Sunday, July 26, 2009

High School Game Report: Seibo vs. Urawa Gakuin @ Omiya

In theory, I've been an Urawa Gakuin High School baseball fan for a while. I moved to Japan a few days before the 2007 Koshien tournament started, and lived in Saitama. There were signs up all over the place saying to support Saitama's representative, Urawa Gakuin High School. So I did. And they lost their first game to Maebashi. The Uragaku pitcher from that game, Kazuyuki Akasaka, was drafted by Chunichi that fall.

The next year, the same exact thing happened. I was teaching a class in the early evening as the Uragaku vs. Yokohama HS game waned on, and all of my students lived in Urawa, so we actually periodically checked the score together during our class, only to see Uragaku fall 6-5 to Yokohama. The Yokohama pitcher from that game, Kenji Tsuchiya, was drafted by the Fighters that fall. He started the Fresh All-Star Game yesterday, infact.

By complete dumb luck, thanks to the Kamagaya Fan Festival in March 2008, my favorite Fighters ni-gun player ended up being Ryota Imanari... who also went to Urawa Gakuin. Around the same time I also became friends with a few people who went to Uragaku, including a guy who even played at Koshien with the 1996 team (which of course also lost in their first game of the tournament, but three guys from that team went on to become pros; Yoshihito Ishii, Masatoshi Ogawa, and Taka Miura). My favorite Baystars player, crazy wacko sidearmer Atsushi Kizuka, is also an Uragaku alum. I even managed to complete my set of getting my photo with all of the Fighters Uragaku alumni (Sunaga, Sakamoto, and I got Imanari last year).

This year, Uragaku swept the Saitama spring regional tournament and the Kanto spring regional tournament. Their first three games in the Saitama Koshien qualifying tournament were all called games, with scores like 25-1, 8-0, 9-0.

So you can imagine how psyched I was to actually finally go to see them play in person on Wednesday, June 22. The fact that it was a matchup against Seibo Gakuen, another reasonably strong school, was just icing on the cake.

I showed up at Omiya Prefectural Stadium at almost exactly 10am, which is when the schedule said the match would start, but at that point, the stadium hadn't even opened yet and there were long lines waiting at the ticket windows. We could hear the players warming up inside the stadium, and if you ducked down just right you could peek through the gates and see them all either running around or hauling wheelbarrows onto the field.

It had been raining off and on all morning until around 9:30am, see, so there was important work to be done to make that field playable. When I finally got into the stadium at 10:15am or so, this is the scene I was greeted by:

There are actual groundskeepers, sure, but for the most part the work was being done by the players and coaches of the respective baseball teams.

My first hour at the park was spent wandering around a little bit, acquiring a program book, getting stared at by a ton of people, taking a few pictures, and generally just sitting there watching the action on the field, which is to say the warmups and the legions of kids pouring sand into puddles and eventually combing down and chalking the ground.

After all that, there was official batting and fielding practice for both teams. If I had brought my actual camera, it would have been a fine time to take photos despite the cloudiness, but all I had was my point-and-shoot, so I just hung out watching for the most part, trying to spot the kids in the real lineup and get an idea what they would be like. I walked up to the field for a little while, but it was just too dark.

Shimazu and Kubo warming up.

The Urawa Gakuin marching band tunes up.

Seibo's marching band, which was rainbow-colored, and has some reserve players wearing "Holy Hopes" jerseys.

The game finally starts at 11:27am!

For the record, the rain never fell at all during the game itself, though the field was still plenty muddy for most of the game, and the players got themselves quite covered in mud as they slid and dived around the field.

Here's my scorecard from the game, but it doesn't quite tell the whole story...

Seibo Gakuen 4 - 3 Urawa Gakuin
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Seibo Gakuen 2 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 8 0
Urawa Gakuin 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 3 10 2

Seibo Gakuen AB R H RB K BB SH SB E 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Sasaki, rf 4 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 HP F7 .. S9 .. .. G6 L4 ..
Honjo, cf 3 1 1 0 0 2 0 0 0 BB .. BB G4 .. .. F7 .. S8
Koyasu, 2b 2 1 1 0 0 1 2 0 0 E2 .. S7 .. f5 .. BB .. b3
Kido, lf-1b 2 1 0 1 1 1 1 0 0 s8 .. HP .. KS .. G6 .. BB
Nishimura, ss 4 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 KS .. b5 .. G5 .. .. F8 F8
Kojima, 3b 5 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 G6 .. E5 .. .. S7 .. F7 G5
C.Yamasaki, 1b 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. G5 KS .. .. .. .. .. ..
Kawasaki, ph 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. s1 .. .. ..
Kataoka, lf 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. BB ..
Kawai, c 4 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. S5 .. G5 .. F8 .. S7 ..
Satoh, p 3 0 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 .. b1 .. S7 .. G4 .. S5 ..

