Sapporo Yamanote head coach Masamitsu Kamishima said he had an open ticket for a flight back to Hokkaido, so his team could go back to the northern island at anytime.
Well, he ended up keeping it in his pocket until the last day they would possibly stay in Tokyo.
Center and Japan national team player Moeko Nagaoka had game highs of 39 points and 17 boards as Sapporo Yamanote completed their run to back-to-back titles with an 80-73 victory over Yamagata Commercial in the girls final of the 42nd All-Japan High School Tournament at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on Wednesday.
“I didn’t even dream of coming here,” Kamishima said of the run by Sapporo Yamanote, which had lost a few core players from last year’s championship team. “We lacked guards who could carry the ball (into the front court), and I didn’t doubt for a second that we would struggle. And indeed, we were forced to play tough games from our first game.
“I still don’t know how we got here. But our players have played so patiently. I’ll give the credit to them.”
Yamagata Commercial, which made its first appearance in the Winter Cup final, was aggressive defensively and held the momentum for most of the first half. Yamagata led by as many as 13 at one point.
But Sapporo Yamanote eventuallty warmed up and regained its original form, successfully going ahead behind ace Nagaoka in the second half.
“We didn’t do what we were supposed to do early in the game and gave up the lead to the opponent,” said Nagaoka, who scored 26 points in the latter half. “But we kept our patience throughout the game.”
Nagaoka, a 180-cm senior, added that this year’s championship had a different feel compared to last year’s.
“We were certainly happy about last year’s victory,” said Nagaoka, who is scheduled to join WJBL’s Fujitsu Red Wave after her graduation next spring. “But it’s special we were able to win another with this team.”
Kyoka Shinbori helped Sapporo Yamanote take the lead early in the second half. The guard sank three of the four 3s she made in the second half and finished with 16 points.
For Yamagata Commercial, Mikoto Onuma scored 28 points and Rin Kato followed with 22 points.
Nagaoka scored at least 30 points in each game of the tournament. She tied the all-time single-game record of 51 points against Tokyo Seitoku in the quarterfinals.
Kamishima, however, kept his strict attitude toward Nagaoka, which is evidence of his high expectations for her going forward.
“Nagaoka has an outstanding ability to score for a high school player,” Kamishima said. “She’s an all-around player that can shoot 3-pointers, penetrate in the lane and play in the low post.
“I thought that she’d become a great player in the future if she became more of a complete player, and I’ve molded her that way since she enrolled in high school.”
Kamishima said that Nagaoka lacks physical strength and though she’s played her final game in high school, he would keep training her until her graduation.
In the third-place match, Aichi Prefecture’s Oka Gakuen beat Gifu Girl’s 81-93.
Sapporo Yamanote’s Nagaoka and Rena Sato, Yamagata Commercial’s Onuma, Rie Nohara of Gifu Girl’s, and Naho Miyoshi of Oka Gakuen were selected for the all-tournament team.
In the boys semifinals, meanwhile, three players had more than 20 points as Miyazaki Prefecture’s Nobeoka Gakuen crushed Fukuoka Ohori 102-53, and Kagawa Prefecture’s Jinsei Gakuen came back from an 18-point deficit to defeat Numazu Chuo 63-58.