The advancement and downfall of 高校野球?

The advancement and downfall of 高校野球?

(photo courtesy of Asahi)

There’s a reason retiring Kajisha-kantoku of Shuugakukan is the headline picture of this post – because his team became a talking point because of its composition.

I wondered 3 years ago at my old blog if times were a-changing. It looks like they are now, which is great. How?

1) The expanding of the pitching staffs

Part of the romanticism of kokoyakyu is that one ace carried the team to the title. Go back to 2006 when it was Komadai Tomakomai’s Tanaka Masahiro versus Waseda Jitsugyou’s Saitou Yuuki. Both almost pitch every inning of the tournament, including the replayed championship game. Go back further and there’s Matsuzaka Daisuke and his final 3 games of Natsu Koushien:

  • Quarterfinals – vs PL Gakuen, CG, 17 IP, 250 pitches thrown
  • Semifinals – vs Meitoku Gijyuku, W, 1 IP
  • Finals – vs Kyoto Seishou, CG, No-hitter

But if teams, especially the powerhouses, were smart they would be stockpiling as many arms as possible

Last year, he had 4 pitchers who could throw 140+.

  • Arimura Taisei (有村 大誠)
  • Tabuchi Kurea (田畑 孔怜充)
  • Taura Fumiharu (田浦 文丸)
  • Kawabata Kento (川端 健斗)

When they lost last year, they also lost the first two pitchers meaning that Taura and Kawabata would have to shoulder the load this year.

Now? Tenri used a pitcher in one of its earlier games (though he was useless in the game against Meihou), Hanasaki Tokuharu hasn’t even used their ace Shimizu much, Kouryou has been patchworking pitchers together, and if you go to the quarterfinal losers, Moriokadai Fuzoku has a multiple pitcher setup, Seikou Gakuin basically ran relief pitchers until they were at-bat and then pinch hit for them.

Well, you get my point.

About the only team that may be using the old setup is Toukaidai Sugao.

Now, some of those pitching staffs were still not effective (Moriokadai Fuzoku, I’m looking at you). But the idea remains – if you are a powerhouse, you should be able to get the better talent and therefore the better pitchers. So why not get them and utilize them to the fullest?

About the only thing that would stop an ace from going there is sharing the load. If you’re sharing the load, perhaps your talent won’t be singled out. Perhaps the scouts won’t think you can go longer into games, etc.

2) The death of the bunt

It’s not really dead, but in the past the bunt was really prevalent. Not just regular bunts, but suicide squeezes as well.

Bunting seemed like a necessity for those weaker schools where talent wasn’t as good and runs were at a premium. Get a runner on, bunt them to 2nd (even if there was one out), and hope for a timely hit.

I went through my blog posts, and I have cases of just 4 squeeze attempts. It used to be with a runner on 3rd, the squeeze was expected so much that most defenses automatically planned on defending against it. But it was so rare this year that when Seishin Ursula did it, Waseda Saga was completely off guard.

That’s what the suicide squeeze is supposed to do.

In addition, where there are still sacrifice bunts, teams are again taking advantage of teams’ aggressiveness in fielding bunts to execute either the butcher-boy tactic or a push bunt for a base hit. Neither of which in the past were done much before.

3) The sheer numbers of HRs

The prior record for number of HRs hit at a Natsu Koushien was 60 back in 2006. I was there for that tournament and that tournament continues to amaze me how incredibly awesome it was.

This tournament we hit 60 in the 2nd quarterfinal. We’re at 64 now and that number should go up. We may not hit 70, but we may get close.

Is this a change in thinking? We know that in the states there is a marked increase in HRs in MLB, but could that somehow be trending in Japan as well? The number of HRs went up markedly in 2015, again in 2016 and 2017 would seem to break that number.

I don’t know for sure, but if people are paying attention, maybe it has something to do with it.

All of it is great, but perhaps there is an underlying trend to it all, and I think there is…

4) The emergence of younger kantoku’s

Let’s take a look at the ages of the kantoku’s that reached the best 8:

  • Kouryou – Nakai Tetsuyuki (55)
  • Tenri – Nakamura Ryouji (49)
  • Toukaidai Sugao – Wakabayashi Hiroyasu (51)
  • Hanasaki Tokuharu – Iwai Takashi (47)
  • Sendai Ikuei – Sasaki Jyunichirou (57)
  • Meihou – Kawasaki Jyunpei (35)
  • Sanbonmatsu – Kusaka Kouta (33)
  • Moriokadai Fuzoku – Sekiguchi Seiji (40)

There are some older kantoku’s (Kouryou, Toukaidai Sugao and Sendai Ikuei) who have been at the job for a while, but then you look at the rest and there are some in their 30’s, and you can forgive Tenri’s kantoku – he played in NPB.

