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Nevalga, Ateneo shock UST in huge upset



University of Santo Tomas Tiger Softbelle head coach Sandy Barredo wanted to give exposure to his younger players while Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagle program director Randy Dizer’s agenda was to build on whatever they can get for next season.

Wanting to prove something, third year pitcher Ira Nevalga and the Lady Eagles willed their weigh in one of the biggest upsets in the 78th season of the UAAP in a 6-5 win over the heavily-favored UST Tiger Softbelles.

Coach Barredo utilized a lineup that did not feature Kristine Lacupa, Hannah dela Torre, Ann Antolihao, and CJ Roa. Only catcher Celestine Palma was the familiar face in UST’s usual starting nine.

A hungry Ateneo squad opened the bottom of the first inning strong. After a flyout of Natividad, Nikki Borromeo connected with a single while a sacrifice fly by Nevalga moved her to second base. Borromeo then stole third base later on and then gained home to put Ateneo on the board.

After a Hazel Angue run at the top of the second inning that tied the game, the Lady Eagles had a team-high four run rally that altered the complexion of the game. After a strikeout of Clarisse Dacanay, a supposedly-easy catch for right fielder Ricky Latican was not caught that gave Yla Trinidad base. A flyout of Gabby Macatulad at right field gave UST two outs but a defiant Ateneo batting order showed up on this day.

Shereen Salvatierra popped a single to center field that brought home the Ateneo co-captain. A throwing error by UST’s third basewoman gave Angela Natividad base while Borromeo’s second single of the day loaded the bases for the Lady Eagles. Nevalga was then hit by a Luisse Garde pitch for another run for the Blue and White. Another costly error and a passed ball led to runs for Natividad and Borromeo helped extend the Ateneo lead to four runs, 5-1.

The errors of the Tiger Softbelles drew the ire of Coach Barredo as he made a platoon swap and brought in the team’s starters, including ace pitcher Ann Antolihao on the mound. Antolihao struckout Cheska Imperial to finally end the UST bleeding.

Slowly, the Tiger Softbelles were able to bring down the lead one run at a time in the next three innings. A triple by Lacupa opened the third inning and was brought home by Palma. Arlyn Areglado and Ann Antolihao were able to punch in runs as well in the fourth and fifth inning respectively to cut the Ateneo lead to just a solitary run.

Nevalga was already bothered by a sore shoulder come the sixth inning. “I was kind of frustrated in the middle innings because my arm started to hurt,” she shared.

“I was thinking na palitan siya but the problem was Ira can locate the pitches e,” Randy Dizer added. “That’s the only way we can set-up the defense. Sabi niya ‘I’ll finish it, I’ll finish it'”

With the lead down to just a single run going into the final inning, a costly error led to an insurance run for the Lady Eagles. A catching error at first base opened the inning that gave Trinidad base. Next batter Macatulad connected on her first hit of the day, a single, after. Trinidad though was knocked off as she tried to steal third base while Salvatierra was struckout for two outs. Macatulad though went for an attempt to gain home. Just as catcher Palma was about to throw the ball to third base to oust Macatulad, she overthrew the ball leading to a free path for the Ateneo rookie to gain base and extend the lead to two runs.

Nevalga, on tired legs, was inspired by the play of her teammates during the top of the inning. This gave her the added fuel needed to finish the game in saying, “it’s my team and the people around me that pushed me to finish the game.”

“My catcher Cheska (Imperial) kept telling me to push and push because it’s going to be worth it in the end. We’ve been training all year for this so, it has to be worth it.”

A double by slugger CJ Roa sparked a late UST push to hijack the game. Nevalga then walked Charm Oria while a fielders choice attempt gave Belano base but knocked off Roa at third base. Another fielders choice attempt by Ateneo brought Oria home but retired Belano. Needing just one out, Nevalga pushed harder than ever eventually striking out a swinging Lealyn Guevarra to close out the game.

After the game, Dizer quipped that winning cures any ailments. “She was so tired and masakit na shoulder niya. Pero now nung nanalo na wala ng sakit,” he joked. Nevalga pitched an entire game for the second straight time. She gave up 11 hits, nine coming from singles, but she and the Ateneo fielders were able to leave ten UST runners on base. In addition, she was able to strikeout four batters.

With just a single game remaining, he is hoping that the Lady Eagles still play with the same intensity in saying, “there is no pressure. The only way we won’t commit those errors is there is no pressure because we have nothing to lose.”

On the other end, Borromeo had an excellent start to the game as she went 2 of 3. She connected on two singles that led to two runs. Salvatierra and Nevalga were able to contribute an RBI each as well.

The Ateneo Lady Eagles play their final game of the season on Wednesday, March 2 as they face the UP Lady Maroons at 1:00pm. The UST Tiger Softbelles, on the other hand, look to bounce back on Monday, February 29 against the UP Lady Maroons at 1:00pm.

