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Seoul American's Chris DeFrancisco (1) looks to pass over Kadena defender Josh Greggs during Saturday's semifinal game, which Kadena won, 63-40.

Seoul American's Chris DeFrancisco (1) looks to pass over Kadena defender Josh Greggs during Saturday's semifinal game, which Kadena won, 63-40. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

Seoul American's Chris DeFrancisco (1) looks to pass over Kadena defender Josh Greggs during Saturday's semifinal game, which Kadena won, 63-40.

Seoul American's Chris DeFrancisco (1) looks to pass over Kadena defender Josh Greggs during Saturday's semifinal game, which Kadena won, 63-40. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

Yokota center Caiveon Thomas is defended by center Kendall Hailstone of St. Mary's International during Saturday's semifinal game. Yokota won, 47-41.

Yokota center Caiveon Thomas is defended by center Kendall Hailstone of St. Mary's International during Saturday's semifinal game. Yokota won, 47-41. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

Seoul American guard Tyras Milner (8) bangs into Kadena Panthers defender Terrence Jenkins during Saturday's semifinal game.

Seoul American guard Tyras Milner (8) bangs into Kadena Panthers defender Terrence Jenkins during Saturday's semifinal game. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — With Kadena’s big men in foul trouble, Shmarua Phelps picked the perfect time to get hot.

The senior guard scored eight of his 18 points in the fourth quarter — including the go-ahead basket with 2:38 left — as the Panthers rallied from a 14-point first-quarter deficit past host Yokota 56-55 on Saturday in the New Year’s Classic championship game.

Phelps also grabbed six rebounds, blocked four shots and recorded four steals — all after coming off a bout with the flu.

“But I did what I had to do for the team,” Phelps said.

“I wanted that badly. My first championship as a Panther.”

Phelps’ big fourth quarter was particularly important with sophomore forward Jamil Barney and senior center Alex Mierzejewski saddled with foul trouble. Barney fouled out 15 seconds before Phelps hit the basket that put the Panthers ahead for keeps.

“He stepped up really well,” Barney said, adding that he “wasn’t concerned” over the foul difficulty since the Panthers have “a deep team.”

Phelps’ performance was similar, coach Robert Bliss said, to the one he turned in during Kadena’s 102-88 victory at Kubasaki on Dec. 15, in which Phelps scored 28 of his 32 points in the second half, going 13-for-24 from the field and 6-for-8 from the foul line.

“He got it in his mind to go to the basket more,” Bliss said. “He made some spectacular plays for us.”

And Phelps’ play helped Kadena overcome heroic performances by Yokota center Caiveon Thomas (24 points, 15 rebounds, 6 steals and 4 blocked shots) and guard Anthony McNeill (six steals, eight assists).

“He had a huge game,” Yokota coach Paul Ettl said of Phelps.

The championship game capped the inaugural New Year’s Classic, a four-team, three-day event featuring the last four champions of the Far East Class AA tournament. Host Yokota won that last February, Kadena in 2005, third-place Seoul American in 2003-04 and fourth-place St. Mary’s International in 2001-02.

Rakim West gave Kadena its biggest lead, 18-4, with 1:45 left in the first period, but the Panthers erupted for a 15-0 run, capped by back-to-back baskets from Thomas to make it 21-19 Yokota with 6:47 left in the half.

Neither team led by more than four points the rest of the game, which featured 13 lead changes and six ties. McNeill gave Yokota its last lead, 53-52, on a free throw with 2:53 left after Barney fouled out.

“Not from lack of effort,” Ettl said of the defeat.

“We would like to have scored one more basket, but give Kadena credit. The best team won tonight.”

New Year's ClassicAt Capps Gym, Yokota High School, Yokota Air Base, Japan

Playoffs

Saturday's games Game 1-Yokota 47, St. Mary's International 41Game 2-Kadena 63, Seoul American 40Game 3-Seoul American 57, St. Mary's International 56Game 4-Kadena 56, Yokota 55

Awards All-Tournament team-Rakim West, Jamil Barney, Shmarua Phelps, Alex Mierzejewski, Kadena; Caiveon Thomas, Cameron Shelton, Peter Weaver, Yokota; Raidion Fails, Andrew Luna, Seoul American; Young Do Youn, St. Mary's International

Saturday's summaries

Semifinals

Yokota 47, St. Mary's International 41 St. Mary's..........12 9 8 12—41Yokota..........12 7 11 17—49Scorers-Yokota, Riki Byrnes 11, Caiveon Thomas 10; St. Mary's International, Young Do Youn 14, Tobi Taniguchi 13. Noteworthy-Thomas' layup put Panthers on top for good 40-39 with 2:38 left. Game featured nine lead changes.

Kadena 63, Seoul American 40 Seoul Am...........10 13 10 7—40Kadena..........14 19 22 10—63Scorers-Kadena, Rakim West 15, Terrence Jenkins 12, Shmarua Phelps 11; Seoul American, Tyras Milner 12. Noteworthy-Alex Mierzejewski's jumper from the right side with 4:41 left in the second quarter gave Kadena the lead for keeps 16-15; Panthers led by as many as 16.

Third-place game

Seoul American 57, St. Mary's International 56 Seoul Am...........17 18 11 11—57St. Mary's..........15 10 12 19—56Scorers-Seoul American, Raidion Fails 18, Tyras Milner 10; St. Mary's International, Young Do Youn 17 (9 first quarter), Tobi Taniguchi 14 (4 three-point goals). Noteworthy-Willie Brown's driving shot with 3.3 seconds left won it for Falcons.

Championship

Kadena 56, Yokota 55 Kadena..........19 9 11 17—56Yokota..........6 21 13 15—55Scorers-Kadena, Shmarua Phelps 18 (8 fourth quarter), Jamil Barney 15; Yokota, Caiveon Thomas 24, Riki Byrnes 11. Noteworthy-13 lead changes, six ties. Phelps basket from the right side with 2:38 left put Panthers ahead for good 54-53.


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