MAKATI CITY – Suddenly, the 12-game elimination round sweep of the defending champion Centro Escolar University Scorpions became meaningless as the second seed Saint Clare College of Caloocan Saints took Game One of the best-of-three Seniors Division Finals of the 14th National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (NAASCU) basketball tournament, 60-54, Monday (September 22) at the Makati Coliseum. The Saints can wrap up the series with another win on Wednesday (September 24) at the same venue while the Scorpions hope to force a rubber match on Friday (September 26).
Playing arguably their best basketball thus far this year, the Saints of Coach Jino Manansala raced to leads as high as 11 markers, the last coming in the third period, 39-28. Determined to retain their crown, the Scorpions steadily gnawed away at their deficit.
Samboy de Leon sank a triple to threaten at the 2:31 mark, 52-53, but this was quickly neutralized by a pair of Jonathan Ibarra free throws. Alfred Batino then scored his only basket of the game but Ibarra played hero again with a big field goal, 57-54.
The Scorpions then bungled their ensuing offensive, forcing them to send Jayson Ibay to the free throw line. Ibay could only make one charity but another error by CEU resulted in Ibarra streaking down the floor for an unmolested layup and the final tally.
It was truly heroic performance for Ibarra with a team-high 14 points while Marte Gil had 10 points to go with five rebounds. De Leon led the Scorpions with 15 points on top of eight rebounds followed by Joseph Celso with 10 points.
During the elimination rounds, the Scorpions bested the Saints twice, 76-62 and 59-57. The last time Saint Clare defeated CEU was in Game One of last year’s finals, 75-66, but CEU bounced back to win the next two games and their first ever NAASCU Seniors championship, 67-59 and 64-58.
It was truly a bad day for CEU as their erstwhile undefeated Junior Scorpions suffered a similar fate in the Junior Division Finals as the Junior Saints emerged the victors, 68-63. The Junior Scorpions swept their 10 elimination round assignments for an automatic finals berth.
Struggling for most of the season, Christopher Bitoon finally recovered his scoring touch at the right time as he came off the bench to lead the Junior Saints’ attack. After a slow start, the Junior Saints slowly crept back and seized the upper hand for good early in the second period via a three-point play by Nico Galvelo, 20-17.
The best that the Junior Scorpions could do was to tie the count at 47-47. Saint Clare responded with six straight points by Ramil Tero and Ronnie Pangan for breathing space, 53-47.
Timely free throw shooting by Bitoon coupled with key field goals by Galvelo and Pangan down the stretch of the fourth period preserved the win for the Junior Saints of Coach JR Manansala. The Junior Saints had to make up for the very early foul trouble on starting center Steve Fongue as the other big men stepped up to support their prolific guards.
Bitoon scattered 17 of his 24 points in the second half while Tero added 13 points. Kurt Trangia carried the fight for the Junior Scorpions with 16 points followed by reigning MVP Art Patrick Aquino with 12 points and seven rebounds.
However, the Lady Scorpions managed to salvage some pride for CEU as they clipped the Rizal Technological University Lady Thunder in the Women’s Division opener, 74-70. The nine-player team of Coach Jay Cambarihan survived early foul trouble on reigning MVP Janine Pontejos and in-game injuries to Tin Caranto and Demi Lou Villanueva for their seventh straight win.
On top by a point, 62-61, the Lady Scorpions went on a 9-2 tear behind the steady free throw shooting of Pontejos for a 71-63 cushion with a minute play. From there, the Lady Scorpions coasted to the win despite the late RTU rally ignited by the three-point play of Wiz Duazo.
Pontejos paced the Lady Scorpions with 21 points and five steals followed by Micah Joy Figuracion with 15. Duazo topped the Lady Thunder with 28 points and 10 rebounds but lacked support from her teammates as Crislyn Mier could only chip in eight points and seven rebounds.
How They Scored:
First Game (Juniors)
SAINT CLARE (68) – Bitoon 24, Tero 13, Galvelo 11, Esguerra 8, Pangan 6, Fongue 3, Padua 2, San Diego 1, Siva 0.
CENTRO ESCOLAR (63) – Trangia 16, Aquino 12, de Leon 9, Mutombo 9, Saber 7, Arim 5, Gastador 3, Galinato 1, Cruz 1, Alvendia 0, Malubay 0.
Period Scores: 13-15, 32-29, 56-50, 68-63.
Second Game (Women)
CENTRO ESCOLAR (74) – Pontejos 21, Figuracion 15, Doloque 9, Mercado 8, Caranto 8, Lacson 6, Mamaril 3, Ventura 2, Villanueva 2.
RIZAL TECH (70) – Duazo 28, Mier 8, Inoferio 7, Dionisio 5, Jaberto 5, Canales 4, Pocallan 4, Ybanez 4, Mantos 3, Ayhon 2, Dag-uman 0.
Period Scores: 18-13, 33-30, 51-49, 74-70.
Third Game (Seniors)
SAINT CLARE (60) – Ibarra 14, Gil 10, Ibay 8, Mendoza 6, Acebron 6, Jamito 6, Jamito 6, Lunor 2, Managuelod 2, Redoh 0.
CENTRO ESCOLAR (54) – de Leon 15, Celso 10, Jeruta 9, Ebondo 5, Sedurifa 5, Abundo 3, Casino 2, Batino 2, Banua 2, Opiso 1.
Period Scores: 15-9, 31-23, 40-39, 60-54.