Thursday, March 22, 2018

Spring Koshien 2018: Schools connected to the Lions

Lions schools are shaded in blue, while prefectures without a participating school are in red. Several prefectures have multiple schools in this tournament. 
Spring Koshien (Senbatsu or Haru Koshien) means the beginning of meaningful baseball in the Northern Hemisphere as the first tournament will commence.

Contrary to Summer Koshien where all teams have to punch their ticket through a prefecture tournament, Spring Koshien qualifies only by invitation by a committee. There are also three 21st Century schools that are given an invitation to play, when they typically won't get an opportunity.

While it's easy to say this is an NIT based on the alternate title of being an invitational, it still has value and isn't an insult like it is for college hoops. Spring Koshien has less prestige than the Summer equivalent being a decade younger and a reduced field, but still has its importance.

One thing unique about this tournament is how multiple schools from the same prefecture could see each other in Koshien Stadium. Last year's edition featured two Osaka schools going at it in the final with Riseisha and Osaka Toin.

This year is the 90th edition of Haru Koshien and there will be an extra four schools participating, upping the field from 32 to 36. Here are the schools that have a connection to the Saitama Seibu Lions:

Hanamaki Higashi (Iwate): Yusei Kikuchi

Hanamaki Higashi is most famous for Shohei Otani, but Kikuchi was his predecessor and Senpai. Like Otani, Kikuchi had plenty of hype and could have gone straight to an MLB team out of high school, but opted to stay, making it an easier decision to draft him.

Kikuchi guided Hanamaki Higashi to the Final Four in his senior year, but overwork and an injury had them come up short. When Otani was in high school, he is remembered for being outdueled by Osaka Toin's Shintaro Fujinami in a Spring Koshien.

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Shizuoka (Shizuoka): Shohei Suzuki

Suzuki was a fourth round drat pick of the Lions in 2016 and impressed the coaching staff in ni-gun. He received an invitation to ichi-gun camp to get a look from manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji. He is viewed as a future leadoff hitter in the Lions organization and they like the progress he made after Year 1.

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Osaka Toin (Osaka): Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura, Tomoya Mori, Hideto Asamura, Masatoshi Okada

This is the most famous pipeline with the Lions having four representatives. Asamura (2008) and Mori (2012) can say they were summer Koshien champions while the latter also won Spring Koshien in that same year.

Okawari-kun has been a staple at 3B, Asamura has been the captain since 2017, Okada was the battery mate of Sho Nakata before he became a shakaijin as Nakata was also a pitcher. He is currently the backup catcher and pinch-hitter if there is a bunt situation. Mori is viewed as the future catcher of the Lions and recently came off a trip in Australia, playing with the Melbourne Aces.

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Keio (Kanagawa): Tomoaki Sato (1B and outfield defense coach)

Sato has been a coach with the Lions since 2016 and is currently at the ichi-gun level. He also spent his entire playing career with the Lions from 2001-2012 as an outfielder and 2B.

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Several famous schools are in this field, but the one HS connected to an MLB player is Komadai Tomakomai, which is where Masahiro Tanaka attended in Hokkaido. He is remembered for dueling with Yuki Saito in a Summer Koshien that went to a replay due to a tie (which must be called after 15 innings).

The Olympics ended awhile ago, but our turn to baseball is about to begin. Enjoy the games everyone.

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