“Never underestimate the heart of a champion!” This phrase was what Rudy Tomjanovich said when his Houston Rockets bucked the odds to win their second NBA Title. To sum up the best of three championship series, defending champion STI College Santa Rosa showed the stuff that they were made of amidst the torrid comeback of the STI College Balagtas team. The Santa Rosa cagers were in total control of the game and were ready to hold the championship banner when the Bulacan based cagers clamped on the Laguna defending champs to move to within one point 71 – 70 with 16 seconds left in the game. Shifty Shooting Guard Aries Santos sank one free throw to make it 72 – 70 and when the buzzer sounded Team Santa Rosa stormed to the court only to find out that a foul was called as time went off. Unfortunately for Team Balagtas point guard John Paul Macapagal missed the tying basket as his second Free throw rimmed out to the delight of the defending champions who stormed to the court once again to officially claim their second STI Basketball showdown title.
The two teams started the first quarter with more than a hundred percent intensity as both teams battled on equal ground as both teams were tied at 12 – all with a little over three minutes left in the quarter. It was at this time that the STI Santa Rosa went on overdrive as Aries Santos and Ruzzel Parala combined with the big boys Richmond Reyes and Mark Arzola to fuel a paralyzing 10 – 2 wind up to end the quarter with a 22 – 14 lead. Arzola and Reyes would score 8 and 6 points respectively to show their might inside the paint as the duo outscored their bigger counterparts inside.
The second quarter was a reprise of the first quarter as the Santa Rosa running machine went full blast with the trio of Santos, Parala and Armand Ferrer ran rings around their counterparts. The Laguna based cagers scored on set plays and on fastbreaks as the hapless bulacan cagers turned the ball over and failed to capitalize on their size as their inside plays were met with much opposition by the defending champs. D-league bound STI College Balagtas forward Cedric Ablaza had only two first half points as his drives to the hoop and jumpers rimmed out and were translated into fastbreaks by the Santa Rosa team.
In the third quarter, it was the time for Santa Rosa’s veteran shooting guard Aries Berlin to stamp his class as he scored nine points including a buzzer beating three pointer to give the Santa Rosa team its biggest lead of 67 – 48. The Santa Rosa team scored 22 points in the first quarter, 23 in the second quarter and 22 in the third quarter while limiting their opponents to 14, 15 and 19 points in those three quarters. Their relentless heads up defense resulted in that 19 point lead which eventually was enough amidst a remarkable STI College Balagtas fourth quarter comeback.
The pair of 6’3 centers Pasky Pascual and Cedric Ablaza aggressively pounded the paint which resulted in numerous fouls from the Santa Rosa big men. One by one the Santa Rosa big men would exit the game with Richmond Reyes getting his fifth with more than six minutes left in the game. Then came Mark Arzola’s fifth foul which was followed by Paul Marqueses. Three key Santa Rosa players were in foul trouble as Santos, Ferrer and third string center Dan Mamaed were also whistled four times each. This turn of events eventually gave renewed confidence to the Balagtas cagers as they slowly crawled back in to narrow the gap to 71 -70 with 28 seconds left. Team Santa Rosa eventually chipped off 14 more seconds before Santos was fouled with 14.3 seconds left in the game. The ball went to STI College Balagtas and their misses including the final free throw shot caused them the game and the title.
Aries Santos was named tournament MVP for leading the Santa Rosa team to victory in game 1 and game 2. STI College Santa Rosa becomes the third team to win back to back following the feats by STI College Cubao and DLS-STI. Congratulations to STI College Santa Rosa.
STI COLLEGE SANTA ROSA (72)
Santos 19, Ferrer 11, Arzola 10, Parala 10, Reyes 10, Maunahan 6, Marqueses 6, Jaspe 0, Galamiton 0, Llantino 0, Mamaed 0,
STI COLLEGE BALAGTAS (71)
Pascual 20, Q. Leguin 13, Ablaza 10, Pepito 9, Hernandez 8, dela Cruz 4, Cruz 4, Macapagal 3, Baliclic 0, J. Leguin 0, Crisostomo 0,
Quartescores: 22 – 14, 45 – 29, 67 – 48, 72 - 71