Urawa Gakuin AB R H RB K BB SH SB E 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Ishida, 3b 3 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 1 G6 .. G6 .. BB .. G4 .. BB
Yamasaki, ss 4 1 3 1 0 0 1 0 0 G4 .. S7 .. S4 .. H7 .. b1
Ishikawa, cf-lf-cf 4 0 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 S9 .. HP .. KS .. S6 .. G3
Shimazu, 1b 5 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 G4 .. S6 .. S3 .. G4 .. F8
Kubo, c 4 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 1 .. G4 .. S7 F9 .. .. S9 ..
Hagiwara, lf-rf-p 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. HP .. G3 .. G3 .. S9 ..
Hoshi, rf 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. KC .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Mashima, p 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. G4 .. KC .. .. ..
Tanabe, ph-lf 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. G3 ..
Hanegura, p-cf 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .. G6 .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
Takeuchi, ph-lf-rf 3 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 .. .. .. L1 .. F4 .. G4 ..
Suzuki, 2b 4 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 .. .. KC .. G4 .. KC G3 ..

Seibo Gakuen IP BF NP H HR K BBH RA ER
Satoh (win) 9 40 134 10 1 5 4 3 3

Urawa Gakuin IP BF NP H HR K BBH RA ER
Hanegura (loss) 2.1 13 48 2 0 1 4 4 0
Mashima 5.2 24 71 5 0 2 2 0 0
Hagiwara 1 5 15 1 0 0 1 0 0

However, if you are wondering, offhand: yes, you ARE reading that right: none of the runs against Uragaku's Hanegura were actually earned, as far as I can tell. The Seibo runners certainly got on base due to the pitcher walking them or hitting them with pitches, but the actual scoring plays were almost all on errors.

I mean, 4 pitches into the game, Hanegura hit Seibo's leadoff batter Sasaki on the foot with a pitch, and 4 pitches later had walked Honjo, mostly on unsuccessful pitchouts. Koyasu sac bunted, and Uragaku catcher Kubo astutely realized that he could throw Sasaki out at third... unfortunately, Kubo's ACTUAL throw went about 5 feet LEFT of the third baseman, so not only was Sasaki safe sliding into third but he was able to get up and run home as well. 1-0, with runners at 1st and 2nd and no outs. A wild pitch during Kido's at-bat moved the runners to second and third, setting the stage for a popout by Kido turning into a sac fly, scoring Honjo. 2-0. Nishimura struck out and Kojima grounded out after that, but it was quite a bad beginning.

(Two unearned runs, because Kido's popout wouldn't be a sac fly if there wasn't that error.)

The same luck struck Hanegura in the top of the 3rd inning. Honjo led off walking on 4 straight pitches, and then Koyasu hit an actual genuine hit! Well, kind of. It went through the third baseman into left field, but the leftfielder had run in for the play and was thus able to throw out Honjo, who was trying to move to third from first. One out. But then Hanegura hit Kido in the leg with a pitch, putting runners on at 1st and 2nd again, and this time the Uragaku manager came out to make a switch, putting the left-handed Hanegura in centerfield and bringing in a right-handed kid named Mashima to pitch. The first pitch Mashima threw was bunted to move the runners to second and third, so two outs. Naturally, again, at this point an error involving the third baseman occurred -- this time, Kojima grounded to third, Uragaku third baseman Ishida scooped the ball up in his glove, and threw it WAAAAAAAY over the first baseman's head! Koyasu scored. Kido scored. 4-0. It was NOT looking good for the Uragaku nine, even though Chikara Yamasaki struck out after that.

(Two more unearned runs, because the play at third base would have been the third out without that error.)

Uragaku ran themselves out of the 3rd inning when, with runners at first and second, Shimazu hit a line drive grounder to short that the shortstop couldn't pick up in time to make the play at first, so it should have loaded the bases, only the runner at second overran third base and got tagged on his way back. Seriously.

