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Yokota junior guard Anthony McNeill pulls up to pass as St. Mary's International junior guard Tobi Taniguchi defends during Friday's pool play game in the inaugural New Year's Classic at Yokota High School. Yokota won 55-51.

Yokota junior guard Anthony McNeill pulls up to pass as St. Mary's International junior guard Tobi Taniguchi defends during Friday's pool play game in the inaugural New Year's Classic at Yokota High School. Yokota won 55-51. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

Yokota junior guard Anthony McNeill pulls up to pass as St. Mary's International junior guard Tobi Taniguchi defends during Friday's pool play game in the inaugural New Year's Classic at Yokota High School. Yokota won 55-51.

Yokota junior guard Anthony McNeill pulls up to pass as St. Mary's International junior guard Tobi Taniguchi defends during Friday's pool play game in the inaugural New Year's Classic at Yokota High School. Yokota won 55-51. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

Yokota's Kelvin Bennett looks for an open man ss as St. Mary's Young Do Youn defends during Friday's pool play game.

Yokota's Kelvin Bennett looks for an open man ss as St. Mary's Young Do Youn defends during Friday's pool play game. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

Kadena forward Jamil Barney pulls up to shoot over Seoul American forward Andrew Luna, left, and guard Chris Churchwell during Friday's pool play game. Seoul American won 60-57.

Kadena forward Jamil Barney pulls up to shoot over Seoul American forward Andrew Luna, left, and guard Chris Churchwell during Friday's pool play game. Seoul American won 60-57. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

Scores and summaries at end of story.

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — It was much closer than the last time the teams met, but Yokota’s Caiveon Thomas helped ensure the outcome remained the same.

The senior center scored 19 of his game-high 27 points in the second half, leading the Panthers back from a 12-point first-half deficit and past Seoul American 65-62 on Friday as pool play in the inaugural New Year’s Classic concluded.

It was a far cry from the last time the teams met on Feb. 25, in the Far East Class AA tournament on Okinawa, when Yokota prevailed 74-52. For Thomas, though, it was a typical performance, coach Paul Ettl said.

“He doesn’t want to lose and he does what it takes to find a way to get the team on top,” Ettl said. “He has a very strong spirit.”

Yokota trailed 16-4 in the first five minutes, rallied behind senior guard Peter Weaver’s three three-pointers to lead briefly late in the first half, then fell behind by 12 points again in the third period before charging back.

The turning point came with 1:06 left, when Seoul American’s Raidion Fails fouled out and also was hit with a technical foul. Cameron Shelton hit two free throws and Thomas another to put Yokota in front for good, 64-62.

Yokota finished 3-0 in pool play and earned the top seed in the playoffs of the three-day, event featuring the past four champions of the Class AA tournament.

Yokota won last February, Kadena of Okinawa won in 2005, Seoul American in 2003 and 2004 and St. Mary’s International of Tokyo in 2001 and 2002.

The New Year’s Classic was an idea conceived by Ettl in an effort to get more games for his Panthers. Coaches Fred Sava of St. Mary’s, Robert Bliss of Kadena and Steve Boyd of Seoul “jumped at it,” Ettl said.

“We were looking for an opportunity to get more games against high-quality competition with the goal of getting better by the end of the season,” Ettl said. “They (Boyd, Sava and Bliss) felt the same way I do. They wanted a chance for their kids to get better.”

The New Year’s Classic was run at no cost to DODDS-Japan and with approval of DODDS-Japan’s district superintendent’s office, Yokota principal Richard Schlueter said.

The outlying schools, Seoul and Kadena, raised their funds to pay for the trip. Players were billeted in Yokota’s temporary billeting facility and were shuttled around by coaches driving borrowed DODDS vans.

“I’m happy to host this,” Schlueter said. “It’s nice to see the kids play. Since we don’t have a Far East here, it’s nice to see teams play (from elsewhere). It keeps them busy. It keeps them active.”

The thought that the tournament entrants were the last four Class AA tournament winners was “coincidence,” Ettl said. “When we put it together, it just worked out that way. That makes it more special.”

Bliss was pleased with the timing of the Classic, just before the end of the 2½-week holiday break.

“We’re seeing quality opponents that we’ll be seeing again next month. This is absolutely fantastic,” he said.

For Boyd’s Falcons, the New Year’s Classic merely continued their long, busy winter — Seoul American played in the Pacificwide Open Holiday Tournament at Osan Air Base and a company-level tournament at Yongsan Garrison and twice played the school’s alumni team last month and ended Friday’s play 19-12 — on place to play a Pacific-record 55 games this season.

“We’re young, and these games will help us in February” when Seoul hosts the Class AA tournament, Boyd said. “I’ll take my lumps. ... Maybe some of the mistakes, we’ll iron out and the kids will learn from them. There won’t be too many situations my kids won’t have been in.”

Perhaps another match down the road with Yokota.

“I’m sure that’s not the last time we’ll see them this year,” Ettl said.

High school basketball2007 New Year’s ClassicAt Capps Gym, Yokota High School, Yokota Air Base, Japan

Final round-robin standings Yokota, Japan — 3-0Seoul American — 2-1Kadena, Okinawa — 1-2St. Mary’s International, Japan — 0-3

Playoffs

Saturday’s games Game 1-Yokota vs. St. Mary’s, 10 a.m.Game 2-Seoul American vs. Kadena, noonGame 3-Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 4 p.m.Game 4-Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 6 p.m.

Thursday’s summaries

Seoul American 59, St. Mary’s 38 St. Mary’s..........11 6 9 12—38Seoul Am...........11 15 15 18—59Scorers-Seoul American, Chris DeFrancisco 18, Andrew Luna 12; St. Mary’s International, Tobi Taniguchi 10.

Yokota 47, Kadena 45 (OT) Kadena..........12 9 13 7 4—45Yokota..........9 9 14 9 6—47Scorers-Yokota, Caiveon Thomas 22; Kadena, Jamil Barney 10.

Friday’s summaries

Seoul American 60, Kadena 57 Seoul Am...........12 15 16 17—60Kadena..........13 15 19 10—57Scorers-Seoul American, Andrew Luna 21, Willie Brown 17; Kadena, Rakim West 12 (8 second half), Jamil Barney 12, Terrence Jenkins 11. Noteworthy-Luna’s two foul shots with 1:05 remaining put Falcons ahead for good 57-55.

Yokota 55, St. Mary’s 51 St. Mary’s..........6 12 15 18—51Yokota..........18 18 7 12—55Scorers-Yokota, Caiveon Thomas 25 (9 second quarter); St. Mary’s International, Tobi Taniguchi 17, Woo Jun Kim 11 (all fourth quarter, 3 three-point goals). Noteworthy-Panthers led by as many as 22 before Titans clawed back to within 3 in the closing moments.

Kadena 63, St. Mary’s 49 St. Mary’s..........17 7 11 14—49Kadena..........12 21 20 10—63Scorers-Kadena, Jamil Barney 26 (11 second quarter), Josh Greggs 10; St. Mary’s International, Young Do Young 11.

Yokota 65, Seoul American 62 Seoul Am...........18 20 12 12—62Yokota..........15 12 18 20—65Scorers-Yokota, Caiveon Thomas 27 (19 second half), Peter Weaver 14; Seoul American, Tyras Milner 13, Chris Churchwell 12 (8 second half). Noteworthy-Two technical foul shots by Cameron Shelton put Panthers ahead to stay 63-62 with 1:06 left. Yokota scored last 10 points of contest and prevailed once more in meeting of last year’s Far East Class AA tournament finalists.


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