Oka Gakuen edges St. Catalina Girls in Winter Cup semifinals

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

High school basketball giant Oka Gakuen survived a late surge from St. Catalina Girls to earn a 68-65 win in the girls semifinals of the 44th All-Japan High School Tournament at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on Friday.

Oka (Aichi Prefecture), the reigning champion, has advanced to its second straight final at the year-end tournament, which is dubbed the Winter Cup and is one of the three major titles in high school basketball in Japan.

Senior center Evelyn Mawuli posted a double-double for Oka Gakuen. The Ghana-born inside player had 25 points and 23 rebounds. Guard Sara Sakai followed with 17 points.

But Oka Gakuen veteran head coach Shinichi Inoue couldn’t afford to have a smile on his face after the narrow victory. Oka widened its lead to as many as 29 points in the third quarter, but allowed St. Catalina Girls to make a strong comeback in the final period.

Oka Gakuen scored just seven points in the quarter.

St. Catalina Girls, an Ehime Prefecture school, cut the margin to three points with 50 seconds left, yet Oka Gakuen’s defense managed to preserve the lead in the closing minute.

“We played completely different games between the first half and second half,” Inoue said bluntly. “We could’ve easily been eliminated today. We are just so lucky to still be alive.”

Oka Gakuen, which has produced a number of star players, won both in the interscholastic athletic meet and national athletic meet this year and will seek its third title in the same year in Saturday’s final.

In the other girls’ semifinals, Gifu Girls (Gifu) cruised past Showa Gakuin (Chiba) 76-64. It will make its first title-game appearance in seven years as it vies for its first-ever championship in the All-Japan Tournament.

In the boys bracket, Keihoku (Tokyo) defeated Hokuriku (Fukui) 93-77, Fukuoka University Ohori (Fukuoka) beat Kokugakuin Kugayama (Tokyo) 93-80, Fujieda Meisei (Shizuoka) edged Meitoku Gijuku (Tokushima) 62-59 and Meisei (Miyagi) downed Hachioji (Tokyo) 81-67 in the quarterfinals.