And don’t forget last year’s champ, Sakushin Gakuin. Kobari Takahiro won the title at 33 years of age and took over the job at the ripe young age of 23.

The influx of younger kantokus and in some cases kantokus with NPB experience could also be part of the change you see in terms of tactics.

Ok, that’s all well and good you may ask, but how is this leading to the downfall of the sport?

Maybe I exaggerated a bit, but what this all means to me is that the powerhouses will continue on getting stronger as they utilize their rosters more to accommodate more pitchers and build their team more pro-style. The game appears to be moving that way, so those teams that already have a talent advantage will probably continue distancing themselves more from the others. Which means that rural prefectures that already suffer from lack of talent due to lack of numbers could see the gap get worse.

That’s good I guess for those who are fans of those powerhouses, but it will mean more non-competitive games which isn’t good for the sport in my opinion.

But that’s where we’re headed. We’ll just have to see what happens in the following years…

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99th Natsu Koushien – Quarterfinals, Game 4 – Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama) v Moriokadai Fuzoku (Iwate)

99th Natsu Koushien – Quarterfinals, Game 4 – Hanasaki Tokuharu (Saitama) v Moriokadai Fuzoku (Iwate)

(photo courtesy of Daily Sports)

Hanasaki Tokuharu

Road to the title

  • def Kaisei (Shimane) 9-0
  • def Nihon Koukuu Ishikawa (Ishikawa) 9-3
  • def Maebashi Ikuei (Gunma) 10-4

I can just copy paste the opening bit from their last game. I mean, read this:

One more game has passed, and the story stays the same. Dominated opponents, bottom of lineup struggling, pitching doing enough to win.

I mean, what else is there to say?

The team’s prospects for winning the title have increased significantly with the elimination of Osaka Touin, but that bottom of the lineup could prove to be troublesome eventually.

Moriokadai Fuzoku

Road to the title

  • def Sakushin Gakuin (Tochigi) 4-1
  • def Matsushou Gakuen (Nagano) 6-3
  • def Saibi (Ehime) 12-7 (10 inn)

That game against Saibi was just nuts. 2 manrui homeruns in the same inning, a HR in the 9th to tie the game, and then a complete collapse of Saibi’s pitching in the 10th.

But as we’ve seen from that game, the pitching is vulnerable. We knew it could be from the prior matchups. It’s just a matter of if a team can take advantage of it. As the games have progressed, each successive opponents seems to have done more and more, which would leave me concerned if I was a fan of theirs that their time might be up.

Lineups

Hanasaki Tokuharu

  • CF Tachioka
  • 2B Chimaru
  • LF Nishikawa
  • 1B Nomura
  • C Sunaga
  • 3B Takai
  • RF Ogawa
  • P Sunawaki (#10)
  • SS Iwase

Moriokadai Fuzoku

  • LF Hayashi
  • 3B Oosato
  • CF Ueda
  • SS Higa
  • C Matsuda
  • 2B Kobayashi
  • 1B Yabuuchi (#16)
  • RF Usui (#11)
  • P Miura Mizuki

16:25 – First Pitch!

2nd Inning

The pitching on both sides has an uneventful 1st, but

PING.

Nomura exits the box fist in the air, he knows it as it goes around the left foul pole for a 1-0 Hanasaki Tokuharu lead.

Moriokadai Fuzoku strikes back immediately. Higa leads off with a single. Now at 2nd with 2 out, Yabuuchi drives a ball off the padding in left bringing Higa in to tie the game at 1-1.

3rd Inning

Teams are trading jabs it seems. Sunawaki singles to lead off the inning. 2 down and at 3rd now Chimaru hits a ball to short, but Higa’s throw handcuffs Yabuuchi and he can’t make the pick. Sunawaki scores to give Hanasaki Tokuharu back the lead.

Rest of game

From the first couple of innings you could tell that Moriokadai Fuzoku was on borrowed time. Sunaga’s leadoff double in the 4th would come around to score making it 3-1.

The 4th would be the breaking point though.

The team batted around, with Mizuki giving up 2 hits early, walking one then hitting the aforementioned Sunaga to bring in a run, Takai brings in 2 and Ogawa one more. All in all 4 runs and Hanasaki Tokuharu carried a commanding 7-1 lead into the break.