UST (3rd, 6-4)01111015116
ADMU (7th, 2-8)1400010653





The UAAP Season 80 Finals Most Valuable Player’s on court swag carries over off the court

In terms of stylish post-game Outfit of the Day (or #OOTD, as the millenials call it), if the NBA has Russell Westbrook, the UAAP has Thirdy Ravena.

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After games, the student-athletes usually just throw on a shirt and a comfortable pair of pants or shorts. However, the 20-year-old Ravena puts in more effort than that.

Rarely would you see him with a “plain” attire. From printed pants, to leather jackets, to statement shoes, this high-flying Blue Eagle has got it all.

When asked about his fashion sense, he proudly shared that he is the only one who plans his outfits — no stylist needed.

“It’s something I look forward to because I like to dress up. It’s an opportunity for me to show who I am. It’s one way to show your character,” said the second-generation cager, who averaged 15.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 0.9 steals during Ateneo’s golden run.

“Might as well enjoy also off the court diba!”

Photos of his outfits have been shared on social media and liked multiple times both on Twitter and on Instagram. He even has his own hashtag for it, #OOThirdy, and makes sure he maintains a lookbook in his well-curated Instagram feed.

A post shared by Thirdy (@3rd_e) on

A post shared by Thirdy (@3rd_e) on

A post shared by Thirdy (@3rd_e) on

“It’s nothing big really. It’s just I didn’t expect that people will talk about it this way,” Ravena said after describing his style as a mix of streetwear and preppy.

“I’m happy that people accept me and they appreciate how I dress up.”

His basketball prowess propelled the Ateneo de Manila University to this season’s championship, showing his tremendous potential and hinting that his talent can go beyond the college level.

But with his natural flair for fashion, opportunities can also open up for him beyond basketball. When asked what he thinks of possibly designing clothes in the future, he immediately expressed his interest in it.

“That is something na parang I think I could have fun doing. We really can’t tell, but maybe in the future,” he said.

“Maybe kapag the time is right and when things are where they are supposed to be, then why not.”

If you are a basketball fan and fashion savvy at the same time, the excitement of watching an Ateneo game does not end after the final buzzer. Ravena’s post-game outfit game is something to look forward to, too.

Keep slaying, Thirdy!

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Much-maligned Chibueze Ikeh goes out in a blaze of glory



With 1:39 left in Game Three of the UAAP Season 80 Men’s Basketball Finals, wily floor general Anton Asistio found a free Chibueze Ikeh underneath. Once he was able to lock his legs, Ikeh soared through the air before throwing down a thunderous one-handed jam that gave the Ateneo de Manila University an 82-73 lead.

The sea of blue in the jampacked SMART-Araneta Coliseum exploded with chants of “Ikeh! Ikeh! Ikeh!”.

“It was now or never,” Ikeh recalled during a live chat with ABS-CBN Sports.

“I took the opportunity since it was my last playing year, I had to take it hard all the time.”

The 6-foot-9 big man had waited for three years to experience that moment.

During his first two years with the Blue Eagles, no one was more scrutinized than Ikeh. Many were frustrated that he couldn’t release his true potential even if he had all the physical tools to do so. And that included second-year Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin.

“There’s this thing called male pattern balding. I’m losing more hair! Can you believe it?,” quipped Baldwin as he paid tribute to Ikeh during the Blue Eagles’ thanksgiving mass at the Church of the Gesu.

“Since I’ve know him he has been criticized more than any other player we have. And sometimes for good reason.”

Ikeh averaged a paltry 5.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in his first two years in Ateneo. Amid the pressure on him to deliver, as he was inheriting a post left by great Ateneo centers like Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Greg Slaughter, he himself struggled to even stay on the floor during that time, averaging 2.9 fouls per game that limited him to just 17.7 minutes per contest.

Then there was his arrest last November 4, 2015.

Even with this, the Blue Eagles continued to believe in him.

“This is a young man who left his continent, friends, family,” furthered Baldwin.

“He had to fit in without asking anybody to fit in with him.”

Anybody else would have broken down, packed their bags, and left after experiencing all of this. Not Ikeh. The Nigerian student-athlete persevered in the off-season that resulted to career-highs across the board. In his final year, he posted norms of 7.5 points and 8.6 rebounds, per contest. Ikeh was even top 10 in the statistical points ladder to end the elimination round.

And no one appreciated him more then the Blue Eagles. Thirdy Ravena even asked Ikeh to join him at center court when he was awarded with the Finals Most Valuable Player plum.

“I wasn’t expecting that, but he’s been one of a kind. For him to share that moment with me, it feels so great,” said Ikeh about that moment. “I really appreciate that.”

