Friday, August 19, 2011

Nichidai San, Koshien champions! 日大三、優勝!

I created a special tag just for this team: Sanko 畔上組, meaning the "Azegami Team". I needed something to specify that I meant this particular Sanko team; it's a strong baseball school in general, but like I've been saying, this year's particular group of 9 boys are particularly special.

Anyway, in case you didn't already hear, this morning was the final match of Koshien, and your 2011 Koshien champions are none other than Nichidai San!

Blatantly stolen from Mainichi. Go see their photos of the final game.

Really, this all started slightly less than a year ago, when a couple of 9th-grade boys at my JHS and I were reading the sports news and talking about high school baseball, and two of them had been at a Sanko game for the Tokyo Fall Tournament and told me that I HAD to see this Yoshinaga kid (and that Yokoo kid too). Unfortunately, I missed the end of that tourney thanks to Big 6, but I did make it to the Jingu Taikai a few weeks later. And sure enough, that Yoshinaga kid was worth seeing. I'd give anything to be able to go back and talk to my JHS kids about this, since it's partially their fault I went nuts over this Sanko team.

Anyway, the upshot is, I'm really overjoyed to see Sanko win. They were clearly the best team in the tournament, from the top to the bottom of the lineup. And I'm also horribly sad that it's all over.

Not to say that Kosei wasn't a decent opponent, because that's not true. Their pitcher Akita actually seemed to have a lot more energy than Sanko's Yoshinaga, who was clearly exhausted. But, just like he's done the last few games, when he really, really needed to, he could reach back and get something extra for a strikeout, and wait for a patented Sanko Big Inning to blow the game open.

Which they did.

Sanko took the lead in the 3rd inning when Azegami got hit by a pitch, Yokoo hit a bloop-ish single to right (just out of the reach of the running 2B), and then Shun Takayama blasted a home run over the wall in dead center to make it 3-0.

(Nevermind that the inning really started with Shimizu getting hit in the foot by a pitch, but since he swung at it they called it a strikeout.)

Takayama then made the play of the game in the top of the 5th, when he fielded a single and gunned a runner out at the plate to preserve Yoshinaga's shutout. In the bottom of the 5th, Kaneko got a hit, Azegami tried to bunt him over but failed (forceout at 2nd), moved up on a wild pitch to Yokoo, and then to 3rd on Yokoo's single. Runners at the corners again for Takayama, who grounded out into a 4-6 fielder's choice at 2nd (which was actually a really nice play, the 2nd baseman scooped it off the ground and threw to 2nd while still down). Azegami scored on that play, 4-0. Takayama then got himself caught stealing to end the inning. :P

But then Takayama made a running sliding catch of a fly to right to end the top of the 6th, and all was forgiven.

The Patented Sanko Big 7th Inning started with Shimizu singling, and Kaneko bunting him over to 2nd (why?!?!!?). Azegami then hit a double out to right-center and that brought in Shimizu to make it 5-0. Yokoo then legitimately blasted one out to the left field wall for a double, scoring Azegami, 6-0. Takayama followed that up with a single to right, scoring Yokoo, 7-0. Suganuma grounded out, but then Takahiro Suzuki hit a homer over the left field wall and that made it 9-0 and also took Kosei's pitcher Akita out of the game. Yoshinaga then struck out to end the inning.


Sanko added two more in the 8th when Shimizu reached on an error, Kaneko walked, and Yokoo hit a 2-RBI single to right, making it 11-0 and making him 4-for-5 on the day with 3 RBI, second only to Takayama's going 2-for-5 with 5 RBI. Infact, every Sanko batter reached base, although Taniguchi got there on an error and Yoshinaga got there on a walk.

Somehow Yoshinaga finished out the last 3 Kosei batters with a popout and two strikeouts, and that was it! 125 pitches, 8 strikeouts, complete-game shutout...

To steal another one from Mainichi, of course :)

Here's the game log / article on Asahi's site in Japanese.

(I'll add a little more to this in a bit, hopefully)

Oh, this article from the semi-finals has the BEST PICTURE OF SUGANUMA EVER in it, when he hit that 3-run homer :)

Friday Foto: Kentaro Yoshinaga

I have been so swamped by work in the last few weeks, including a 2-week period where my group actually went off-site and holed up in a hotel in order to work on our project, that I've barely seen any of Koshien EXCEPT Nichidai Sanko and the occasional outlying game like Kyukoku or Teikyo or Yokohama.

I kept holding off on making the Yoshinaga mega-photopost because I wanted to write something significant about him, being as he captured my heart last November at the Jingu taikai and has been at the forefront of my "irrational emotional attachment to high school pitchers" this past year. I've probably read way more about him than any sane person would, from his tribulations learning how to throw a sinker to his obsession with actress Erika Toda.

But right now I don't have the time. And in about 16 hours, assuming no rainout, he's going to be pitching in the final game of Koshien 2011. The Azegami-team, which I've been writing about here on and off for the last several months, will come to an end in a few short days no matter what the outcome is. I find that so very sad. Part of why I love Japanese high school baseball, but definitely don't usually spend the time getting to learn the players as much as I do in college or the pros, is because the teams are so ephemeral, it's so hard to learn them and really grow any attachment to them. By the time the kids truly mature, it's time for them to step down after the summer of their 3rd year, and let the underclassmen take over.

So this Sanko team has been truly special for me, watching these boys over the last year, seeing Suganuma mature into a power hitter, seeing Suzuki show how to play through the pain, seeing Azegami's leadership on the field. And most of all, seeing Yoshinaga mature as a pitcher. He's got stuff, sure, but he's certainly not the most overpowering pitcher out there. He has his moments of weakness, which make him that much more human. But he also has a fantastic team behind him, and they score more runs than he gives up, and they back him up on the field. And he comes through when they need him most, and they come through when he needs them most.

What can I say, I love this team, and I love this guy.

These are from Senbatsu, but does it really make a difference? :)

(oh, that smile!)

(oh yeah, he can bat too, you know)

I don't know for sure if I'll get to watch tomorrow's game live, but I'll certainly be frantically checking the scores either way. I haven't been this into a team since Saga Kita. Seriously!