Everyone gathered around Shun. Since the clay was baked at high temperatures, it should have the strength to withstand the weight of the marble ball on top of it. All the same, we never expected the ball to jump and fall onto the disk.
“Well we don’t know if we still have one or two matches left, but does this mean we won’t be able to use it?” Maria asked.
“Yeah, it’ll probably break the next time a ball rolls onto it. It’ll be impossible to spin it and throw the ball off course.”
“So we have no choice but to go out with only four defenders…”
We tried to come up with countermeasures, but couldn’t think of anything good, so we decided to take a break and go find out who our next opponents were.
Since there are five teams, the numbers are uneven for a tournament. How they do it at Sage Academy is, two pairs of teams are picked by lottery to compete, and the two winning teams draw straws. The winner proceeds directly to the final round and the loser fights the team that was seeded in the first round. The winner in that round becomes the other finalist.
Depending on your luck, you could win the tournament with just two bouts, or have to do all three.
In any case, we went to watch the bout between team three and four. As rumored, team three was strong, and we got to see both their offense and defense.
Their pusher was a complex curved shape, like a horseshoe, that could control the ball perfectly. Their attackers were similar to ours, but seemed more refined.
What surprised us was how they used their two defenders, which were shaped like kokeshi.1 Between the two stretched a rope made of wet clay. When the ball rolled over the rope, it naturally wrapped itself around the ball and stopped it from moving forward. Although team four eventually made it to the goal, they lost a large amount of time.
“They’re pretty smart to think of that,” Satoru said grudgingly.
“We were wrong to assume we had to use hardened clay.”
“It seemed like they were pretty confident that they could cause their opponents to lose enough time to ensure their own victory.”