is going back to this place!
So yeah, fairly close final game to close up the West Tokyo qualifiers, between Nichidai San and Waseda Jitsugyo. In 2006, these two teams also faced off, and Waseda's ace at the time was this kid named Yuki Saitoh. You may have heard of him. Waseda won in the 11th inning and went to Koshien, and the rest is history. Saitoh went on to beat Ma-kun and Komadai Tomakomai and stop their 3-peat, and set the rest of the country on a rage for blue handkerchiefs. Half of Sanko's team went on to attend Meiji University and spent the next four years still trying to beat Saitoh and Waseda. (Fumiya Araki did a fairly good job and found his way back to Koshien as a Hanshin Tiger.)
This year's Sanko team, aka the Azegami squad, has been pretty magical. They've got all the parts of a successful team there -- a strong-hitting and strong-fielding outfield in Taniguchi, Azegami, and Takayama, a bunch of power bats in Yokoo and Suganuma, a strong infield in Shimizu and Kaneko, a rock behind the plate in Suzuki, and most importantly, something else Sanko's lacked in the last few years -- a true ace in the form of Kentaro Yoshinaga. As long as he could keep things together, they would win. And today he certainly did -- 14 strikeouts to win it 2-1.
It was a deadlock of a 0-0 game until the 5th, when Yuta Taniguchi, batting 9th, got hit in the head by a pitch -- literally, it was just a high curve that curved into the front of his helmet. Taniguchi stole second, and 2nd-year Ryoya Kaneko hit a double to center to score Taniguchi to make it 1-0.
The boy I've dubbed "Secret Power", Kenichi Suganuma, launched a homer in the 6th to make it 2-0.
Waseda threatened in the top of the 7th when Watanabe led off with a double and was bunted to 3rd; during Shigenobu's at-bat, Yoshinaga threw a wild pitch into the dirt that bounced up and Watanabe was able to score on it to make the score 2-1. But fortunately Yoshinaga then struck out Shigenobu and Manabe to end the threat, and that was kind of the game right there.
I was able to watch the game on justin.tv (though with no sound, so I had to guess that the men they were interviewing in the stands were Yoshinaga and Suzuki's dads, for example), and it was really great to see them win. Yoshinaga couldn't stop crying afterwards. It's got to be a big weight off his shoulder -- the ghosts of the last time Sanko and Sojitsu faced off in addition to what people have called the "Jingu Taikai curse", meaning that the team who wins the Jingu Taikai can't have further success at Koshien that year. Who knows?
Anyway, this is the high school team that I irrationally fell for this year, and you have no idea how tempting it is to get a plane ticket to Osaka. Alas. (And yes, that second photo is me at Senbatsu this spring...)