No Holds barred…playing like there is no tomorrow! That is what game 1 of the 11th STI Basketball Showdown has become, with neither team giving up and giving ground. STI College Santa Rosa converted six free throws in the dying seconds to eke out a hard earned 74 – 70 win against STI College Balagtas in game 1 of the 11th STI Basketball Showdown at the STI Gym in Taguig City. High flying guard Aries Berlin carried the fight for the Laguna based defending champions as he fueled the Santa Rosa rally in the third quarter as their team scored 29 points and limited STI College Balagtas to only 10 points to seize the lead and more importantly the momentum enroute to their heart pounding victory.
The first quarter saw the bulacan based STI College Balagtas team outhustle the normally energetic defending champs that started out flat and were firing blanks. The Santa Rosa fastbreak machine was checked and the transition defense of STI College Balagtas was quick to react while Albert Pepito and Kevin Crisostomo ignited a Balagtas run to give their team a commanding 17 – 3 lead. The Santa Rosa team ended the quarter with five straight points to cut that lead to nine 17 – 8.
The second quarter was a little the same with the first as the Bulacan cagers padded their lead more as point guard Aaron Cruz paced the Balagtas team with seven points to give them their biggest lead 31 – 13. STI College Santa Rosa sued for time and finally woke up from their slumber. As if they were telling their counterparts “enough is enough,” the Laguna cagers unleashed an 8 – 2 final run to cut the lead of the Balagtas cagers 33 -21.
The third quarter saw the real Santa Rosa team come out of the dug-out and go back to their usual hustle plays. Making up for the foul trouble of MVP Candidate Rholf Reyes, Mark Arzola became the go to guy in the middle as he combined with center-forward Paul Marqueses in manning the middle to prevent the Balagtas big men to score. This gave the fast charging Berlin to run the floor and score. The Laguna cagers played better defense at the start of the quarter as they eventually caught up with their opponent to lead 37 – 35 after Arzola’s undergoal stab with time down to 5:10 in the 3rd canto. The Santa Rosa team would end the quarter ahead 50 – 43.
Sensing that the game was slowly slipping away, STI College Balagtas then went to their big men to cut the lead of the defending champions. Recruited Olympian Cedric Ablaza and Patrick Pascual clogged the lanes and scored at will as the Bulacan team cut a ten point 43 – 53 deficit and tied the ballgame at 59 –all with 2:24 seconds left. This time STI College Balagtas would seize the upperhand as point guard Paul Macapagal sank a three pointer from the side to give his team a 62 – 59 lead. In the return play STI College Santa Rosa went to their own three point king in Ruzzel Parala as he calmly nailed a three pointer to tie the count at 62 - all. As STI College Balagtas muffed their possession, Santa Rosa’s Armando Ferrer milked the clock and scored on a drive to give his team a 64 – 62 lead with eight seconds left to shoot. On the return play it was Olympian Cedric Ablaza who towered against his opponents to score with no time left to send the game into overtime.
In the overtime it was Cedric Ablaza against the entire STI College Santa Rosa team. Ablaza scored all six points for the Bulakenos. Those six points eventually was not enough as he muffed a potential game tying free throw with less than 30 seconds left with Team Santa Rosa ahead 71 – 70 after he scored on a foul-counted play. Team Santa Rosa would eventually put the game away as Arzola nailed two free throws and Santos another one to put the game beyond reach. Santa Rosa can become the third team to win back to back on Sunday as the two teams meet for game two of the best of three finals.
STI COLLEGE SANTA ROSA (74)
Santos 17, Arzola 11, Ferrer 9, Reyes 8, Marqueses 8, Jaspe 8, Maunahan 6, Parala 5, Llantino 2, Mmaed 0, Naraga 0,
STI COLLEGE BALAGTAS (70)
Ablaza 16, Pascual 12, Cruz 9, dela Cruz 9, Hernandez 6, Pepito 5, Macapagal 5, Crisostomo 4, Q. Leguin 4, J. Leguin 0
Quarterscores: 8 – 17, 21 – 33, 50 – 43, 74 - 70