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The Sunflowers players and staff insisted after the game that what separated them from their opponents was their spirited mentality rather than their skills.

In a highly defensive battle, the reigning champion Sunflowers prevailed in the final quarter, dominating the inside game, as JX-Eneos defeated the Denso Iris 66-53 in the women’s final of the All-Japan Basketball Championship at Yoyogi National Gymnasium on Sunday.

Grabbing the Empress’ Cup for the second straight year, the Sunflowers have now triumphed in the annual single-elimination tournament for the 19th time.

JX-Eneos was up by only one point at the end of the third quarter at 39-38, but came through in the fourth, outscoring Denso 27-15, thanks to its experience competing on the big stage and bottomless thirst for victories.

In the final quarter, the 192-cm center/forward Ramu Tokashiki, one of the star players for JX-Eneos, scored six points and grabbed five rebounds while guard Asami Yoshida added seven points in the final quarter alone to guide the WJBL club to the win.

Tokashiki had 16 points and 21 rebounds and Yoshida supplied 10 total points in the game.

Yuki Miyazawa led the Sunflowers with 18 points, and Yuka Mamiya chipped in with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

“We had to play patiently in the first half, and individually I had tough times getting into my own rhythm,” said Tokashiki, who was selected the MVP of the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship for Women in Bangkok, where Japan earned its first title in 43 years. “But I was able to do well in defense and rebounding instead, which was good.”

Yoshida, who competed despite an ailing leg injury, said, “Our head coach told us that whoever had stronger hearts in the second half would win. It was all our spirits (that boosted us) in the fourth quarter. We wanted to win the championship. I wanted to finish the game. But not just our inside players, but our outside players were playing well. It was won by the whole team.”

Denso guard Kyoko Ito said that the Iris certainly intended to win the title coming into the tournament and they deserved to be in the final. But she admitted that the team came up short because the Sunflowers had an edge mentally.

“Because we lost, you could say that there were gaps in terms of our skills between us and them,” Ito said. “But it was rather our mental part that cost us the game. You’ve got to go with a stronger heart in the fourth quarter.”

For the Iris, who failed to capture their first Empress’ Cup, guard Minami Iju had a team-high 18 points, followed by Maki Takada, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Denso, which has posted a 12-2 record in the WJBL regular season) was out-rebounded by the Sunflowers 54-33. JX-Eneos’ duo of Tokashiki and Mamiya cleaned the boards more than the entire Iris team as the two combined for 34.

Mamiya said that people might think it was just anther Empress’ Cup for the perennial powerhouse JX-Eneos, which has seized 18 championships in the WJBL. Yet she added that the Sunflowers have been struggling and dropped its confidence level this season (despite its 10-2 record in the regular season), so the All-Japan title meant so much to them.

“Maybe you think, ‘Oh, it’s JX again,’ but we don’t think that way,” Mamiya said. “With all these players we have, we could have lost. But we went through all those struggles and became one as a team. So we won it with the whole group. I think this will give us bigger confidence than last year.”

After the game, the best five players of the tournament were announced: Tokashiki, Yoshida, Iju, Takada and Fujitsu Red Wave’s Moeko Nagaoka.

On Monday, the Hiroshima Dragonflies, an NBL expansion team, will face the NBL’s Hitachi Sunrockers in the Emperor’s Cup final at 2 p.m. at the same arena.

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