10-player baseball team earns spring Koshien spot

Players and team assistants of the Kozukata High School baseball club in Yahaba, Iwate Prefecture, celebrate after the team gained a berth at the National Invitational High School Baseball Tournament as a “21st-century entry” on Jan. 27.

MORIOKA The Yomiuri Shimbun February 15, 2017 — Relying on its batting prowess, an Iwate Prefecture team with just 10 players gained a berth at the 89th National Invitational High School Baseball Tournament at Koshien Stadium, overcoming the disadvantage of limited fielding practices because of the lack of playersParticipating schools for the tournament, which starts March 19, were decided on Jan. 27, and Iwate Prefectural Kozukata High School in the town of Yahaba made the tourney for the first time. The team is a “21st-century entry,” a category for teams that have overcome special challenges.rnThe good news lifted the spirits of the members of the team, who have all been fired up to win a game at KoshienrnAfter the third-year students left last summer ahead of graduation, the team started up with seven second-year and three first-year players. With only 10 players, the team cannot fully work on fielding in situations involving baserunnersrnManager Kento Koyama changed the mind-set. His team put extra focus on offense, with some practices solely devoted to battingrn“Even if we give up 14 runs, we’ll score 15 runs,” he saidrnThe team played in the prefectural tournament last autumn, beating schools because of its offensive power — even winning close games — and eventually finishing in second place. By playing actual games, the team’s defense has become steadier. Under the leadership of captain Keita Kohiruimaki, team unity has also been strengthenedrn“The number of players on the field is the same for every team,” said Kohiruimaki, the second-year ace pitcher of the team. “We should do only what our team can do.rnThree female team assistants support the players, serving ochazuke (broth or tea poured over rice) and curry rice between practices to help the players gain weightrnThere is not enough space in the high school for the baseball team to practice indoors as the gym is occupied by other sports clubs. When it snows, members instead built up their strength by lifting weightsrn“Taking pleasure in what we do is the most important thing, and what’s the most fun is winning,” Koyama saidrn“What we’ve done so far has not been wrong. As long as we participate in tournaments, we want to win,” Kohiruimaki saidrnAt the 1974 national invitational tournament, Ikeda High School from Tokushima Prefecture had a squad of 11 players.rnThe team finished second and became known as the “Sawayaka Eleven” (fresh 11)