It was pretty much clinical after that, with Hanasaki Tokuharu adding 3 more in the 9th after Moriokadai Fuzoku brought in their ace making the final margin 10-1. So they and Toukaidai Sugao, the two teams who have been blowing out the competition, will face off for the right to play in the title game. Much to the relief of Kouryou and Tenri who have a significantly easier matchup against each other.

99th Natsu Koushien – Quarterfinals, Game 3 – Kouryou (Hiroshima) v Sendai Ikuei (Miyagi)

99th Natsu Koushien – Quarterfinals, Game 3 – Kouryou (Hiroshima) v Sendai Ikuei (Miyagi)

(photo courtesy of Sankei)

Kouryou

Road to the title

  • def Chuukyoudai Chuukyou (Aichi) 10-6
  • def Shuugakukan (Kumamoto) 6-1
  • def Seikou Gakuin (Fukushima) 6-4

Kouryou apparently had met an equal in Seikou Gakuin, having to face 3 separate pitchers, throwing their strategy into chaos it seemed. They tried to jump on the relievers, but in Seikou’s case they were throwing them first and relieving one with another when their spot in the lineup came about – which is actually a smart idea. Now, they flirted with danger many times and avoided serious damage, so when they brought in their ace I though the game would get tough for Kouryou.

And it was. It took until the 9th inning and an error for Kouryou to finally make good with a 2-run HR by Nakamura.

Their strategy is working, the question is can they carry it to the title?

Sendai Ikuei

Road to the title

  • def Takikawa Nishi (Kita Hokkaido) 15-3
  • def Nihon Bunri (Niigata) 1-0
  • def Osaka Touin (Osaka) 2x-1

Sendai Ikuei shouldn’t be here. Really they shouldn’t. Nakagawa should have gotten that 3rd out, but a collision in the 7th might have put the thought in the back of his head and next thing you know his foot misses the edge of the bag and the very next batter Osaka Touin is walked off.

The game for the most part was uninspiring. I didn’t think either side pitched well despite the low score as the starters were missing locations constantly. They just weren’t missing in the wrong places to get punished. At least until the 8th when Osaka Touin scored.

I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, but at the same time if you can hold Osaka Touin to 1 run, you can’t entirely discredit that either.

Lineups

Kouryou

  • CF Takada Masaya (#9)
  • 2B Yoshioka
  • C Nakamura
  • LF Kagawa
  • RF Murakami (#14)
  • 1B Oohashi
  • 3B Matsuoka
  • SS Maruyama (#15)
  • P Yamamoto (#10)

Sendai Ikuei

  • SS Nishimaki
  • 3B Suzuki
  • LF Yamada
  • P Sagawa (#8)
  • RF Sugiyama
  • C Ozaki (#12)
  • 1B Maeda
  • 2B Saitou
  • CF Funaki (#18)

13:00 – First Pitch!

1st Inning

A good start as Masaya strikes out to start the game, albeit on a 3-2 pitch.

But Sagawa leaves a fastball over the plate and Nakamura doesn’t hit it for a home run, but instead a double to center. And with runners in scoring positon Kagawa drives a ball to deep right. Sugiyama makes the over the shoulder catch, but Yoshioka scores to make it 1-0.

Sagawa then uncorks a wild pitch bringing home Nakamura to make it 2-0. Oohashi would single to center making it 3-0.

Kouryou’s ouen-dan wearing out Miyajima-san in the 1st.

They test Sugiyama’s arm with Maruyama’s single to right. Oohashi is sent home.. and is thrown out by a country mile.

Probably not the best thing to do there with Sagawa on the ropes.

3rd Inning

After a quiet 2nd in which the CF is pinch-hit for (and I swore that Hasegawa was coming in at that point, but didn’t), Kouryou’s bats come alive again.

Nakamura leads off the inning with a single. 2 out and Nakamura on 2nd Oohashi doubles to the wall in center bringing him in, making it 4-0.

Matsuoka and Oohashi trade places on his double down the LF line, 5-0.

With that Segawa is traded straight up for ace Hasegawa which is also surprising.

He gets out of the inning, but not before allowing the inherited runner to score on a base hit by Maruyama. 6-0.

Sendai Ikuei gets one run back thanks to a Nishimaki double and two productive outs…

4th-5th Innings

But otherwise nothing of note happens until the break as Kouryou continues to sit on their lead.

6th Inning

Post-break, Sendai Ikuei starts hitting Yamamoto.

2 down, Hasegawa starts the hit parade with a single to center. Sugiyama follows that up with a ball through the left side.

