CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Overtime appeared imminent as Kortez Hixon got the basketball. Time was running remorselessly out. His Kadena team had already missed two shots in the closing seconds. It was up to him to beat the clock and put an end to the Okinawa-American Friendship Tournament.

The senior guard hit nothing but net as the final buzzer sounded, giving the Panthers their only lead in a 63-61 win over Kubasaki and unleashing a tidal wave of players and fans onto the court to mob Hixon.

“I just threw it up, hoped it would go in,” he said. “Just so happened it went in and we won the game.”

The shot also gave Kadena its fourth title in the tournament’s nine-year span. He was named All-Tournament along with guard Jaret Colon, who misfired on two three-point tries before Hixon hit the game-winner.

“I didn’t see that coming,” Panthers coach Gerald Johnson said. “When it seemed like we weren’t getting anything all game … that’s when you need it, at the end.”

It appeared early on as if the Dragons (18-7) would defend their title and win the event for a third time. Skylor Stevens’ foul shot gave Kubasaki its biggest lead 23-9 30 seconds into the second quarter.

But the Panthers (18-6) didn’t quit, tying it 61-61 on Troy Bernal’s two free throws with 28.7 seconds left. Hixon then stole the ball from Kubasaki’s Isaiah Johnson, setting the stage for his own late heroics.

Colon had 18 points and five rebounds, Hixon scored 15 points and Bernal added 12 plus eight boards. Isaiah Richardson led Kadena with 11 rebounds.

“Great tournament,” Kubasaki coach Jon Fick said. “Kadena had a great tournament, Kubasaki had a great tournament. Just so happens, they had the ball last. Give Kadena credit. They’re fast, they can shoot and they hustle.”

No close finish was in the cards in the girls final, which Kadena (19-6) won for the fourth straight year, beating Yomitan 57-42.

“One of our goals during the season on the way to hopefully winning Far East,” coach Willie Ware said. “This game, we played well, none of the lapses we had before, taking two or three plays off or coming from behind.”

Jasmine Rhodes, named All-Tournament, scored 23 points and Tiarrah Edwards, who had 10 plus 12 boards and was named All-Tournament, gave the Panthers their biggest lead, 41-14 with 5:30 left in the third quarter. The Cheerfull Rabbits cut it to 15 in the waning minutes, but no closer.

Twitter: @ornauer_stripes

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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