Things learned, observed in Pacific high school sports winter Week 11.1

Author's note: Some of this material appeared in the Pacific page at Stripes.com and also in our print editions for Monday.

Five things we learned over the last weekend in Pacific high school sports:

1) You’ve heard of the dog that sleeps with one eye open? Sort of the way teams are competing in the frigid days of February, playing opponents with one eye on them and the other on what’s coming next week: Far East tournament week.

That was the impression left by many a coach after last weekend’s DODDS Japan basketball and Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools wrestling finals, the teams’ last major preparation for the Far East tournaments in each sport. Far East wrestling is Feb. 19-21 at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Division I basketball is Feb. 18-21, girls at Yokota and boys at Kubasaki. Division II hoops are Feb. 18-20, boys at Zama American, girls at Robert D. Edgren, site of the DODDS Japan tournaments.

Brian Kitts, Yokota’s wrestling coach, feels that Kanto finals champion Nile C. Kinnick, with four gold medalists among the 13 weight classes, is ready to challenge Okinawa powers Kadena and Kubasaki, the favorites heading into Far East.

“Don’t overlook Kinnick,” he said after Saturday’s tournament, which he hosted at Yokota’s Capps Gym. “They’re on the outside looking in, but the way they looked today, they may be the best dual-meet team already and could be the best individual freestyle team out there. Don’t sleep on Kinnick.”

Reigning Far East Outstanding Wrestler Chad Wilder of Zama American proved his readiness with a gold medal at 158 pounds. Saturday’s Outstanding Wrestler, Yokota’s Kalik Battle, turned in a dominant performance against Kinnick’s Marvin Newbins for 135-pound gold. The best bout of the day, by far, observers said, was the 168-pound final, in which reigning Far East champion Jeff Koo of St. Mary’s outlasted Kinnick’s Alex Banks for a 2-1 decision.

“The whole match was that close,” Kinnick coach Gary Wilson said. “Great job by both guys. The highlight of the tournament.”

While the Red Devils matmen have dominated Kanto all season, taking all 10 dual meets as well as the finals title, other teams are starting to find their stride, such as Robert D. Edgren’s boys basketball team. For the second straight year, the Eagles came out of the knockout bracket in the double-elimination tournament, this time throttling top-seeded Zama 70-53 in Saturday’s DODDS Japan final at the Eagles’ Nest.

Fueling the title drive in the second half was a pair of freshmen overlooked much of the season but starting to find their groove. Isaiah Murphy had 16 points off the bench and Khaleem Shabazz had six assists, all to Murphy, as the Eagles rallied from a 26-19 deficit, outscoring the Trojans, who had won 16 straight games, 25-9 in one stretch of the third quarter.

“We’ve been waiting for them to get that moment and this was their moment to shine,” coach Andre Thibert said of Murphy and Shabazz, the younger brothers of two established Edgren stars, Louis Murphy and Khalil Williams. “It was definitely a coming-out party for our two freshmen.”

It could not have come at a better time for all concerned.

2) Just what is a true double-elimination tournament, people asked, some articulately and wrathfully, of DODDS Japan tournament organizer and outgoing Edgren athletics director Jim Burgeson in the aftermath of Saturday’s boys final.

Edgren’s victory, in actuality, gave the Eagles and Zama each one loss and, in theory, should have necessitated an “if-necessary” game to decide the title. No second game was played. Burgeson and Thibert each – correctly – stated that the tournament by-laws indicated no “if” game, and that it was understood by all before the tournament began.

Let’s back up to the beginning, a very good place to start, considering the tournament almost never came off at all. A snowfall of trace amounts in coastal areas and 1 inch or so inland in the Kanto Plain delayed Zama’s, Kinnick’s and Yokota’s team buses by a day; had we been talking five or six inches, they might not have left at all, considering the blizzards they ran into on the Tohoku Expressway on Thursday.

Burgeson had initially scheduled all teams to play generous amounts of basketball, five pool-play games each on Thursday and Friday and as many as three elimination games on Saturday; that was rejiggered into a modified double-elimination tournament with a fifth- and sixth-place game and a single, winner-take-all, championship game at the end of that rainbow. (He also scheduled some friendlies, with no scorekeeper, between E.J. King, Edgren and Matthew C. Perry on Thursday to give them something to do).

