Few rivalries feature the intensity of any contest involving Kadena and Kubasaki High Schools on Okinawa. Few basketball season series in those schools’ histories ever featured three games so tightly contested as the last three of this season.

DeQuan Alderman hit two clutch foul shots in the closing minutes and the host Dragons held off a Panthers’ comeback bid 52-50 on Friday at Kubasaki. The win ensured the season series would be halved at 2-2, and the last three games the teams played were equally close, decided by a combined four points. “Both teams are always motivated to play each other,” Kubasaki coach Jon Fick said. “Kadena gets plenty of attention, and justifiably so,” with its victory in last month’s Okinawa-American Friendship Tournament and the Panthers’ unbeaten home record. “So, we were motivated to play this game.” Jalen Creer-Amos hit a three-pointer with 12 seconds left to draw Kadena within two. The Panthers had two chances to win with 3.8 seconds left, but failed to connect. Each got its two wins at home in the series. Kadena edged Kubasaki 63-62 in overtime on Dec. 21 and 51-50 on Jan. 11. The only matchup that wasn’t close was Kubasaki’s 59-47 win on Dec. 6. Kubasaki also edged Kadena 49-47 in last month’s New Year Classic at Yokota. Kubasaki’s girls played Kadena a little tougher in their fourth go-round, trailing by 12 at halftime before the Panthers pulled away for a 59-34 triumph and a sweep of their season series.

“They made it a game,” Panthers coach Willie Ware said. “Their momentum carried over to the third quarter. They’re moving the ball, playing as a team. They’ve improved.” Defense, plus the return of Deja Caldwell after missing three weeks, made the difference, Ware said. “She played a really good game. And the defense stepped up when it needed to.” Up at Misawa Air Base, where temperatures were 50 degrees colder with snow and winds up to 56 mph, action heated up in the DODDS Japan basketball tournament, with No. 3 seeds Nile C. Kinnick boys and E.J. King’s girls knocking off No. 2 Yokota boys and Zama American girls.

The Red Devils boys took a 2-1 lead in their games with Yokota, beating the Panthers 71-56; the Panthers’ lone win against Kinnick was a 56-55 overtime victory in the New Year Classic.

“This was definitely a confidence builder, but we still see them again the last game of the season” Feb. 15 at Yokota, Kinnick coach Robert Stovall said. “With both teams in foul trouble, it could have gone either way. Friday at their house will be rough for us.” The Cobras girls got their second win over the Trojans in as many weeks and at different ends of Japan’s main island of Honshu, knocking off Zama 58-50 behind their big three of Deb Avalos, Yasmine Weddle and Tara Long. E.J. King beat Zama 38-32 last Saturday at Matthew C. Perry High School.

Can this be the Cobras team that finally summits Mount Far East Division II after a 16-year drought? “Definitely,” coach Mimi Long said. “The players have the skill, we have the talent and we have the desire to do their best. They want to win every time they’re on the court and bring E.J. King back to where they were.”

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