Uragaku pitcher Mashima was able to hold Seibo scoreless for the next several innings, but the batters never got their offense going against Seibo starter Yuugo Satoh. In the bottom of the 5th, finally, Ishida walked with one out and then Yamasaki hit a hard ball to second, which Koyasu snagged, fell down, flipped to the shortstop but not in time for the play at second, and the relay wasn't in time for the play at first either. Ishikawa struck out, and with two on and two out, captain Shimazu hit a grounder to first, which the first baseman couldn't quite field, took an awkward swipe at, and ended up knocking the ball foul. Ishida scored on the play and Yamasaki got to third base. 4-1. Unfortunately Kubo hit a pop fly out to right at that point.

The next Uragaku run came in the 7th inning when Yamasaki hit a home run over the left-field wall, making it 4-2. Just to make sure you didn't forget this was high school baseball, Ishikawa followed it up with a headfirst slide into first base for an infield single.

Satoh was already up to 106 pitches by the end of the 7th, but he was still out there in the 8th. Kubo led off with a single and Hagiwara followed it up with another single. Shogo Tanabe pinch-hit for pitcher Mashima, and grounded out to first, getting tagged out on the way there, but moving the runners to second and third, and Kubo scored on a groundout by Shogo Takeuchi. 4-3. Hagiwara was standing there at third, but rather than becoming the tying run, he was left standing there as Suzuki hit a weak grounder to first.

Seibo's pitcher Satoh.

Urawa Gakuin's outfielder/pitcher Hagiwara.

Hagiwara, who had been playing the outfield for most of the game, took the mound for Uragaku in the top of the 9th. In high school team it makes sense for your backup pitchers to play outfield, or for your outfielders to have good enough arms to come in as backup pitchers. It wasn't looking too good as Seibo quickly got up to two on and one out, but then a pop fly and a groundout did end the inning.

The bottom of the 9th game with Uragaku down one run still, and Yuugo Satoh still on the mound for Seibo. He started things off by walking leadoff batter Ishida, and then Yamasaki bunted Ishida to second. Ishikawa grounded to first, moving Ishida to third base with captain Shimazu at the plate. Satoh was already up to around 130 pitches and visibly tiring, and he quickly got out to a 3-0 count on Shimazu. The people around me were saying that shortly Uragaku would tie the game and then they'd have a good chance to go ahead, and the 3-0 pitch came across the plate for a strike.

The band was still playing and the boys were still yelling as Shimazu hit a pop fly to shallow center. As it was caught, the Seibo team went crazy and the Urawa Gakuin team just kind of stood there looking vaguely stunned.

Urawa Gakuin team reserves make up the core ouendan.

Seibo's team celebrates for a few seconds on the field.

The final game score.

Later on I read an article in the Tokyo Shinbun where Shimazu said, "It's the first time since I came here that we're not going to Koshien... but I can't cry, the tears won't come out." He said that he thought he was going to walk on the 3-0 pitch, then the next one was down the middle and he realized Satoh was going to challenge him, and there went the dream for four straight Koshien berths.

That said, I think the Uragaku player I was most impressed by was outfielder Ishikawa, who seemed to have really good range and speed and a good jump on the ball; he made several impressive plays, to me anyway, and had a pretty strong arm to boot.

Not sure who impressed me the most on Seibo. Probably either Satoh-kun for sticking it out the entire game and still bringing it to the end, or possibly Koyasu, the second baseman.

I can definitely say that both marching bands impressed me, at any rate. Seibo tended to play more normal songs that I've heard lots of other bands play, though, and Urawa Gakuin's band had a lot of school-specific ouenka, which were neat to hear.

The folks sitting next to me who kept being astounded that I could write kanji were actually at the game to cheer for the next school, Shiritsu Kawagoe, because a boy who lived down the street from them played on that team. I wished them good luck and hauled my sunburnt back out of the stadium. (The sun came out for a bit towards the end of the game, just long enough to burn me, but not long enough for me to think of putting on sunscreen.)

The huge tournament board that was up outside -- dead tree technology at its best.

The Saitama tournament sign outside Omiya stadium.

So in the meantime, since that game:
Kawagoe did infact win that day, but were later beaten by Kasukabe Higashi, who are slated to play against Seibo in the semi-finals on Tuesday. The other side of the Saitama bracket has Saitama Sakae facing off against Kawaguchi Seiryo (who have never appeared at Koshien) in their semi-finals, and the Saitama final will be held on Wednesday the 29th. I might go... if Teikyo doesn't make it to the East Tokyo finals.

It's interesting seeing the Koshien brackets shape up as I start making my plans to go to the actual summer tournament. I won't be able to follow Urawa Gakuin there, but hopefully I'll be able to follow SOME school that I have an attachment to (Teikyo, maybe?).

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