Every athletics director received an e-mail (I was copied) with the updated and final tournament schedule, emphasizing there would be no more changes. The rules of engagement were made clear well in advance. The tournament has never had an “if” game in its three years. Burgeson and Thibert stuck to their guns.

Say this for Zama – they’ll have more than enough motivation next time they see Edgren, possible at next week’s Far East.

3) Sometimes, it’s not about the entire body of work over the course of a season, but who’s hot at the right time heading into Far East. Unquestionably, Edgren’s boys would have to be included in that category. They went 1-2 the previous weekend at Yokosuka, including a bad loss to St. Mary’s International, but they  may  have turned the corner with that DODDS Japan title performance. So, too, did Yokota’s girls, who turned a few heads by reaching the final (they lost 47-37 to Kinnick), instead of Zama’s or E.J. King’s girls. Even in defeat against their Division I sisters, the Cobras showed some panache and that they may be ready to challenge for their first D-II title since 1997.

4) What can one say about the Okinawa Activities Council’s boys basketball rivalry between Kadena and Kubasaki? The last three times these guys have laced up, the total victory margin was four points, two one-point victories and a two-pointer, that by Kubasaki 52-50 on Friday at home. The home team won all four games in the series, which was halved at 2-2. If anything gives either team an edge, and then you have to consider each team was without some key components, it would have been Kubasaki’s buzzer-beating win over Kadena in last month’s New Year Classic.

5) So much depressing chatter over the weekend up at Misawa, about everything from why the DODDS Japan tournament was held at Misawa in the dead of winter when weather could have scotched it, or how much extra it cost to fly four teams to Misawa instead of the two that would have flown had the tournament been held in the Kanto Plain. Even talk about impending furloughs and possible cancellations of Far East tournaments should the “automatic sequestration cuts” take effect starting March 1 and the continuing resolution expire on March 27 without renewal, triggering a government shutdown.

Regarding the first two parts: Yes, the weather endangered the event and it did cost more money to transport the teams, but in the end, Burgeson and Thibert put on a very, very good show. Regarding the second two parts, which are only fueled by rumors, speculation and social-networkingitis: Phillip Phillips said it best: “Don’t pay no mind to the demons; they’ll fill you with fear.” Forget the rumor mill. Listen to the official channels. Nothing’s been canceled yet. Nobody’s been laid off yet. There are 18 days before the first deadline, and likely, the can will get kicked down the road again for another couple of months. It always seems worse than when the time comes.

Guam High
After a dreadful start to the season, in which the Panthers girls softball team went 0-3, things got better on Friday at their home field with an 11-1 run-rule-shortened romp over Academy of Our Lady of Guam. “The girls were excited and quite happy (and so was Pizza Hut,” coach Marcellas Walker said in an e-mail. They get Simon Sanchez and Southern this week, two “big games,” he said, “and we’ll be putting our best foot forward.”

E.J. King
Jaimee who? The Cobras remain a competitive lot thanks to their big three of Tara Long, Deb Avalos and Yasmine Weddle, short in stature but giants on the court. Avalos, in particular, is primarily a perimeter shooter, but she can drive and scrap underneath, remindful of Kristia Suriben, Cobras star of last decade.

As with any young team, the Dragons can sometimes be like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. But coach Jon Fick is consistently getting stellar double-double performances from Kareem Key, Tristan McElroy, DeQuan Alderman, Nick Ashley and Ryan Burnette, most of whom rode the bench during last year’s run to a second straight D-I title.

Coach Willie Ware said he couldn’t have been happier with the return of Deja Caldwell to the lineup. She missed the previous three weeks with injuries, and rejoins fellow senior Eisiah Lawson to form twin towers in the paint to go with a large cadre of guards led by Maria Vaughan.

Robert D. Edgren
Thibert and the Eagles had been waiting for some complementary pieces to rise up and join established stars Louis Murphy and Williams to take the pressure off of them. If Isaiah Murphy and Shabazz keep it up, despite an 18-14 record, the Eagles could make a deep run at their first D-II title.

Osan American
A thumb’s up for all three sports teams over the weekend. Both the boys and girls teams won on Friday over International Christian-Uijongbu, ensuring they’ll escape the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Five-Cities Division cellar. Meanwhile, the wrestling team, though losing to Seoul American on Saturday, came within two points, 33-31, their best performance in a dual with the Falcons in 13 seasons.

