Sea Horses win Game 5 to reclaim JBL crown

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

They are supposed to be used to winning. But this one was special for the JBL’s powerhouse team.

The Aisin Sea Horses edged the Toshiba Brave Thunders 58-54 in Monday’s decisive fifth game of the JBL Finals and clinched their first championship in four years.

Captain and point guard Shinsuke Kashiwagi scored seven points in the final quarter to help Aisin carry the momentum.

Kashiwagi had 14 points overall, while center J.R. Sakuragi chipped in with 16 points and 17 rebounds for Aisin.

The Sea Horses have finished first in the last six regular seasons and advanced to five Finals during that span (the playoffs were cancelled for the 2010-11 season due to the Great East Japan Earthquake). But they had wound up winning just two championships.

A highly defensive game entered the final and championship quarter with Aisin up 44-43. But the Sea Horses widened the lead to 56-49 as Kashiwagi knocked down a couple of big jumpers. Toshiba bounced back to reduce the deficit to four points with less than three minutes remaining, but Kashiwagi ensured the win by sinking a pair of free throws with 13.3 seconds left.

“Both teams struggled making shots and needed to play patiently today,” Aisin head coach Kimikazu Suzuki said after the game at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2. “But our players that hadn’t won a championship did good job and of course Kashiwagi and J.R. played well. So overall, it was a championship that was won by everybody.”

After taking the first game, the Sea Horses had their backs to the wall after losing the next two contests. But they stayed tough and successfully came back to win the last two with their stingy defense.

For Toshiba, ace scorer and center Nick Fazekas ended with just 11 points. Fazekas was held to seven points in Game 4. Shooter Naoto Tsuji, who had a game-high 26 points on Saturday, scored only two points.

Sakuragi was selected the playoff MVP after the game, while his coach Suzuki was named Coach of the Year.

“It was a total team effort,” said Sakuragi, a former UCLA standout. “We were down two games to one. We could’ve given up easily, but we kept fighting, fighting, and everyone stayed together as a team, and we came back to win.”

It was the last Finals to be held under the name of the JBL. The National Basketball League will start with 12 teams in the 2013-14 season.