Ozaki lands the final blow to Yamamoto with a double past a diving Matsuoka driving in 1. 6-2 and Hiramatsu is in the game now with Yamamoto on standby at 1st.

Hiramatsu isn’t really close and he loads the bases. Sendai Ikuei sends #16 Manome to hit. He’s the one who got the sayonara hit to defeat Osaka Touin.

No such luck this time as he grounds out.

7th Inning

Kouryou gets that run back right away. Hiramatsu leads off with a single, moved to 2nd and scores via Oohashi’s base hit. 7-2.

Sendai Ikuei continues to make more headway it seems. This after 2 outs here in the lucky 7th. Suzuki hits a ball off Maruyama and reaches safely. Yamada hits a ball also to the left side and Maruyama makes a great running stop but his only throw to 2nd isn’t in time. Throw in a hard Hasegawa single to right and it’s manrui for Sugiyama.

But he flies out to 2nd and the inning is over.

Rest of game

The teams trade runs in the 9th as Yamamoto has to return to the mound to finish the game. The final tally is 10-4 as Kouryou moves on to the Best 4 and is one step away from the finals.

But the pitching is strained and Yamamoto is trying to be saved as much as possible but the relief staff is not as effective anymore.

99th Natsu Koushien – Quarterfinals, Game 2 – Tenri (Nara) v Meihou (Oita)

99th Natsu Koushien – Quarterfinals, Game 2 – Tenri (Nara) v Meihou (Oita)

(picture courtesy of Au One)

Tenri

Road to the title

  • def Oogaki Nichidai (Gifu) 6-0
  • def Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku (Hyogo) 2-1 (11 inn)

This might be a new version of Tenri. Instead of hiring a manager who is part of the school staff, they went to Nakamura Ryouji, who played in the pros with Kintetsu and Hanshin, and before taking the Tenri job in 2014, was the Tenri Daigaku kantoku.

And I think his influence is showing. He’s built a team centered around defense, which then allows his pitching to have more leeway (which they’ve needed because they don’t have the top talent other teams have). But I think he’s doing the most with what he has.

In addition, his strategies, especially in the Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku game, lead me to think he’s in a more pro mindset which is amazing all things considered. I’m finally turning around on Tenri, but not fully there yet.

Meihou

Road to the title

  • def Sakai (Fukui) 7-6
  • def Kamimura Gakuen (Kagoshima) 9x-8 (12 inn)

Meihou has been in two very tough, hard fought games – coming from behind to defeat Sakai, and then having to rally after blowing a late lead to Kamimura Gakuen and then again down 3 in extras.

Having those types of games you wonder if (a) this team is just mentally built for these games, or (b) they’re just one step away from falling apart. The Kamimura Gakuen game showed that they perhaps were the latter, but when they survived Kamimura Gakuen’s comeback in regulation they were able to win the battle of pitcher attrition (though being the home team might have helped).

How many lives do they have left?

Lineups

Tenri

  • LF Miyazaki
  • CF Sugishita
  • SS Oota
  • RF Jinno
  • C Shiroshita
  • 3B Morimoto
  • 1B Yasuhara
  • 2B Yamaguchi
  • P Usui

Meihou

  • SS Mimura
  • 2B Ryuu
  • LF Hamada (#17)
  • 1B Sugizono (#7)
  • RF Satou Yuuki
  • 3B Matsutani (#14)
  • C Yoshimura
  • P Hashidzume
  • CF Kan

10:20 – First Pitch!

1st Inning

So Hashidzume is on the mound, an the question will be if his pitching can hold up against Tenri.

Miyazaki single up middle and Sugishita single to the right side not a great start. A one out walk to Jinno loads the bases.

Shiroshita avoids the double play with hustle to 1st, but Meihou still gets the force at home.

Morishita though gets Tenri on the board with a soft liner to left. Sugishita and Jinno score to make it 2-0.

PING.

Oh boy. Hashidzume grooves one of his pitches into the strike zone and Yasuhara does not miss. In fact it goes out to dead center and it’s a 5-0 ball game.

PING.

Eh?

Yamaguchi drives one to left and are you kidding me, it’s gone!

Back-to-back home runs for Tenri and they’re up 6-0!

Meihou has come back before, but 6 runs?

Well, they’re going to try if nothing else because early on they’re battering Usui.

Mimura liner to right, then Ryuu does a push bunt into no-man’s land for a base hit. Throw in two hard shots to left by Hamada and Sugizono each bring in a run to make it 6-2.

