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Revisiting classic Koshien contests

  • August 4, 2018
  • , The Japan Times
  • English Press

Kaz Nagatsuka, staff writer

 

Koshien, Japan’s midsummer sporting tradition, has staged so many great, unforgettable battles in its one-century history. Quite impressively, they have stayed in the collective memory of the nation’s baseball fans, partially thanks to its win-or-go-home format.

 

There are numerous deserving candidates that could appear on a list of top contests, but for brevity The Japan Times selected these seven remarkable summer tournament games to highlight:

 

Saga Kita vs. Koryo, 2007 final

The public school from Kyushu shocked the nation with an improbable come-from-behind 5-4 victory over the Hiroshima powerhouse in the title game.

 

Koryo right-hander Yusuke Nomura, who now plays for the Hiroshima Carp, was on pace to shut down the Saga Kita offense, giving up no runs and just one hit and striking out 10 through the first seven innings.

 

But in the bottom of the eighth, Saga Kita completely turned the tables. It put a run on the scoreboard on a bases-loaded walk to make it 4-1. And then, Hiroshi Soejima, the next hitter, smacked a high-flying grand slam into the left-field stands, which wound up being the game-winning runs for his squad.

 

Yokohama vs. PL Gakuen, 1998 quarterfinals

It is one of the games that’s talked about most by the fans in Summer Koshien history because it featured Daisuke Matsuzaka, one of the legendary players in the marquee event.

 

PL had a jump start scoring three runs off Matsuzaka, an eventual NPB and MLB star, in the second inning. But the powerful Yokohama offense caught up with the Osaka school and the game entered extra frames.

 

Yokohama went ahead twice in the 11th and 16th, but could not hold the lead for long either time. Finally, the dramatic duel was wrapped up in the 17th, when bench player Ryota Tokiwa belted a two-run homer in the top of the inning. By doing so, he rewarded Matsuzaka, who tossed a jaw-dropping 250 pitches, in a 9-7 victory.

 

The senior right-hander then twirled a no-hitter in the final to give Yokohama its second Summer Koshien crown.

 

Matsuyama Shogyo vs. Kumamoto Kogyo, 1996 final

One of the most amazing defensive plays in tourney history helped Matsuyama Shogyo rack up its sixth Koshien title with a 6-3 triumph over Kumamoto Kogyo in an 11-inning battle.

 

With the game 3-3 in the bottom of the 10th, Kumamoto Kogyo was on the verge of capturing its first-ever summer title with a one-out, bases-loaded situation. Kumamoto Kogyo’s hitter then launched a flyball to right that seemed deep enough to drive in the runner on third base on a tag-up play. However, right fielder Masatsugu Yano, who had come off the bench as a defensive substitute right before the play, made a perfect, no-bounce, on-target throw to the catcher’s mitt. The catcher tagged the runner out and Matsuyama Shogyo survived the jam.

 

With the play, the Ehime Prefecture representative grabbed the momentum and scored three runs in the 11th to hoist the championship flag.

PL Gakuen vs. Ube Shogyo, 1985 final
The Koshien legendary “KK” duo of Kazuhiro Kiyohara and Masumi Kuwata wrapped up their brilliant high school careers with a dramatic 4-3 walk-off win in the championship game.

 

Kiyohara, later a star slugger for the Seibu Lions and Yomiuri Giants, smacked a pair of game-tying homers in this contest (The right-handed hitter amassed a record 13 dingers combined at the spring and summer Koshien tourneys).

 

Around Kiyohara and future Giant ace pitcher Kuwata, the team’s best phenoms since they were freshmen, PL established a dynasty in Japanese high school baseball in the 1980s. Kiyohara and Kuwata guided the Osaka school to the championship game in all three years, winning two of them.

 

Minoshima vs. Seiryo, 1979 third round

A hard-fought game, often dubbed Japan’s “the greatest high school baseball game” that has ever been played, shocked the hearts of spectators and TV viewers.

 

Seiryo, a Ishikawa Prefecture squad, took the lead twice in extra innings, but Minoshima tied it on solo homers each time. Minoshima ended the contest on Keizo Ueno’s RBI single in the bottom of the 18th, which would’ve been the final inning (the two teams would have staged a replayed game the next day if it was declared a tie). The final score was 4-3.

 

Seiryo could have been the winner if it made one play in the 16th. After it took a 3-2 lead, a Minoshima hitter launched a flyball in foul territory near first base, but the Seiryo first baseman failed to catch the ball as he stumbled on newly laid artificial turf there. And then the same hitter homered to tie the game, which was later recalled as one of the miracles that took place in it.

 

Matsuyama Shogyo vs. Misawa, 1969 final

Star pitcher Koji Ota-led Misawa made it to the Summer Koshien final, becoming the first Aomori Prefecture team to do so, yet fell short 4-2 in a replayed game after playing an 18-inning, scoreless tie in the first game the previous day.

 

Misawa could not capitalize on one-out, bases-loaded situations in the 15th and 16th innings, and it wound up costing it the championship.

 

Ota, who later played for the Kintetsu Buffaloes, tossed all the 27 innings in the two final games for 384 pitches against the Ehime Prefecture team by himself. He was popular among female fans and is said to be the pioneer as an idol player at Koshien.

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