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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] University of Oregon's Rikuu Nishida Selected in 11th Round of MLB Draft

Rikuu Nishida set single-season records in runs and stolen bases for the Pac-12 Conference school before being drafted by the Chicago White Sox.

Osaka native Rikuu Nishida fulfilled a dream by being drafted in the 11th round (329th overall pick) of the MLB Draft on Tuesday, July 11.

The Chicago White Sox selected the University of Oregon junior, who demonstrated versatility by starting 44 games in right field, 14 at second base and five at designated hitter in the 2023 college baseball season. Nishida made his biggest impact on defense in right field, wowing fans with diving catches and impressive overall play.

Nishida, who bucked convention while at Oregon by using a wood bat (almost everybody uses an aluminum bat in college baseball), batted .312 with five home runs and 37 RBIs in 63 games. He had 23 multi-hit games for the Ducks. What's more, Nishida set single-season school records for runs (67) and stolen bases (25).

Before Nishida was selected by the White Sox, California-born Gosuke Katoh, who now plays for NPB's Hokkaido Nipponham Fighters, was the last Japanese player to be chosen in the MLB Draft (second round in 2013 by the New York Yankees).

"I was excited to watch the draft, so I'm relieved anyway," Nishida, 22, was quoted as saying by The Hochi Shimbun.

By all accounts, the 5-foot-6 (168-cm) Nishida was an offensive catalyst and team leader for the Ducks this past season. His clutch hitting helped them advance to the NCAA Super Regionals. Before that, they won the Pac-12 Tournament and the Nashville Regional. Nishida was the MVP of the Nashville Regional.

Before enrolling at the University of Oregon, Nishida, a graduate of Sendai's Tohoku High School, played baseball at Mt Hood (Oregon) Community College in 2021 and 2022. He had a combined batting average of .383 and showcased his lightning-quick speed with 91 stolen bases in his two seasons in a Saints uniform.

Insights on Rikuu Nishida

In June, the University of Oregon athletics website published a feature on Nishida. It described him as a player "who slaps balls into the ground and also opposite-field home runs, who ignites chaos on the basepaths and also joyous celebrations when a teammate succeeds."

The Daily Emerald, a University of Oregon student newspaper, also highlighted Nishida's throwback style, which reminds decades-long baseball observers of players from another era.

"Rikuu's game is a trip," Ducks head coach Mark Wasikowski told the Daily Emerald. "Just the way he plays baseball, slaps the ball all around the field, hard to defend, loves to steal bases, tremendous feel of the game."

In the same article, which was published in February, reporter Mojo Hill, noted that Nishida's bat control and hand-eye coordination are quite impressive. The reporter cited Nishida's successful stints playing in collegiate summer baseball leagues for the Cowlitz Black Bears of the West Coast League in 2021 and the Cape Cod Baseball League's Hyannis Harbor Hawks in 2022.

Wrote Hill: "When he steps in the batter's box, he crouches down even lower. He wiggles his bat steadily in the air, then slaps the bat at the ball, [and] he nearly always makes contact. In 79 summer league games, he's only struck out 33 times compared to 46 walks; that kind of ratio is almost unheard of in today's game."

Nishida's Baseball Background

Before playing his first game for the Black Bears, Nishida shared some insights about his baseball background with the Wild Wild West League website.

"I started playing baseball at the age [of] 10-11," he recalled. "And then I started again [at] 15 in Osaka. I moved to Miyagi [Prefecture], Japan, to play baseball for Tohoku High School (Yu Darvish's high school). I played there for three years before moving to Mt Hood Community College in Oregon where I play now."

Los Angeles Angels starter Shohei Ohtani pitches against the Houston Astros on July 14 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California. (Gary A Vasquez/USA TODAY SPORTS)

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Angels Lose Sixth Straight as Ohtani Struggles on Mound

In his first start after the 2023 MLB All-Star Game in Seattle, Shohei Ohtani struggled against the visiting Houston Astros in a 7-5 loss, the Angeles Angels' sixth in a row, on Friday, July 14.

Ohtani (7-5) allowed five hits and five runs (four earned) in five-plus innings. He walked three and struck out seven before being replaced by reliever Jacob Webb with a runner on first and no outs in the sixth. With finger discomfort, Ohtani exited the game.