2nd Inning

Meihou changes pitchers to #18 Mizoguchi but that doesn’t get off to a good start as he gives up a walk and a single to start the inning. But after a sac bunt, he gets the heart of the lineup to fly out to end the inning.

It’s not easy for Usui either. 2 down and he should have gotten out of the inning, but Oota whiffs on a grounder and the lineup turns over. Mimura gets his 2nd single in as many at bats and one wonders if he’s in trouble.

But a great throw and swipe tag nails Mimura trying to steal 2nd and the inning is over.

3rd Inning

Not sure I agree with Tenri’s strategy in the 3rd. Despite Morimoto and Yasuhara getting base hits, Nakamura-kantoku has Yamaguchi bunt, which he fails and gets the lead runner thrown out. Usui also lays down a bunt to turn over the roster, but with 2 out Miyazaki strikes out to end the inning. You might has well have then swing away.

Meanwhile Meihou perhaps unbenounced to Tenri is clawing back the margin. Ryuu hits a single to center and Sugishita overruns it allowing him to reach 2nd.

Hamada singles to center putting runners at the corners and Sugizono’s sac fly cuts the original lead in half at 6-3.

Yuuki then singles to left and once again runners are at the corners. Tenri is quickly letting this lead slip away.

Finally though, Tenri shows their defense as Oota charges a slow grounder and starts the 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. But they should look at that scoreboard and not get complacent because Meihou is not going away anytime soon.

4th-5th Innings

But whatever momentum Meihou had seems to have dissipated. They don’t create any additional opportunities on offense while Tenri is still getting runners on base.

6th Inning

Next thing I know, Tenri gets right on the warpath after the break.

Sugishita triples to right center. Oota bloops a ball just out of the fielder’s reach down the RF line to make it 7-3. Jinno doubles to right center and now it’s 8-3.

Mizogami gets 2 flyouts and perhaps he’s gotten out of the jam. But then he walks Yasuhara and…

PING.

Guess not.

Yamaguchi with all the freedom in the world to swing away homers to left putting Tenri up 11-3.

Tenri adds on two more runs to make it 13-3 and I was about to write about a comprehensive victory.

Tenri sends in Wajima to finish out the game.

Except he doesn’t.

Yuuki singles…
Honda doubles…
Yoshimura walks…

PING.

And PH Miyoshi hits a manrui HR to left center making it 13-7.

Wajima out, Sakane in.

Kan triples past a drawn in Miyazaki, and is sent home…

SENT HOME AND THROWN OUT. YOU’RE DOWN 6. THAT RUN DOESN’T MATTER YET.

So Tenri finally has the first out. But the pitching struggles as Sakane hits Mimura.

Ryuu pops out and now they just need one more out, but as we’ve seen it’s not easy…

Hamada singles…
Sugizono walks…
Yuuki up again with the bases loaded… singles past a diving Yamaguchi bringing in 2 and making it 13-9…

With 2 on, PH Miyoshi is on deck as the potential tying run. At this point you have to be concerned that Tenri will completely crater despite the fact that they’ve been slowly getting each out.

Honda up for the 2nd time, and pops it up! Yasuhara secures it and the game is finally over. Tenri makes the 10-run lead stick, but wins 13-9.

My only critique of the situation is that given the nature of Meihou, Nakamura-kantoku should have kept Usui in the game on the field in case he needed to bring him in. By subbing him out completely he could not go back to him in case of an emergency.

But if he’s learned anything from this, it’s that he really can’t depend on his relievers at all. Which means that Usui will have to pitch 2 more games to give Tenri the title.

99th Natsu Koushien – Quarterfinals, Game 1 – Sanbonmatsu (Kagawa) v Toukaidai Sugao (Nishi Tokyo)

99th Natsu Koushien – Quarterfinals, Game 1 – Sanbonmatsu (Kagawa) v Toukaidai Sugao (Nishi Tokyo)

(photo courtesy of Sankei)

Sanbonmatsu

Road to the title

  • def Shimonoseki Kokusai (Yamaguchi) 9-4
  • def Nishogakushadai Fuzoku (Higashi Tokyo) 5-2

Sanbonmatsu pulled off (at the time) one of the biggest upsets out there making clock-like work of the Higashi Tokyo champions. Part of that was Nishogakushadai Fuzoku’s own doing, letting ace Satou throw a ridiculously low 87 pitches. But on the other side, Sanbonmatsu played with no fear facing a perennial team from the big city. They played their game, took advantage of their opponent’s tendencies and here they are. Which is great, but now they have to face their “brother” as it were.

