Nanshiki baseball is a variation of the sport unique to Japan where the game is played with a rubber ball rather than the typical hardball or softball. Although it’s not nearly as popular as the other sports, the competition can be fierce especially among the younger players. One example of this can be found in the 59th National High School Nanshiki Baseball Championships semifinals wherein one game turned into a 50-inning and four-day long test of endurance. And as if that wasn’t enough, the winner of that game had to proceed to the final round only a few hours after finishing.

■  The first 30 innings

The game was between Chukyo of Gifu Prefecture with Matsui pitching and Sotoku from Hiroshima Prefecture who had Ishioka on the mound. Both pitchers threw for the entire 50 innings. By the end of the 45th inning, the pair had thrown a combined 1,252 pitches to 225 batters.

The game originally started on 28 August and went 15 innings without any runs scored. As a result, the rest of the game was pushed to the following day where another 15 innings were played with a 0-0 result. A further 15 innings were played on 30 August which was when cracks were beginning to show in the previously impervious defenses.

■  The next 15 innings

In the 31st inning, Chukyo managed to get a runner on second but was struck out by Ishioka before he could get past home plate. In the 34th inning, an opportunity presented itself to Sotoku when a batter managed to hit a triple. Chukyo attempted to pull a squeeze play, but Ishioka was able to avoid the bunt by throwing outside. Next Chukyo attempted to end the game with a hit and run, but the batter went for the swing and failed to connect with the ball and the runner was tagged out.

By the end of the game on 30 August the teams were still locked in a 0-0 draw. Both teams met on the field where the two worn-down pitchers exchanged pleasantries of “See you next time” and “Yup, see you then.”

■  Preparing for the final 15

The game on 31 August was to be the last. If a winner wasn’t decided, then the winning team would be determined by a lottery drawing (essentially, just picking a name out of a hat). The game had so far gone into 45 innings which would tie it for the longest game in Nanshiki baseball in terms of innings. On September 20, 1983, a game between the Raito Kyogo (Tokyo) and Tanaka Hospital (Miyazaki) went for 45 innings and lasted eight hours and 19 minutes.

In the lead up to the final game, both pitchers were feeling the pain of constant throwing. Matsui was experiencing back pain and receiving therapy between games. He said to his teammates that if they won through his pitching he’d prefer they lift the coach up in celebration instead because he probably wouldn’t be able to take the pain. It was a sentiment that moved his coach to tears.

Meanwhile, Sotoku’s Ishioka remained upbeat saying, “It’s really hard, but I’m having fun.” The entire team has been putting on a brave face in light of the tragic landslides that hit their prefecture earlier this month. They needed all the energy they could muster to bring some good news back home.

As the 46th inning began, the stands were packed to watch the results. The score remained locked until the top of the 50th when Chukyo found themselves with bases loaded and no outs from an infield single and two walks. At that time, Goto hit a double and finally batted in the first two runs of this four-day game. Later on another point was scored off an infield grounder.

■  Right into the finals

At the bottom of the 50th those runs would go unanswered and the game was mercifully ended with Chukyo victorious by 3-0. Although, Ishioka and the rest of Sotoku would return to Hiroshima empty handed, they could certainly keep their heads up knowing they gave it their all.

Matsui on the other hand had to get ready to head back out onto the field that same day in the final match against Miura Gakuen from Kanagawa. Perhaps spurred on by their extended win over Sotoku, Chukyo won again 2-0 scoring runs in the sixth and seventh innings and holding Miura Gakuen off for the rest of the game.

And so we’d like to congratulate Chukyo and Matsui on an undisputedly hard-fought win in the 59th National High School Nanshiki Baseball Championships. May they all go on to great things in the future!

Source: Hachima Kiko, Twitter – @nanshiki_bb, Nikkan Sports
Video & Images: YouTube – zebura nubaronn