"We had opportunities to score when we couldn't get the last hit," Ohtani said, according to Kyodo News. "If I'd kept their scoring to a minimum, we would have had a chance to win."

Ohtani was 2-for-5 with a pair of singles as LA's designated hitter.

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Japan's Yui Hasegawa scores her second goal against Panama in an international friendly on July 14 in Sendai. (KYODO)

Soccer

Nadeshiko Japan Trounces Panama in Final Women's World Cup Tuneup Match

Yui Hasegawa led Nadeshiko Japan with two goals and an assist in a 5-0 drubbing of Panama in an exhibition match on Friday, July 14 in Sendai.

Risa Shimizu gave 11th-ranked Japan a 1-0 lead in the 33rd minute, capitalizing on a scoring chance courtesy of a Hasegawa pass.

Hasegawa scored her first goal in the 37th minute, doubling the lead against world No 52 Panama.

Aoba Fujino made it 3-0 in the 60th minute, followed by Hasegawa's second goal and a late tally by Moeka Minami.

Japan manager Futoshi Ikeda's squad outshot Panama 23-0.

The Japan women's national team quickly shifted its focus to making final preparations for the upcoming 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, a 32-nation tournament in New Zealand and Australia.

A Look Ahead to the Women's World Cup

Japan opens its World Cup campaign against Group C foe Zambia on Saturday, July 22 (4 PM JST kickoff) in Hamilton. After that, Japan has a July 26 encounter with Costa Rica (2 PM) in Dunedin and a July 31 clash with Spain (4 PM) in Wellington.

The United States is the defending champion and has won the tournament four times. 

Japan won the 2011 Women's World Cup.

Japan's Sarina Koga vies for a point against the United States in the FIVB Women's Volleyball Nations League quarterfinals on July 12 in Arlington, Texas. (FIVB/via KYODO)

Volleyball

Team USA Outplays Japan in Women's Nations League 

Japan's quest to reach the final four of the 2023 FIVB Women's Volleyball Nations League fell short. The United States had the better overall performance in their quarterfinal showdown on Wednesday, July 12 in Arlington, Texas, winning 25-23, 2521, 18-25, 25-18.

Attack points proved to be the decisive factor for Team USA, which held a 62-50 advantage in kills.

Annie Drews paced the Americans with 13 points, 11 of which were earned on the attack. Teammate Kelsey Robinson Cook finished with 11 points.

For Japan, Yukiko Wada had a match-high 14 points (13 on attack) and Arisa Inoue chipped in with 12 points.

American setter Micha Hancock was delighted with the outcome.

"It's a great feeling to be home after three weeks in different countries," Hancock said, according to the Volleyball Nations League website. "Just the home-court advantage and singing your anthem in your home country is huge. It was great and we hope to put two more really good matches together. Japan always plays really hard defense and we had to stay really patient. They challenge us every time we play them."

Earlier in the tournament, Japan topped the US in a five-set match in the preliminary phase on June 17 in Brasilia.

In the ongoing FIVB Men's Volleyball Nations League, Japan is set to play Slovenia in the quarterfinals on Thursday, July 20 in Gdansk, Poland.

The other quarterfinal pairings are Poland-Brazil, United States-France and Italy-Argentina.

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Hiroki Yanagita competes in the men's 100-meter final at the 2023 Asian Athletics Championships in Bangkok on July 14. (KYODO)

Track and Field

Yanagita Wins Sprint Title at Asian Championships

Hiroki Yanagita finished first in the men's 100-meter final at the Asian Athletics Championships in Bangkok on July 14.

The 19-year-old claimed the title with a time of 10.02 seconds. Yanagita was clocked in 10.14 seconds in his semifinal heat earlier in the day.

At the 2022 World Athletics U20 (Under-20) Championships, held in August in Cali, Colombia, Yanagita, a Toyo University student, was the sixth-place finisher in the men's 100 (10.24). 

"Of course I'm really disappointed," Yanagita said of his performance in the 100-meter final in Cali, according to a World Athletics news report. "But it was a great race and a great experience for me."

Now, nearly a year later, Yanagita's insights from Colombia illustrate his desire to benefit from the competition and from observing other athletes on the track.

"It's great there's so many great athletes there and that I'm so close to them, I can learn from them and it's more of a motivation for me," Yanagita commented in Colombia. "I needed to see the reality and all I can do is train after this."