For a spot in the Best 4, Sanbonmatsu will have to effectively slay the entirety of Tokyo prefecture…

Toukaidai Sugao

Road to the title

  • def Takaoka Shougyou (Toyama) 11-1
  • def Aomori Yamada (Aomori) 9-1

With the prohibitive favorite (at least fan favorite if nothing else), eliminated, the door is not only wide open, it’s been blown open by C4.

To that extent, Toukaidai Sugao, having defeated Nichidai-san and Waseda Jitsugyou in the prefecturals have basically laid waste to those that have stood before them. That’s about as much as you can do. They’ve been in control, and at no point have I thought that the team has been in trouble. So until they prove me otherwise, they’ve got to be considered one of the front-runners for the title now.

Lineups

Sanbonmatsu

  • LF Ookubo
  • 2B Tada
  • P Satou
  • 1B Morita
  • RF Kawasaki
  • C Watanabe
  • CF Uragami
  • 3B Shimochi
  • SS Kuroda

Toukaidai Sugao

  • SS Tanaka
  • RF Matsui
  • 2B Kodama
  • 1B Katayama
  • 3B Okuyama
  • LF Satou
  • CF Ushiyama
  • C Shikakura
  • P Matsumoto

08:00 – First pitch!

Oh no…

Bottom 1st and Toukaidai Sugao continues crushing dreams.

PING.

After a Matsui single, Kodama goes the other way and hits the netting in right center for a 2-run HR. Throw in a double from Katayama that hits the wall in left center and another past a diving Shimochi down the 3B line and by the time the 1st inning is over Toukaidai Sugao has the 3-0 lead.

Boy, that’s gotta be demoralizing for Sanbonmatsu.

And they’re trying the best they can, fighting the way they know how but…

PING.

Satou drives a 2-run HR around the LF pole for a 5-0 lead. This after ace Satou had picked off a runner at 1st and had his defense hold Katayama at 3rd after a triple…

There isn’t much else to write. Sanbonmatsu continues to fight, but doesn’t score a run until the 8th. By then Toukaidai Sugao had scored 4 more runs, 2 of them via their 3rd HR of the day from Matsui. The final score is 9-1 and Toukaidai Sugao is looking more and more like an unstoppable force.

For Sanbonmatsu, beating one Tokyo team was impressive, beating 2 perhaps impossible. But they can at least say that they were in the Best 8 and that for one day they were on top of the world. Can’t beat that feeling.

99th Natsu Koushien – Day 11, Game 4 – Osaka Touin (Osaka) v Sendai Ikuei (Miyagi)

99th Natsu Koushien – Day 11, Game 4 – Osaka Touin (Osaka) v Sendai Ikuei (Miyagi)

(photo courtesy of Gunosy)

 

Osaka Touin

Road to the title

  • def Yonago Shouin 8-1
  • def Chiben Wakayama 2-1

I was not expecting a close game here too. Osaka Touin’s generally strength in offense combined with Chiben Wakayama’s general dearth in pitching in recent years would have equated to an easy win.

It wasn’t.

Chiben Wakayama outhit Osaka Touin, struck out more batters than Osaka Touin, but unfortunately was wilder than Osaka Touin – as a wild pitch brought home the winning run. So what now? Where does this put them? Are they still a title contender? It would behoove them to put a good showing on here to allay their fans’ fears.

Sendai Ikuei

Road to the title

  • def Takikawa Nishi 15-3
  • def Nihon Bunri 1-0

I did not expect to see the game I did between Sendai Ikuei and Nihon Bunri. A game bereft of any action, and the only run scored was due to a passed ball and a groundout – a complete contrast to their first game. Good in the sense that they could play a close low-scoring game, but bad in the sense that they were basically stymied by arguably a so-so team.

Osaka Touin is not a so-so team though…

Lineup

Osaka Touin

  • CF Fujiwara
  • LF Yamamoto
  • 1B Nakagawa
  • RF Neo (#10)
  • C Fukui
  • 3B Yamada
  • 2B Sakanoshita
  • SS Izuguchi
  • P Kakigi (#11)

Sendai Ikuei

  • SS Nishimaki
  • 3B Suzuki
  • LF Yamada
  • CF Sagawa
  • RF Sugiyama
  • C Hirobe
  • 1B Maeda
  • 2B Saitou
  • P Hasegawa

16:45 – First Pitch!

