MAKATI CITY – After four long years, Saint Clare College of Caloocan is back as the champions of the National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (NAASCU) Seniors Division Basketball. The Saints eked past a very tough Our Lady of Fatima University, 64-62, last October 14 (Friday) at the Makati Coliseum to end their best-of-three series, 2-1.
The result was unknown until the final buzzer as guard Paeng Rebugio lost control of the ball and return possession to the Phoenix with seven seconds remaining. A perfectly executed play found a wide open Joseph Marquez who fired a triple from the sideline that missed and Rebugio redeeming himself by collaring the defensive rebounds thus triggering a wild celebration among the Saints and their supporters.
“This is a very special championship considering all the challenges the team went through to achieve this,” said a crying Coach Jino Manansala. “We were laden with rookies, I got thrown out in the do or die Game Three of the semifinals against Lyceum of Subic Bay and we lost Game Two badly yesterday.”
It was a classic to say the least as both varsities entered the final period knotted at 48-48. Miguel Bryan Cabrera sank a triple to give the Phoenix a 54-50 advantage but this was quickly snuffed by a 12-3 Saints blast anchored on Aris Dionisio, Irven Palencia and capped by Rebugio’s steal and layup for a 62-57 cushion and 1:50 remaining.
Jerome Juanico and Dionisio traded baskets but Juanico suddenly upped the pressure by draining a three-pointer to threaten at the 32-second mark, 62-64. Upon getting the ball back, the top seed Our Lady of Fatima had hoped for one more miracle and they turned to their graduating team captain Marquez who had hoped for the ultimate dramatic ending to his collegiate career but it was not meant to be.
Saint Clare’s punishing defense held their opponents sans a field goal in the second period as they overturned a 15-22 deficit into a 32-30 halftime lead. Aiming for their first championship since joining the NAASCU in 2009, the Phoenix went to Marquez, Juanico and 6’7” Christophe Essomba to tie the game entering the fourth period.
Rebugio led the Saints with 16 points while Dionisio had another double-double of 12 points and 13 rebounds plus five blocks. Also hitting big was Jordan Rios who scored the Saints’ first eight points and the basket to open the fourth period for a total of 10 points and Palencia who made five of his seven points in the fourth period.
Cabrera paced the Phoenix with 17 points, five rebounds and two steals followed by Juanico with 15 points and six rebounds. Marquez and Essomba both had 12 markers with Essomba grabbing 11 rebounds.
Clearly dominating the statistical categories, Dionisio was the hands down choice as the season’s Most Valuable Player while taking home medals for leading the league in rebounds and blocks. Joining him in the Mythical Five was assists leader Rebugio, Marquez, Carl Michael Lumbao of Lyceum of Subic Bay and Michael Ayonayon of Philippine Christian University.
Von Tambeling of PCU won the Best Scorer medal while Juanico topped the league in steals. Rojay Santos of Saint Clare was the Rookie of the Year, Coach Manansala the Best Coach, Rommel Gruta the Best Referee with Supervisor of Officials Luisito “Boy” Cruz receiving a special citation from the league.
The rest of the championship roster consists of Michael de Leon, Steve Fongue, Junjie Hallare, Mark Puspus, Godwill Calapine, Normel de los Reyes, Reynaldo de Mesa, Leonardo Esguerra, Macky Perez, Nico Principe, Russel Fuentes and team captain Bong Managuelod, the only remaining player from the 2012 champion team. The quest for a repeat next year looks promising with only Managuelod and Rios the only players exhausting their eligibility.
Earlier in the day, the Junior Saints set the stage for a double celebration by copping the Juniors Division for players aged 19 years and under at the expense of AMA University, 74-62. The best of three series ended, 2-1.
How They Scored:
SAINT CLARE (64) – Rebugio 16, Dionisio 12, Rios 10, Palencia 7, Managuelod 6, Fongue 5, Santos 4, Hallare 2, Puspus 2, de Leon 0.
OUR LADY OF FATIMA (62) – Cabrera 17, Juanico 15, Marquez 12, Essomba 12, Datu 4, Bargola 2, Perea 0, Albano 0, Canoy 0, Pedrosa 0, Gozum 0.
Period Scores: 15-22, 32-30, 48-48, 64-62.