It took quite some time for Yokota’s and St. Mary’s boys and Nile C. Kinnick’s girls to get back to the top of the Far East basketball tournament heap.
But the three teams took home the title banners Wednesday and ended some lengthy title droughts in the process:
-- Yokota’s boys won Division II for the first time in seven years, beating Osan of South Korea 72-55. The Cougars were trying for their first D-II title since 2003.
-- The Red Devils girls took Division I for the first time in a decade, but it took surviving a tenacious Kadena team 35-34 – the second of two one-point victories for Kinnick during the day.
-- The Titans captured their first D-I boys title since 2009, routing Kadena 77-47 behind tournament MVP Roy Igwe.
Meanwhile, Christian Academy Japan’s girls won the first Far East Division II in the school’s nearly 60-year history, rallying past E.J. King 53-43 – and denied King’s bid to end its 26-year Far East D-II title drought. King won the last of its three in 1997.
Osan’s boys gave the Panthers all they could handle in the first half at Yokota Air Base, to the tune of two ties and four lead changes; the Cougars even led by three late in the first half.
But the Panthers, with eight seniors on the roster, proved to be too much from there on. Jai Bailey’s three-pointer at the buzzer gave Yokota a 34-30 halftime lead, and the Panthers extended the margin to 49-30 early in the third quarter. They led by as many as 25 in the fourth.
“I never had a team that plays defense like this,” Yokota coach Dan Galvin said. “They are so unselfish. I’ve never seen chemistry like this and we have a bunch of guys who are so fast. The goal was to get the ball downcourt. We felt like we could outrun everybody, and except for a few teams, we did.”
This, despite losing their top player, Zemon Davis, to a torn ACL in the American School In Japan Kanto Classic late last month. “But it turns out, we have a team of best players,” Galvin said.
Tournament MVP Marcus Woods led the Panthers with 29 points, Royce Canta added 18 and Dylan Tomas 13. Travus Boyd paced the Cougars with 23 points, Jaylon Grant had 13 and A.J. Panboon 10.
“They gave it their best,” Cougars coach Syreeta Jennings said. “I’m still super proud of them.”
Kotone Turner found herself in the middle of two key plays that vaulted the Red Devils to the Girls D-I title at Camp Humphreys in South Korea. She hit the game-winning shot in a 37-36 semifinal win over Okkodo of Guam, then passed to tournament MVP Amyka Jones for the game-winning basket with 1 minute, 35 seconds left in Kinnick’s 35-34 final edging of Kadena, which suffered its second heartbreaking championship loss in two weeks.
“She is consistently the glue on this team,” Kinnick coach Joey White said. “Ever since she and her family transferred in … she’s been a God send. We’ve been very happy to have her. Her scoring, assists, making wise decisions with the ball.”
Kinnick rallied from a 21-13 deficit to win their first D-I title since the 2013 tournament. Kadena was trying for its first Far East title since 2016 and was coming off a finals loss on Jan. 21 at the ASIJ Kanto Classic against St. Paul Christian of Guam.
The Red Devils won despite losing starting point guard Mikaila Joi Miranda to an injury late in the first half.
Jones led the Red Devils with 15 points. KaMiyah Dabner had six in the third quarter to help Kinnick rally. Kadena’s Destiny Richardson had 17 points, 14 coming in the first half.
Sora Inoue broke out for 10 fourth-quarter points, helping the Knights rally from a two-point third-quarter deficit to capture the first girls Division II title in school history at Camp Zama.
They join the boys program, which has six D-I titles to its credit, the last one coming in 1998.
“They can’t contain the excitement,” CAJ coach Jared Johnson said.
The Knights entered the tournament with question marks about senior star Marikah Bedow’s injured left ankle. But she played despite the pain and scored 17 points. Inoue finished with 22, and sophomore guard Erica Yokota tallied 11.
Johnson held Bedow out of the lineup the first of Far East’s three days, then played her starting on Day 2. “Thankfully, it worked,” Johnson said.
The Cobras entered the championship game 26-2 and coming off a fourth-place finish in the ASIJ Kanto Classic. They were outscored 20-8 in the final period.
Maliwan Schinker led the Cobras with 16 points, eight coming in the first quarter. CAJ’s defense held sophomore twin guards Moa and Miu Best to just 17 points. Madylyn O’Neill added 10 for the Cobras.
“They know they’re champions in their hearts,” King coach McKinzy Best said. “We look forward to picking up where we left off and starting over next season.”
Super senior Roy Igwe, named the tournament’s MVP, scored 12 of his 28 points and Julian Willis eight of his 17 in the opening period, in which the Titans outscored the host Panthers 24-10 and did not let up on the gas pedal.
“These boys played their hearts out. I’m proud of them,” said Kris Thiesen, who became the second Titans head coach to win a Far East D-I title, joining the late Fred Sava, who won three.
“They play well together, they talk to each other, they bond well together,” Thiesen said. “I’m toughest on Roy, but he’s coachable; they all are. They all play for each other.”
It was the second time the two teams faced each other in two weeks, the first time on Jan. 19 in the ASIJ Kanto Classic in which the Titans edged the Panthers 40-37. This time, the Titans left nothing to chance.
“He (Igwe) was a handful. He was the biggest factor,” Panthers coach Antiwon Tucker said. “The better team won the tournament.”
Humphreys student-reporters Aidan Black, Keith Inglis and Kanon Morrison contributed to this report.