(I was half awake just spending the energy I had left watching the game, but believe me there is a LOT to go over)

So the game early on was to be honest a lot of nothing. Neither team really having any success offensively, and the pitching not only wasn’t overly dominating, but they were missing the gloves on a fairly consistent basis.

Osaka Touin had a chance in the 4th with a leadoff double, but then there were 3 straight groundouts to 2nd. Maebashi Ikuei had a leadoff single in the 5th,  but after a sac bunt the 8-9 batters were up and did nothing.

There was some concern in the bottom of the 7th when on a grounder by Hirobe, he and 1B Nakagawa had a collision at the bag. The online feed cut out with him still on his knees, but by the time the commercials were over things seemed fine.

And boy were things fine because Yamamoto hit a double down the LF line with one out in the 8th. And the aforementioned Nakagawa hit a soft liner to left bringing him home for a 1-0 lead for Osaka Touin!

Bottom of the 8th and Sendai Ikuei has to find a run somewhere in the final 2 innings when they’ve done nothing for 7.

But there was a flicker of hope when PH Sutou singled with one out. But PR Katou would be thrown out at 2nd for the 2nd out. Relief starter Kakigi would get himself into trouble with a walk and a hit batter and perhaps he’d be relieved.

He wasn’t though and Suzuki hit a single through the left side! Hasegawa was being waved around! The throw in from Yamamoto comes in plenty of time and the inning is over!

Bottom of the 9th now, Osaka Touin still holding onto the 1-run lead.

Again 2 quick outs from Kakigi.

But then Sugiyama singles to center. And Hirobe walks… This feels like last inning. Perhaps Kakigi should be relieved.

He’s not and Wakayama steps in.

He hits a grounder to short, and the throw to first ends the game!

SAFE!

The 1st base umpire calls safe! He calls Nakagawa as off the bag! But how? Why?

There’s no replay as the game quickly continues.

With Katou up the camera from the 1B stands shows for a split second. I see the LF playing in.

My immediate thought was “that outfield is too far in”.

And on the next pitch Katou lines a ball to left center, splitting the drawn in defense and ending the game as Sendai Ikuei walks off 2-1 in stunning fashion.

But as they celebrate, the question still begs, what happened at that play at 1st?

I thought perhaps Nakagawa was celebrating the win too early and left the bag. There didn’t seem to be another explanation.

But then comes the .gif of the camera angle that shows Nakagawa off first. And then someone on twitter posted the collision in the 7th and it all comes together in a flash.

In all likelihood, that collision at first led Nakagawa or Nishitani-kantoku to tell him to keep the foot at the edge of the bag instead of directly on it to avoid injury.

And probably in the final play, he just so happened to miss the edge of the bag. So perhaps if not for that play in the 7th, it would be Osaka Touin that moves on, not Sendai Ikuei.

And that’s a real crushing way to lose. People know of my disdain for Osaka Touin, but if they win they win, and that’s how it goes. But to lose when you should have won by any stretch of the imagination? That really hurts, and you could see it on the faces of the Osaka Touin players. They’re not immune to the pain of the summer ending, and perhaps the pressure of being at Osaka Touin exacerbates it even more.

It’s a tough way to learn the lesson for sure…

99th Natsu Koushien – Day 11, Game 3 –  Kouryou (Hiroshima) v Seikou Gakuin (Fukushima)

99th Natsu Koushien – Day 11, Game 3 – Kouryou (Hiroshima) v Seikou Gakuin (Fukushima)

(photo courtesy of Mainichi)

Kouryou

Road to the title

  • def Chuukyoudai Chuukyou 10-6
  • def Shuugakukan 6-1

Kouryou looked much better on the mound against Shuugakukan, though it could be argued Shuugakukan’s offense wasn’t all that good. And their offense struggled until Taura came in and then all heck broke loose. Do they then expect to just force the opposing team to the bullpen and win that way? Though I suppose if a team doesn’t have a backup they hope that pitcher falls apart.

Seikou Gakuin

Road to the title

  • def Okayama Sanyou 6-0
  • def Seishin Ursula 5-4

Seikou Gakuin should be sprinting here like they stole one, because they did. In a spate of game decided by errors, their game against Seishin Ursula was decided on a passed ball. Otherwise, relief starting Maeda did not work. And if Kouryou’s idea is to get to the weaker parts of the pitching staff, Seikou Gakuin better hope that Saitou can go start to finish because Seishin Ursula has shown that they’re more than vulnerable.

