Down by three points going into the fourth quarter, the West Negros Mustangs kept their composure to wrestle back the lead and turn back the hard-fighting University of St. La Salle Stingers, 71-66, in Game Two of the best-of-three finals, to keep the crown and win their 13th straight NOPSSCEA men’s basketball title at the USLS Coliseum last night.
“It was difficult. Of all the championships, this one was the toughest but I believe in our team and was confident that we will get through,” Mustangs team manager Tony Agustin said after the game.
Coach Troy Sarabia, who won his third championship for the Mustangs since joining the team in 2009, said the Stingers is a very good team but in the end, the breaks of the game went their way.
“I commend our players for stepping up, particularly in the third quarter when La Salle gave us some problems,” Sarabia said.
Led by Fil-American Jonathan Evangelista with 21 points, 14 of them in the first half, the Mustangs survived the threat from the Stingers and came out victorious.
“It feels great to be part of the team and contribute in the 13th championship,” Evangelista, who celebrated his birthday Monday, said.
Unlike in Game One when they had the game under control, the Mustangs found themselves in trouble several times as the Stingers displayed tough defense for a 46-43 lead at the end of third quarter.
It was a short-lived advantage for the Stingers, however, as Michael Macon hit back-to-back baskets to put the Mustangs back on top, 47-46, barely a minute into the fourth quarter.
A lay-up from Allen Delagente gave the Stingers the last taste of the lead at 48-47, as Jeramer Cabanag completed a three-point play and Macon hit a triple and delivered another layup to give the Mustangs some breathing room at 55-48.
But the Stingers kept fighting on as Delagente scored on a drive for 50-55 only to get a three-point answer from Rolly Jaca, who was playing his last season for the Mustangs, for an 8-point Mustang lead.
“We did our best. It was not an easy win and we were starting to get tired in the third quarter but we were able to beat them,” Jaca said.
Losing precious playing time as he picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, La Salle team captain Rodgie Gelasan , who finished with 22 points, joined his teammate with 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter and scored 7 points to cut Mustangs lead at two points, 58-60.
Rashmor Catalino made it 62-58 with an undergoal shot but a three-pointer from Scott Salvacion put the game on the line at 62-61 with 2:46 left in the clock.
Down but not yet out, the Stingers put up a last stance with a trey from Nikos Cuenca in the dying seconds to cut the lead to points, but Macon had the final say in the game as scored a layup for the 71-66 final count.
“It was quality game. We lost but I will never trade any team for these boys,” Stingers coach Eugene Opuan said, adding that he told his players before the start of the game to play like true gentlemen inside the court.
Gelasan, who will be graduating in March and will be leaving the team along with Marloni Gonzales, Jun Reyes, and Emmanuel Badillo, said he had the best experience while playing for the Stingers.*NAB
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