Japan's Kotaro Matsushima scores a first-half try against New Zealand in a non-test rugby match on July 15 in Kumamoto. (SANKEI)

Rugby

All Blacks XV Cruise Past Brave Blossoms

Japan took the slimmest of leads in its non-test rugby match against New Zealand on Saturday, July 15 in Kumamoto. But the Brave Blossoms' one-point advantage quickly vanished.

The All Blacks XV closed out the first half with 17 unanswered points en route to a 41-27 victory at Egao Kenko Stadium.

New Zealand recorded a 38-6 win over Japan on July 8 in Tokyo in the Brave Blossoms' first of five exhibition matches in preparation for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, which kicks off on September 8 in France.

Kotaro Matsushima's try and Seung Sin Lee's conversion gave Japan a 13-12 lead on Saturday in the 25th minute.

That sequence produced Japan's top highlights of the afternoon.

According to Brave Blossoms head coach Jamie Joseph, Japan's performance was marred by miscues.

"Obviously we made a lot of mistakes," Joseph said, according to Kyodo News, after the match. "Although we performed really well in places, we were playing a really quality side from New Zealand and if you make mistakes against these guys, they will punish you."

Up next: Japan plays host to Samoa on Saturday, July 22 at Sapporo Dome.

Japan's Yudai Nishida in action against Taiwan on July 14 at Hamamatsu Arena. (KYODO)

Basketball

Japan Men Record a Pair of Wins Over Taiwan

The Japan men's national team routed Taiwan 108-86 and 92-56, respectively, on July 8 and 9 at Hamamatsu Arena.

In the weekend opener, Yudai Baba (NBA G League's Texas Legends) and Shuta Hara (Chiba Jets) led Japan with 18 points apiece and three teammates also scored in double digits. Hara canned 6 of 7 3-pointers in the win.

A day later, Japan raced out to a 26-7 lead by the end of the first quarter. Hirotaka Yoshii (Alvark Tokyo) scored a team-best 16 points and University of Nebraska guard Keisei Tominaga added 13. Josh Hawkinson (Shinshu Brave Warriors) finished with a double-double (11 points, 12 rebounds).

With the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup set to tip off on August 25 in Okinawa, Indonesia and the Philippines, Japan coach Tom Hovasse's squad is working to improve on-court chemistry.

After the weekend series wrapped up on July 9, Hovasse told reporters: "Yesterday's defense was better, but yesterday's good offense didn't hit as many shots today."

Isa Appointed Head Coach of B3's Fukui Blowinds

Former Ryukyu Golden Kings and Sunrockers Shibuya head coach Tsutomu Isa will lead the Fukui Blowinds, a B.League third-division expansion team, in the 2023-24 season, it was announced on Friday, July 14.

Isa expressed enthusiasm for the next chapter of his coaching career.

"The joy of being involved in the first year of the Blowinds, and the excitement of creating a team that incorporates Fukui's uniqueness from scratch with the owner company, partners, players and the front-office staff cannot be overstated," Isa said in a statement.

"We will do our best every day to become a team that we can be proud of, rooted in Fukui Prefecture, loved by the people of Fukui Prefecture and supported by everyone in Fukui Prefecture."

In other league news, it was announced on Tuesday, July 11 that the 2025 B.League All-Star Game will be held at the LaLa arena Tokyo-Bay in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture. The Chiba Jets will begin playing in the new venue in the spring of 2024.

And it was also announced that the 2026 B.League All-Star Game will be staged at Nagasaki Stadium City Arena, which is the provisional name for the future home of the Nagasaki Velca.

The 2024 All-Star Game is set to be held at Okinawa Arena.

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Naomi Osaka in a September 2022 file photo. (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Tennis

Osaka Gives Birth to a Baby Girl

Naomi Osaka, winner of four Grand Slam women's singles titles, is now a mother. She gave birth to a baby girl in Los Angeles.

People magazine first reported the news on Tuesday, July 11. Countless other media outlets followed by reporting the news.

Osaka announced in January 2023 that she was pregnant and vowed to return to the WTA Tour in 2024.

Earlier this year, the 25-year-old acknowledged that she is also aiming to participate in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

"I want to try to win the Olympics next year," Osaka was quoted as saying by the WTA website, which reported her comments were made on a Japanese TV program. "It makes me very excited to return to the sport."


Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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