PASAY CITY – In his final days as a collegiate player, Kevin Racal made sure he would exit with aplomb as he carried the Letran Knights to a 94-90 win over the defending champion San Beda Red Lions in Game One of the best-of-three championship series of the 91st National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) at the SM Mall of Asia Arena Friday (October 23). The Knights also found heroes in Mark Cruz and Rey Nambatac as they pushed the school to their first championship since last taking home the trophy in 2005.
Racal shattered the game’s final standoff with two free throws, 87-85, and then followed it up with a defensive stop that led to a field goal for an 89-85 lead with 1:40 to play. San Beda would slightly threaten as Ola Adeogun calmly made two gift shots off a Jomari Sollano foul at the 26-second mark, 87-89.
Dan Sara immediately fouled Mark Cruz, who then split his free throws to give the Red Lions more hope, 90-87. However, the Knights’ defense saved the day as they forced Ola to turn over the ball leading to Ranbill Tongco to tag Cruz who then made two free throws for a five-point margin, 92-87.
The Red Lions refused to quit with Sara draining a triple with 10 ticks on the clock. Sadly, a lapse on defense allowed Ray Nambatac to bang in the dagger basket with five seconds left.
Racal finished with a career-high 28 points while the do-it-all Nambatac added 18 with Cruz chipping in 17 for good measure. Adeogun paced the Red Lions with 28 points followed by Sara and Ryusei Koga with 10 point each.
In the Juniors Division, the defending champion Red Cubs moved to within a game of capturing their seventh straight title and registering a perfect 20-win season by halting finals neophytes the Arellano Braves, 76-68. Despite coming off a 17-day break, the Red Cubs showed no rust.
Evan Nelle led the Red Cubs with 16 points followed by Albert Bordeos with 12. Guilmer de la Torre led the Braves with 22 while Lars Sunga added 14.
In between both championship games, the NCAA honored the season’s top individual performers with Allwell Orame of Mapua Tech garnering the Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and a spot in the Mythical Five. Joining him in the Mythical Five were Jiovani Jalalon of Arellano, Art de la Cruz of San Beda, Bright Akhuetie and last year’s MVP Earl Scottie Thompson of Perpetual Help with San Sebastian’s Michael Calisaan getting the nod as Most Improved Player.
Mike Enriquez of Malayan Science grabbed MVP honors in the Juniors Division with teammate Sherwin Concepcion, Samuel Abuhijle of San Beda and de la Torre and Carlo Abadeza of Arellano completing the Mythical Five. Rounding out the awardees were Maui Cruz of ICA as Most Improved Player, Sunga of Arellano as Rookie of the Year and John Anthony Umali of Perpetual Help as Defensive Player of the Year.
How They Scored:
SAN BEDA-RIZAL (76) – Nelle 16, Bordeos 12, Nayve 9, Lagumen 7, Velasquez 6, Mahinay 6, Alfaro 6, Tagala 5, de la Rosa 5, Abuhijle 4, Etrata 0.
ARELLANO (68) – de la Torre 22, Sunga 14, Abadeza 10, Tamayo 7, Espiritu 5, Bataller 5, Velasco 3, Danas 2, Calapine 0, Dularte 0, Fornis 0.
Period Scores: 18-13, 37-36, 59-52, 76-68.
LETRAN (94) – Racal 28, Nambatac 18, Cruz 17, Luib 16, Sollano 9, Quinto 4, Balagasay 2, Apreku 0, Balanza 0, Calvo 0.
SAN BEDA (90) – Adeogun 23, Koga 10, Sara 10, Soberano 9, Amer 8, Tankoua 8, de la Cruz 7, Tongco 5, Mocon 4, Sorela 4, Presbitero 2, Cabanag 0, Reyes 0, Bonsubre 0, Sedillo 0.
Period Scores: 22-21, 39-41, 61-62, 94-90.