Daegu High
The reason why the Warriors wrestling team wasn’t at Osan on Saturday? Lunar New Year and its accompanying gridlock on the Kyongbu Expressway. … The Warriors basketball teams appear in prime position for a run at KAIAC Five-Cities Division titles, the boys (11-6) seeded No. 1 and the girls (9-3) in at least a tie for No. 2 with Seoul Foreign.

Seoul American
Likewise, the Falcons boys (15-9) hold the No. 2 seed and the girls (13-2) are No. 1 entering the KAIAC 5CD tournament, being held for the first time at the new Taejon Christian International School campus in the heart of the Republic.

Matthew C. Perry
Lost in all the hoopla of Kinnick’s girls and Edgren’s boys winning the DODDS Japan titles was the girls’ fifth-place game, in which the light switches went on for a Samurai team that had not won a DODDS Japan game all season but came within three points of Zama. They trailed 37-21 after three quarters, but scored 24 points, most coming from Courtney Beall, in the final period, losing 48-45. You’d have thought they’d won, from their reaction. "This is how they play when they play well," coach Victor Rivera said. And that game came against Rivera's old school, where he taught for two years last decade.

Zama American
Sometimes, a loss like the Trojans’ boys suffered in the DODDS Japan final is the best thing for a team. For one, it happened on Feb. 9, not Feb. 20, the day of the D-II final. For another, it gives the Trojans motivation for the next time they face the Eagles. Sort of the same way a slap across the face with a wet squirrel works.

While twin towers Brianna Harris and Sarah Hamner remain the forces in the middle, the Panthers got some contributions from a pair of up-and-coming freshman, guard Sarah Cronin and center Caitlyn Rowan. The latter’s surname might be familiar to ardent sumo followers; she’s the daughter of the first foreign sumo yokozuna (grand champion) Akebono, birth name Chad Rowan.

Nile C. Kinnick
De’Asia Brown and Mashiya McKinney make a nice outside-inside tandem for a Red Devils girls team which has beaten everyb0dy they’ve played except American School In Japan, a frustration for coach Samuel Williams. … The boys team, 2-2 at DODDS Japan, are another Forrest Gump box of chocolates team, also frustrating for coach Robert Stovall.

Top performers
-- Kalik Battle, Yokota, Outstanding Wrestler of Kanto Plain finals, big win over Kinnick’s Marvin Newbins in the 135-pound final.
-- Daniel Costello’s victory at 215 pounds over Yokota’s Jake Jackson might have been the biggest surprise gold among the four won by Kinnick.
-- Osan American’s boys big three of Marlon Cox, Derrick Merriwether and Manasseh Nartey, plus girls star Trellini Lunsford in the Cougars’ sweep of the Eagles.
-- Kinnick guard De’Asia Brown and center Mashiya McKinney paced the Red Devils past Yokota 47-37 in the DODDS Japan girls final.
-- Despite finishing fifth, M.C. Perry’s Courtney Beall consistently posted 20-plus point and 10-plus rebound games all weekend.
-- Freshmen Isaiah Murphy and Khaleem Shabazz’s coming-out party for Edgren’s boys.

Who’s hot
Was Edgren’s boys title a sign of what’s to come, or a home-court illusion?

Who’s not
Did Yokota’s boys (13-1 start, 4-6 since) peak too so0n?

The $64,000 question.
Which teams stand the best chance of upending top seeds Daegu High boys and Seoul American girls in the KAIAC Five-Cities Division Tournament this weekend?

Best idea
Misawa's 35th Force Support Squadron is putting its foot forward to support high school athletics and out-of-town teams with special discounts at its various eateries. If you're staying at Misawa Inn and you're with one of those teams, show your room key for a 25-percent discount.

Most interesting idea
Edgren's second-quarter stall tactics in its 45-43 edging of Yokota, a reversal of what occured in a game in the same tournament last year. The rationale? To bring the Panthers out of their zone defense and get them to play man-to-man.

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Ornauer on AFN


Stars and Stripes reporter Dave Ornauer talks about the Pacific sports scene on AFN Radio. (Click on right arrow to play file.)


Sept 28:Dave Ornauer is back with the latest on the Pacific sports scene.

May 22:Yokota has dominated in first year at D-II spring championsihps.

May 8: Dave Ornauer highlights a few athletes who are participating in the Kanto Plains track and field finals Saturday.