NAU State Championship: A Minor

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Justin Wong (31) of Big Dogs skies for the rebound, pulling it away from teammate Darby Okamoto (4) in the Big Dogs 53-49 victory over the Foster City Flyers in the A Minor NAU State Championship. (JUN NAGATA/Rafu Shimpo)

The Nisei Athletic Union North vs. South State Championships took place on Sunday at Carson High School and provided those in attendance with three exciting games of hoops. In last year’s tournament, the Southern teams went up to San Francisco and only managed to squeeze out one victory. Home court certainly has its advantages as all three southern teams won out this year. This year, the North did not field a Double-A team, so Sunday also featured the Southern Section Double-A Championships.

By JORDAN IKEDA

Rafu Sports Editor

The inability to hit freethrows down the stretch nearly cost the Big Dogs the NAU A Minor champion­ship. Ironically, the inability to pull down a defensive rebound and capitalize on all of those Big Dog misses, cost the Foster City Flyers the game as the Big Dogs eked out a 53-49 victory.

The game was closely contested throughout and wasn’t decided until crunch time. Unfortunately, neither team stepped up to win it.

With 36 seconds to go and the score 49-48, the Bigs Dogs converted only 4-12 from the line. Ron Fukute had four shots at the stripe to put the game out of reach with less than 10 seconds. He clanked three of them and left his team with a slim 2-point lead. But he wasn’t the only one. As a team, the Big Dogs shot a groan-worthy 43 percent on 23 chances at the charity stripe.

“I don’t know what happened,” said Colin Yamashita who went 1-7 from the line in the closing 30 seconds. “My arms were just jelly.”

No doubt it was all the work he had to put in against Flyers lead guard Chris Seto who hounded Yamashita into shooting 3-12 from the field with 6 turnovers. This from a guy who dropped 16 and 22 points the previous consecutive weekends to help lead the Big Dogs into the championship round.

“I’m just happy that we won,” Yamashita said. “My performance wasn’t good, but that doesn’t matter.”

It wasn’t good because of Seto, who bodied him up, bumped and scrapped, contested everything and poked the ball free whenever Yamashita did get by him.

“I take every possession at a time,” said Seto when asked about his defensive performance. “If we score two points and shut our man down, we win. Today, it was a  tough loss, but we played as a team, played hard, and came up short. That’s all we can do, we left it all out there.”

While he was only credited with four steals, Seto’s quick hands deflected countless balls and his defensive intensity was instrumental in sparking the Flyers running game. The Flyers forced 17 turnovers and held the Big Dogs to 37 percent from the field and took a 29-24 lead into the half. However, the Big Dogs switched to zone a few minutes into the second period and changed the makeup of the game.

“We weren’t hitting our shots as much as we were in the first half,” said Cliff Tanaka who led the Flyers with 20 points, but only scored 6 of them in the second half. “We’re a fast team and they slowed us down with the zone and obviously that got the worst of us.”

That, and the lack of rebounding. The Big Dogs, who held a noticeable size advantage, dominated the glass out-rebounding the smaller Foster City squad 44-29. Darby Okamoto had 10 caroms and Justin Wong added 14, none bigger than the 3 offensive boards he secured in the waning moments of the game.

“I just try to out-time the other guy and hope that he kind of mistimes it,” said Wong who was selected as the A Minor Tournament MVP. “It’s a big win. I don’t think I carried the team. I don’t think I had a very good game, but the other guys stepped up. We needed every single basket, so it was a team game.”

“We were very excited about the game,” Tanaka said about the Flyers trip to LA. “We came with high expecta­tions. They’re a good team. We got what we expected.”

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For box scores, click here.

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