Lineups

Kouryou

  • RF Takada Masaya
  • 2B Yoshioka
  • C Nakamura
  • LF Kagawa
  • CF Satou (#13)
  • 1B Oohashi
  • 3B Matsuoka
  • SS Maruyama (#15)
  • P Hiramoto

Seikou Gakuin

  • LF Matsumoto
  • 2B Yabuki
  • SS Segawa
  • 1B Yaginuma
  • RF Nihira
  • CF Komizunai (#17)
  • 3B Oohira
  • C Satou Kouichi
  • P Hirano (#11)

13:50 – First Pitch!

Seikou Gakuin going to Hirano Savi for the start today. Perhaps to manage the gaem as he gets into early trouble giving up singles to Yoshioka and Kagawa. Not only that but uncorking a wild pitch as well.

PING?

Segawa gets around on an inside fastball and turns it around to left! It’s gone! And just like that Seikou Gakuin has the 1-0 lead!

Kouryou though, makes more inroads against Hirano. An Oohashi walk comes around to score when Maruyama hits one to the center field wall. He in turn is brought in by a Takada timely single to center, giving Kouryou the 2-1 lead.

Seikou may have scored first, but it’s their relief starter Hirano that in trouble longer-term.

Kouryou looks to score again in the 3rd when Nakamura splits the defense to the right center-field wall. But he gets bailed out when after a walk Oohashi lines into a double play to end the inning.

And as for Hirano, his day is done after 3 innings. #15 Satou Yuuhei comes in to hit for him in the bottom half of the inning. 2 runs given up, but it could have been worse.

#13 Hotta comes into the game and proceeds to shut down Kouryou’s offense in the 4th. Chances are he’ll stay around until his next AB when he will be pinch hit for too.

Seikou Gakuin has a chance to draw level in the 4th when Segawa drew a leadoff walk. However, in trying to steal 2nd, Nakamura guns him down. Which is unfortunate as Yaginuma doubles to right center. In addition he gets stranded at 3rd which means they’re still behind.

Kouryou gets one more chance at Hotta. Takada hits a leadoff single. After that it’s trading outs and of all things, hit batters. So after a sac bunt, Nakamura is hit. After Kagawa grounds out to 1st, Satou is hit.

But continuing the trend Oohashi grounds out, Kouryou doesn’t score, and Hotta will be pinch hit for next inning in theory.

PING.

That sound is Kouryou’s lead evaporating as Satou hits a douten HR to left.

And as expected, Hotta is PH for and ace Saitou Fumiya will come in next inning. Meanwhile, PH Koizumi singles to left.

The shoe seems to be on the other foot now as Matsumoto singles past a diving Maruyama and it’s Hiramoto who’s in trouble now.

With a stolen base the infield comes in, but that comes back to bite them as Yabuki singles past a diving Yoshioka. Both runners score and Seikou Gakuin has a 4-2 lead.

Post break and ace Saitou is in the game. 2 quick outs and you get the feeling that Kouryou is in deep trouble.

But then Yamamoto singles to right center. Takada singles through the left side.

Yoshioka hits a chopper back to Saitou, but he drops the ball! Has to go back to get it and it’s all safe! That should have been the 3rd out.

But instead Nakamura reaches out and pokes a ball past a diving Segawa! 2 runners come in to score and the error costs Seikou Gakuin the lead!

Kouryou though cannot take the lead as Kagawa’s comebacker is stopped dead in its tracks by Saitou and he makes the putout at 1st. Still, for now it’s a new ballgame!

Seikou Gakuin perhaps had a chance in the 8th inning with a leadoff walk, but Nihei’s bunt dies right in front of home. Nakamura rifles a ball to 2nd for one, relay to 1st in plenty of time for a double play.

And just when Kouryou looks to get the 3rd out, Oohashi makes a great play on a grounder only to throw it away at 1st because he can’t get back to the bag in time. And while Yamamoto gets the 3rd out it does cost him in terms of pitch count.

Top 9th, Yoshioka hits a grounder to Segawa, but he boots the ball! Leadoff runner on for Kouryou!

PING.

Nakamura is barely out of the batters box and he’s raising his fist. That ball is long gone, he has his 4th HR of the tournament, and more importantly, Kouryou has the 6-4 lead!!

Seikou Gakuin has no further response and winds up falling 6-4. It’s too bad because their strategy had been working so well. But perhaps some humility was needed to say, “We shouldn’t pitch to Nakamura”, because he’s been carrying the team on his back and you can’t let him beat you.

But he did.

So the final scenes of Seikou Gakuin is one of sadness as the players, especially ace Saitou cry at he end of their summer. Though, if their record is anything to indicate, the next iteration will be here once again.