It was Championship Sunday at the Tamuning gym, a culmination of the weeklong Thanksgiving Hoopfest tournament. The annual tourney featured more than a dozen teams, including off-island clubs from the Philippines and Saipan, across six age divisions, giving the island’s aspiring ballers a home to hone their skills before the holidays.
The Island Wolves got pushed to the limit by MCS Phoenix in the 14U final, but rallied behind 29 points from Xander Sanchez for the 53-38 victory.
MCS Phoenix gave the Wolves a taste of their own medicine with defensive pressure that forced the Wolves into turnovers early. Six straight points by Phoenix opened up a double digit lead, 22-11, with six minutes left in the first half.
Island Wolves coach Leonard Aguon acknowledged his team was not communicating and it led to turnovers. As always, it was the Wolves defense that got them back in the contest, Aguon said.
“We always resort to our defense to set the tone … we weren’t communicating early and started communicating more on defense,” he said.
A steal and coast-to-coast finish by Sanchez cut the lead to 24-18 leading into the halftime break. The St. Paul freshman had 13 points in the opening frame to keep the Wolves within striking distance.
Eli Ogo had 8 points to pace MCS Phoenix in the first half.
The Wolves finally chased down MCS Phoenix just two minutes into the second half. A 3-pointer by Noah Aguon cut the deficit to 26-25 and a Sanchez drive gave the Wolves their first lead of the game, 27-26.
A putback by Riley Cruz closed out a 15-2 run by the Wolves and opened up a 33-26 lead.
MCS Phoenix stayed composed and continued to feed Ogo. The big man responded, hitting a tough layup to draw the and-1. He capped off the 7-0 run with back-to-back lay-ups to reclaim the lead, 34-33.
Once again, the Wolves turned to Sanchez who seemed to dribble through the MCS defense at will. The Wolves went up for good, 37-36, on a bucket by Sanchez. The Wolves put the game out of reach with a 13-0 run to open a 48-36 cushion. Sanchez canned 10 points down the stretch.
Sanchez, who was named the 14U division Most Valuable Player, told The Guam Daily Post the tournament was great preparation for the upcoming high school league.
“Still have some things to work on like my shot … always something to improve,” he added.
Ogo led MCS Phoenix with 19 points in the loss.
MCS’ game plan to slow down the Wolves attack almost worked, said MCS head coach Mike Phillips. “Coach Mafnas got us here … he called the game today and he said let’s slow it down,” Phillips said. “It threw them, but these guys have some really good players, the Wolves have excellent coaching and you can see it.”
In other Thanksgiving Hoopfest action the St. Paul Warriors win the 18U division with a 38-43 victory over the Islanders, behind a game-high 16 points from MVP Thelo Orichiro.
The Island Wolves also took the title for the 16U and 12U Coed divisions. EJ Cruz was named MVP, pouring in 37 points to lead the Island Wolves to a 72-51 win over the visiting Faith Tanauan from the Philippines in the 16U division.
In the 12U Coed division, the Island Wolves rolled to a 47-24 win in the championship game. Terson John was named most valuable player.
The Dededo Yellow Jackets won the 10U coed title with a 54-40 victory over the Tamuning Typhoons. Sirron Chambers led the Yellow Jackets with 20 points and was named MVP. Mario Bork had a game-high 30 points in the loss for Tamuning.
Team Unity claimed the 8U coed division with a 38-25 victory against the Dededo Yellow Jackets. Tristan Santos led Unity with 16 points and was named MVP.