“There are things na hindi nakikita ng mga tao talaga. It’s the intangible he brings,” Ravena added. “You don’t see it in the stats, but I saw Ikeh the whole game, he just did his job, he did his best to limit Ben [Mbala] and to execute the game plan.

“If it weren’t for Ikeh, his effort, Isaac [Go’s] shot, it wouldn’t be possible for us to win.”

As Ikeh went to the podium of the Church of the Gesu on Sunday night — his last moment as an Ateneo Blue Eagle — the community once again exploded into a chant of “Ikeh! Ikeh! Ikeh!”

“Thank you for believing in me,” Ikeh said, trying to fight off tears as he closed this chapter of his young career.

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Captain Vince Tolentino makes the right choice



Vince Tolentino’s impact to the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles’ golden campaign has been unheralded to say the least.

The stats may show that he averaged 6.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.6 assists this season but he played 21.5 minutes per game, third most minutes behind stalwarts Thirdy Ravena and Matt Nieto. And he earned those minutes by leading by example to the young Blue Eagles, letting his work do the talking for him.

“Vince is a unique guy,” second-year Blue Eagles head coach Tab Baldwin reflected about his co-captain during the team’s thanksgiving mass Sunday evening.

“When I wanted a leader, he said to me, ‘Coach, I’m not sure if I’m the stand-up ra-ra guy, but I’ll do my best to show them where to go’,” Baldwin shared.

“And didn’t he do a great job?”

But all of this almost did not happen.

Tolentino, a Filipino-Canadian, was initially recruited by the DLSU Green Archers. But he later realized that “blue fitted him better.”

Even if he was already with Ateneo, he contemplated transferring, feeling that he lacked playing time under then-Ateneo head coach Bo Perasol.

“The first few stages of my Ateneo career were very difficult,” recounted Tolentino, who played a total of just 242 minutes in his first three years. “I was a young teenager so far away from home with a dream and without a chance to go on the floor to prove himself.

“I thought of going back home to Canada or transferring to another school,” the soft-spoken student-athlete furthered.

“But then a beacon of white light came shining down in my senior year… Coach Tab Baldwin!”

Under Baldwin, Tolentino flourished. Moreover, he found his passion back that made him return for one last run with his brothers-at-arm.

“For me, going into my last year, that was one thing on my mind: I wanted a championship. And these boys promised me a championship,” Tolentino shared.

“Since Day One, we always talked about it, we were going to get it.”

After the promise was fulfilled, Tolentino made sure to give back to Baldwin, making a pitch to all the prospects to trust what his mentor is preaching.

“For me, I’ve never had a coach like Coach Tab. The attention to detail, his mind is just full of so much basketball knowledge,” Ateneo’s skipper expressed.

“For us young players, it’s so important for us to develop at a young age and Coach Tab has done that, and he will continue to do that for the Ateneo program.

This pitch will definitely resonate to the next batches of Blue Eagles as he is a testament of how the Ateneo basketball program has changed under Baldwin’s watch. All they got to do is ask Vince about it.

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Aaron Black can finally tell Coach Norman that he has one



Back to Black

Back to Black was the battle cry of coach Norman Black and the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles during their title retention campaign back in 2009. Eight years later, the UAAP Men’s Basketball crown is once again back with a Black — second-generation cager Aaron, that is.

Prior to Game Three of the Finals last Sunday, coach Norman — who had steered the Blue Eagles to five straight championships — made sure to talk to his son before they headed to the SMART-Araneta Coliseum.

“He told me that it’s the same game, this time we have forty minutes to win the championship,” said Aaron, who turned 21 on the same day as Game Three. “He told me to do what I can do to help the team. It’s not about stats anymore, it’s about doing what you can do to help the team.

“Once you win the championship, everyone becomes a champion.”

Black played 16 minutes in the game, finishing with four points, two rebounds, and three assists.

And after playing in all 19 games this season, the 6-foot-1 guard could not help but be amazed with the journey they had.

“Special. It’s been five years since we won the championship. We say that we are a brotherhood but we really are that on and off the court,” he expressed after Ateneo’s 88-86 title-clinching win. “It’s a really close bonded team and I enjoy being part of it.

“It was a great season, a beautiful season.”

But there was one moment in the game that went viral on social media. After Isaac Go made the dagger triple with 24.7 seconds remaining, the camera panned to coach Norman, who was bobbing his head to the tune of Ateneo cheer, “Go Ateneo”.

When told about this, the third-year Blue Eagle laughed, saying that he had been too focused on the game to see it.

“I was kinda too focused on the game to see it but I know he’s proud of me,” he shared.

Kidding aside, the son of one of the greatest imports in PBA history can finally tell his father that he has one under his belt.

“I can go home and boast to him that I have one… But yeah he has five.”

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