only weird blemish is the fact that the team that had the most success offensively is Oki Gakuen of all teams. Not Sakushin Gakuin, not Urawa Gakuin, but first timers Oki Gakuen. What that all means I don’t know, but either way they have to be the heavy favorites not just for this game but to win it all.

Just please don’t give me a Nichidai-san v Osaka Touin final… please?