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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Skier Ikuma Horishima Claims Men's Moguls Season Title

For years, Ikuma Horishima has had consistent success in men's moguls competitions, placing in the top five in World Cup standings for six straight seasons.

Throughout this decade, Ikuma Horishima has demonstrated that he's one of the world's top freestyle skiers, particularly in men's moguls.

Horishima has won 14 FIS World Cup freestyle skiing moguls events since 2020, including four in 2024.

The Gifu Prefecture native's overall consistency as a moguls competitor produced the desired result on Friday, March 8 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Although the 26-year-old finished runner-up to Canada's Mikael Kingsbury in a World Cup event in the Central Asian city, he clinched the season title in the final competition of the season.

Horishima, the bronze medalist at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, finished the 2024 moguls season with 610 points. He received 83.48 points in the final event.

Kingsbury, the Olympic silver medalist in the Chinese capital, amassed 84.89 points on Friday for his winning effort in Almaty. But it wasn't enough to overtake Horishima. Kingsbury closed out the season with 600 total points.

Ikuma Horishima
Freestyle skier Ikuma Horishima, seen competing at the American ski resort in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, in a January 2024 file photo. (AP/via KYODO

A Career Milestone for Ikuma Horishima

Horishima was thrilled with the outcome.

"To be able to finally get my hands on the crystal globe after my 100th World Cup competition feels incredibly significant," Horshima told reporters in Almaty, Kyodo News reported. "It has been an extremely good day."

What's more, Horishima became the first Japanese man to collect the moguls season title.

Ikuma Horishima
Ikuma Horishima competes in a World Cup moguls event in February 3 at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah. (GETTY IMAGES/via KYODO)

The 2024 World Cup freestyle skiing season isn't over yet. 

Horishima is in contention for a podium finish in the overall moguls title, a separate category that combines moguls and dual moguls. In dual moguls, two skiers compete at the same time. And two more dual moguls events will be contested before the season wraps up.

Based on total points, Kingsbury is in first place, followed by Horishima.

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Gunma Crane Thunders
Gunma Crane Thunders point guard Narito Namizato drives to the basket as Chiba Jets point guard Yuki Togashi defends in the fourth quarter on March 6 at Funabashi Arena. (B.LEAGUE)

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Basketball

Crane Thunders Riding a Nine-Game Win Streak

With nine consecutive victories, the B.League's Gunma Crane Thunders have given themselves a chance to contend for one of two wild-card playoff berths for the 2023-24 season.

The top two finishers in each of the league's three conferences (Eastern, Central and Western) automatically qualify for the postseason. And the two wild cards round out the tournament field.

Currently, the Chiba Jets (27-15) are positioned No 1 in the wild-card standings, and the regular season resumes on March 20. 

The Shimane Susanoo Magic and Crane Thunders have identical 24-18 records.

Looking at some of the overall keys to success for the Crane Thunders, coached by Kota Mizuno, two statistics top the list this season. Gunma is fourth in the 24-team circuit in assists per game (19.9) and fourth in steals (7.52).

In other words, when the Crane Thunders are playing quality basketball, they do a good job of creating scoring opportunities for one another and eliminating those opportunities for the opposition.

Crane Thunders forward Michael Parker (B.LEAGUE)

A Spotlight on Gunma's Recent Success

Specifically, three Gunma players have had the greatest impact on the team's passing game this season. Veteran playmaker Narito Namizato is averaging a team-best 4.7 assists, followed by Trey McKinney Jones (4.0) and Koh Flippin (3.9).

Forward Michael Parker, a tone-setting force as an energizing presence at both ends of the court, remains a highly effective defender at age 42, an age when most players have swapped their basketball shoes for a rocking chair.

Parker is No 1 on the steals chart for Gunma, averaging 2.0 per contest. 

In the Crane Thunders' latest victory, a 95-86 decision over the host Jets on March 6, Parker filled the stat sheet with 24 points on 11-for-14 shooting with seven rebounds and two steals in 28-plus minutes. Equally important, he earned repeated trips to the foul line and sank 9 of 11 free throws.

McKinney Jones also poured in 24 points, and Flippin had 18. Power forward Ben Bentil, who is contributing 16.0 points per game in his first season in the B.League, finished with 13 points, while center Kaleb Tarczewski had 10.

Crane Thunders big man Ben Bentil, a second-round draft pick of the Boston Celtics in 2016, in action on March 6. (B.LEAGUE)

Emerging as a Playoff Contender 

Since their current win streak began on January 31 against the Levanga Hokkaido, the Crane Thunders also rattled off wins in succession against the Saga Ballooners (twice), Sendai 89ers, Osaka Evessa (twice) and Nagasaki Velca (twice) before their midweek showdown with Chiba.

After their victory over the Jets, Mizuno said he hopes the Crane Thunders can generate positive momentum from the game.

"We were able to put up a good fight against the powerful Chiba Jets," Mizuno told reporters at Funabashi Arena, "and I would like to turn this victory and the content of the game into a source of confidence for us."

