What a difference three months makes.
The last time Yokota faced Hong Kong International, the Panthers got clobbered, 60-21, on Nov. 25, Day 1 of the Hong Kong International School Holiday Basketball Tournament.
In the rematch Thursday in the Far East Girls Division I Tournament at Naval Base Guam, Julia Marrin scored 14 points and Erika Ettl 10 as Yokota triumphed, ending the Dragons’ title hopes, 48-44, and reaching its first Final Four since 2005.
“We feel really fortunate,” coach Paul Ettl said. His Panthers, who’ve only lost once since the Hong Kong Tournament, put defenders Ayanna Thomas and Trinity Davis on Dragons guards Stefanie Young and Madeline Strandemo and “took our chances with the rest of them,” Ettl said.
The Dragons play most of their games according to international rules which allow for more physical play, something the Panthers don’t do. “We’re not a big, physical team. We have to win games with our brains.”
One observer said Yokota also has more people handling the ball than three months ago, plus two post players - Marrin and Sydney Glover - battling opponents for offensive rebounds and second-chance shots.
“You do that, you’re going to win some games,” said Mike Ochoa, coach of the Kadena girls who joined Yokota in the Final Four along with defending champion Seoul American and 2009 champion Faith Academy.
Kadena beat Notre Dame. 60-49, Faith downed Nile C. Kinnick, 48-35, and Seoul dropped Simon Sanchez, 54-23, in the other quarterfinals
The Boys Division I semifinal pairings nearly mirrored the girls, with Yokota’s boys joining the girls in the Final Four in the same season for the first time since 2005. Kubasaki, which won in 2007, 2008 winner Seoul American and defending champion Kadena also reached the Final Four.
Yokota ensured that St. Mary’s International, the 2009 champion and last year’s runner-up, would not reach the final for the first time in three years. Myles Andrews and Warren Manegan continued their torrid pace with 21 points each in a 70-56 win over St. Mary’s; they’ve averaged more than 25 points this month.
“We got off to a fast start and shot well, then we had to hang on for dear life,” coach Tim Pujol said of a St. Mary’s team that trailed by 27 points, but cut the gap to seven before running out of gas late.
Seoul American survived a missed three-point attempt at the buzzer to beat Okkodo, 45-43, while Kadena eliminated Kinnick, 58-50.
In the Division II tournaments, as expected, defending girls champion Daegu American and two-time boys champion Morrison Academy each pulled within a win of reaching Friday’s championship games at Camp Walker’s Kelly Gym.
But they each had to face small but quick St. Paul Christian of Guam, with their guard tandems of Kory Borja and Morgan Aikin and Jamie Cruz, Sam Nauta and Momoko Ennis, in Friday morning’s champion’s bracket finals.
Morrison’s boys stood the best chance of beating St. Paul by clamping down on Aikin and Borja, slowing the tempo and “going with what we have,” Morrison boys coach Dan Robinson said. “We’re not taking anything for granted. St. Paul is a tough team.”