Now that the 93rd National High School Baseball Championship, or Summer Koshien, has concluded, it’s time to take a look at the players who shined on high school baseball’s biggest stage.
As you may recall, there were many standouts from the Spring Tournament, which was won by Kanagawa Prefecture’s Tokaidai Sagami. The spring champs, however, didn’t make it into the field of 49 finalists.
Nichidai San, who represents West Tokyo (East and West are split in the tournament), came close to titles in both Spring 2010 and 2011 (finalists and semi-finalists, respectively). They were finally crowned champions on Saturday.
Sanko, as they are known, were one of only three teams in the field given the highest pre-tournament rating by all three sports dailies polled (Hochi (Yomiuri), Nikkan Sports and Sponichi). They were prohibitive favorites and are perhaps a bit over-represented represented below. That said, they lived up to the billing and did not wilt under pressure.
Here are some of this tournament’s standout individual performers:
Kentaro Yoshinaga, pitcher, Nichidai San, West Tokyo
Where would Nichidai San be without their ace pitcher? Not basking in the glory of a national championship, for sure. The right-hander started 5 out of his team’s 6 games, pitching all but 4 1/3 innings of the tournament.
Over his 49 2/3 innings, he allowed 42 hits but struck out a healthy 59 batters. He struck out at least double digits in three games, suffering only one major hiccup; a 15 hit, 8 earned run pounding at the hands of Shimane’s Kaisei. His team bailed him out with one of their patented big innings (in this case, a 6-run 6th) and the team advanced.
Yoshinaga finished with a 2.90 tournament ERA and a 1.21 WHIP, both improvements on his Spring tournament numbers.
Despite being tired and laboring at times during the final game, he was still able to pitch his team to an 11-0 win and hold opponents Kosei Gakuin to 5 hits.
Yoshinao Kamata, pitcher, Kanazawa, Ishikawa
My “pitcher to watch” from the Spring, Kamata did not disappoint. Unlike Nichidai San, his Ishikawa team was not blessed with a potent offense. He K’ed 10 in an opening game 4-0 shutout, scattering 5 hits. He repeated the strikeout total in his second start, scattering 8 hits in a 4-2 victory.
In his third start Kamata ran into a very good Narashino team from Chiba, who edged Ishikawa 2-1. In that game his fastball reached 153 KPH, his high velocity for the tournament.
The fireballer struck out 29 over 26 innings, allowing 21 hits and putting up a tidy 1.04 ERA. Unfortunately his offense only provided him with an equal 21 hits to work with.
Yujo Kitagata, pitcher, Karatsu Sho, Saga
Admittedly, Kitagata came out of nowhere for me. His school hadn’t been to Summer Koshien since 1984 and I hadn’t paid too much attention to the Saga Prefectural qualifiers.
Tied for the hardest thrower with Kamata at 153 KPH, his scouting report said he featured a slider, cut fastball, curve, and forkball. I noticed the fastball and a power slider, because he relied on them to mow down opposing batters.
Against Furukawa Kogyo, he allowed just 4 hits and struck out 13, but was wild, walking 6 batters. It added up to three earned runs on his ledger, but his team won 9-4.
They didn’t win their second round game, though, as Sakushin Gakuin beat him 3-2. He struck out 10 again, walked 3, and allowed only 1 earned run. It wasn’t good enough, but he seems to have a promising future ahead.
Shunsuke Michibata, catcher, Chiben Wakayama, Wakayama
Of the highly regarded “big name” catchers (Michibata, Kensuke Kondo and Shuto Takajo) that made it to Koshien, it is debatable whether the Chiben Wakayama backstop had the best tournament. He gets the nod because Kondo and Takajo had truncated tournaments; both their teams lost early on. Nichdai San’s Takahiro Suzuki made terrific plays in the field; I just don’t think his bat is on par with the others.
Michibata was part of a good offense that put up 23 runs in just 3 games. He went 5 for 15, having a nice 3 for 6 day in round 2.
Toshitake Yoko, third base, Nichdai San, West Tokyo
One might say that Sanko’s third sacker is a little overweight. Fortunately for the champs, his bat is also pretty hefty.
In the qualifying tournament leading up to the Koshien finals, Yokoo put up a .500/.571/.792 line over 7 games.
In the finals he went out and improved upon it. He bashed out a ridiculous .625/.690/.708 (15 for 24).
Shun Takayama, right field, Nichdai San, West Tokyo
Another guy whose bat made a huge statement in the tournament. He tattooed pitchers for a line of .500 (13 for 26) while getting on base at a .536 clip and slugging a silly .885. He hit two critical home runs, including one in the final game to dead center.
Sho Azegami, center field, Nichdai San, West Tokyo
The team captain played a stellar CF and was one of Sanko’s reliable offensive weapons (6 for 24). His slow start in the early rounds held his numbers down.
Hiroaki Saiuchi, pitcher, Seiko Gakuin, Fukushima
Struck out 16 in his opening game. 19 IP, 16 H, 30 K over tournament (2 games).
Author’s note: For even more coverage and a non-stop Nichidai San love-fest, please visit Deanna Rubin’s wonderful Marinerds, etc. site.