Crane Thunders star Trey McKinney Jones runs the offense against the perennial title-chasing Jets. (B.LEAGUE)

Basketball Spring Break and a Look Beyond

No B.League games are scheduled from March 7-19 as teams enjoy a spring break.

When teams return to action on March 20 for league competition, Mizuno said the Crane Thunders have a clear mission.

"The battle for the playoffs will come before us one game at a time," said Mizuno. "So we must not forget to keep improving our team and always keep our eyes on our own reality, and we will fight to become a better team."

Gunma faces the visiting Alvark Tokyo (34-8) on March 20. Only the East-leading Utsunomiya Brex (35-7), riding a 12-game victory streak, have more wins than the Alvark. At the same time, the Central-leading San-en NeoPhoenix (34-8) have stumbled as of late, dropping their last four games.

In other basketball news, the reigning B.League champion Ryukyu Golden Kings and Jets are set to clash in the 99th Emperor's Cup final, aka the All Japan Men's Basketball Championship final, on Saturday, March 16 at Saitama Super Arena at 3 PM. 

Japan starter Yumeto Kanemaru fires a pitch in the first inning to a Team Europe batter in the 2024 Global Baseball Games finale on March 7 in Osaka. (©SANKEI)

Baseball

Samurai Japan Closes Out Exhibition Series with a Perfect Game

On Thursday, March 7, in the finale of the Global Baseball Games, a two-game exhibition series against Team Europe at Kyocera Dome Osaka, six Samurai Japan pitchers tossed a combined perfect game. 

Japan won 2-0 and its pitching staff shined from start to finish, recording 15 strikeouts.

Twenty-year-old starting pitcher Yumeto Kanemaru, a Kansai University student, worked the first two innings and fanned four batters.

He was pleased with the results.

"All my pitches worked well," Kanemaru was quoted as saying through an interpreter, according to the World Baseball Softball Confederation website. "I can be satisfied."

Samurai Japan celebrates its perfect-game victory over Team Europe. (©SANKEI)

Following Kanemaru's dominant performance on the mound, Japan manager Hirokazu Ibata assigned pitching duties to Yuto Nakamura, Shinya Matsuyama and Shota Watanabe (one inning apiece) and Chihiro Sumida and Atsuki Taneiki (two innings each).

In the two-game series opener, Japan topped the European All-Star squad 5-0 on Wednesday, March 6.

Boxing prospect Yuta Sakai attends a news conference on March 7 in Yokohama. (KYODO)

Boxing

Talented Teen Sakai Joins Ohashi Gym

As a high school boxer, Yuta Sakai excelled in domestic tournaments. He also made his mark as the top bantamweight at the 2022 IBA Youth Boxing World Championships in Spain, where he won the gold medal.

Sakai, who attended Nishinomiya-Kofu Senior High School in Hyogo Prefecture, has signed his first professional contract with Ohashi Boxing Gym, where undisputed super bantamweight world champion Naoya Inoue trains, it was announced on Thursday, March 7.

Hideyuki Ohashi, the gym's president, described Sakai as Japan's "top prospect" in news reports highlighting the announcement.

Sakai, 18, is currently training with Inoue at the Yokohama gym.

A June target has been set for Sakai to make his pro debut, according to published reports.

In the pro ranks, Sakai aims for success from the get-go, revealing his goal of being an aggressive fighter.

"I'll become a boxer who hits my opponent without getting hit," Sakai was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.

The southpaw fighter added, "I'll just take it step by step and make certain of winning one match at a time."

In May 2023, Sakai punched his way to success at the Japan National High School Boxing Tournament in Akune, Kagoshima Prefecture, collecting the winner's trophy in the bantamweight division.

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Ryo Germain
Jubilo Iwata's Ryo Germain converts a penalty for his fourth goal against Kawasaki Frontale on March 1 at Todoroki Stadium. (©SANKEI)

Soccer

Jubilo's Germain Provides a Big Spark in Win Over Frontale

Who is the J.League's leading scorer through games of Saturday, March 9?

Jubilo Iwata forward Ryo Germain has four goals in his three appearances in the new season.

The 28-year-old Kanagawa Prefecture native scored all four goals in a 5-4 away triumph over the Kawasaki Frontale on March 1 at Todoroki Stadium. Germain hit his target in the 18th, 29th and 80th minutes and second-half injury time.

His dramatic final goal came on a penalty. That happened after Frontale's Shin Yamada had tied it at 4-4 in the 85th minute.

Ryo Germain
Ryo Germain addresses Jubilo Iwata fans after the team's away victory over Kawasaki Frontale. (©SANKEI)

How did Germain describe his performance afterward?

"This (four goals) is something that pretty much never happens," Germain said, according to Kyodo News. "The ball kept coming to me right in front of the goal, so it was pretty lucky. But to get the win we had to fight hard for 90 minutes."

Added Germain, "My teammates got some good balls into the area, and that was key for us tonight."

In 31 matches for Jubilo in the J.League second division in 2023, Germain had nine goals, helping the team earn promotion to J1.

Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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