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Now injury-free, Escoto proving worth for Tams this Season 78

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When one brings up the name of Far Eastern University center Russel Escoto in a conversation, one thing is quickly associated with his name: Injuries.

Looking back, the Pampanga-bred big man had been sidelined for the whole University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 76 after suffering a knee injury. Season 77 should have been his comeback year, but another injury – this time to his shoulder – barred him to play from the semifinal stage to the season’s end.

“Masakit,” said Escoto, on how it felt to sit out almost two seasons due to injuries. “Maiinis ka na lang dahil ‘di mo matulungan team mo,” he added.

The 6’6”, 200-pound center admitted that between Seasons 76 and 77, he felt the latter had the worse timing to sustain an injury, since he had hurt his shoulder and had been listed as unplayable right during the Final Four fight.

“Mahirap nung [Season] 77, kasi kinukuha ko pa lang ‘yung kumpiyansa ko noon, tapos napilay ulit,” confessed the former Baby Tamaraw, who first saw action with the senior team during Season 74.

However, after all the injuries he has faced and overcome, Escoto admitted that some facets of his game, particularly his athleticism, have dwindled a bit.

UAAP 78 FEU vs. NU - Escoto-0262“’Di na ‘ko masyado makatalon, at parang bumagal ako ng kaunti. Pero [on a] positive [note], lumakas ng kaunti ‘yung katawan ko kasi na-rehab na. Nag-focus lang ako sa strengthening,” said the former Slam Dunk Contest participant in the 2009 UAAP-NCAA All-Star Game.

Now that his injuries are considered a thing of the past, a now-healthy Escoto relishes his stint with the Tamaraws this season, saying that playing without pain only makes him contribute better to the squad.

Masaya ako, kasi natutulungan ko ‘yung team at nakakalaro ako ng maayos. Tipong wala kang inaalala, wala kang iniisip,” shared Escoto, who is now playing his final year for FEU.

Even the Tams’ head think-tank Raoul Cesar “Nash” Racela is happy with the way Escoto has been doing this season, especially now that the latter is free from any pain, unlike during the past couple of years.

“We are happy that Russel is finally playing and free from injury up to this point of the season. We’re hoping he finishes strong until the end,” said the former San Beda Red Lions coach. Escoto has not missed a single game, and has even started in 11 games for FEU this season.

UAAP 78 FEU vs. AdU - Escoto-6714When asked what he thinks about his performance this year, Escoto feels satisfied with the way he has been playing for the Tamaraws, but thinks he can still notch his efforts higher to help the team further.

“So far, OK naman. Steady lang, nakaka-shoot at nakaka-depensa, pero dapat mas makatulong pa ‘ko sa team [sa ibang bagay],” said Escoto, who has averaged 6.9 points per game this season and logged 19.9 minutes per game.

Racela, meanwhile, backed up Escoto’s claims, while lauding the effort and efficiency his wily big man is giving the team.

“His rebounds and his perimeter play have been crucial this year. But I honestly believe he has a lot more to give,” said Racela of Escoto, who has grabbed five boards a game and shot 40.5 percent from the field.

Like any other college player, the post-play specialist also aims to make it into the pros, saying that he plans to make himself eligible for next year’s Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Draft. “Pangarap ko ‘yun eh,” he said.

But before he sets his sights to the PBA, Escoto wishes the same thing his teammates –and opponents, of course– hope for, and that is to win the golden hardware.

“Mag-champion muna this season [bago ang lahat].”

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Oftentimes on the sidelines. Forever a student of the game. Morayta-bred.

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Mixed Martial Arts

Rene Catalan continues rampage with TKO win

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Rene Catalan continues to turn critics into believers

Filipino fighter Rene Catalan made his sixth appearance inside the ONE Championship cage at ONE: Kings of Courage, held at the Jakarta Convention Center in Indonesia, Saturday evening. He faced 21-year-old Chinese athlete Peng Xue Wen in the opening main card bout, and leaned on his elite wushu skills to stop the young star at the 4:22 mark of the second round.

The victory improves Catalan’s record to 4-2 (1 NC), extends his winning streak to four, and gives him the first TKO stoppage of his martial arts career, as he bids to climb the strawweight ladder in search of the ONE Strawweight World Championship.

“The Challenger” came out in the southpaw stance to open the bout, throwing big hooks and a head kick that narrowly missed as he established the center of the cage from the start of the contest.

The Filipino landed a host of powerful strikes, including a perfectly-placed uppercut and a melee of punishing leg kicks, but Peng’s conditioning and composure kept him in the match as he looked to stand and trade with the man 18 years his elder.

Catalan picked up where he left off when the bout resumed in the second round, this time operating out of the orthodox stance, landing more leg kicks and continuing to deny Peng any space to work.

Despite his dominance on the feet, there was a brief moment of concern for the Filipino on the mat when he jumped into the Chinese wrestler’s guard mid-way through the second round, and immediately found himself in a triangle choke. But the Filipino kept his composure and managed to work himself free.

Once the fighters returned to their feet, Catalan poured on the pressure in search of a finish, and he got it with just 38 seconds remaining in the stanza.

“The Challenger” scored big with a liver shot, then unloaded a fierce flurry of punches that forced Peng onto his back foot. Another shot forced Peng to the mat, where a salvo of ground and pound from Catalan eventually forced the TKO stoppage as referee Olivier Coste stepped in to halt the contest.

Photo, story, and video from ONE Championship

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Basketball

Gelo Alolino regrets Phoenix’s failure to close out Hotshots

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Photo by PBA Images

Gelo Alolino had his best game for the Phoenix Fuel Masters on Saturday night at the Cuneta Astrodome with 19 points, eclipsing his previous career-high of 16 markers which he made last May 21, 2017 in a loss to the Mahindra Floodbuster.

But his achievement won’t be too memorable, as it went for naught following a 91-97 defeat at the hands of Paul Lee and the Magnolia Hotshots, who have now collected their third straight victory.

For the second overall pick in the regular 2016 Rookie Draft, it was all because of their failure to sustain momentum up until the game’s final buzzer.

“Sayang, nandun na. We felt na sa amin na nung dulo kaso lang ganun talaga,” rued the 24-year-old sophomore after the match, where he shot an excellent 7-of-10 from the floor.

“Breaks of the game napunta sa kabila.”

Phoenix were in contention all throughout the match. In fact, they were even ahead, 89-84, with just three minutes left to play. But the Hotshots’ comeback skills were unleashed, leading to the narrow win.

“Siyempre kami lahat nasayangan. Maganda naman yung team effort talaga namin,” admitted the 6-foot floor general of their end-game collapse, which wasted their efforts in assists (21) and on defense, where they forced Magnolia to 21 turnovers.

“Kami as players talagang gusto namin bumawi coming from a loss last game sa Rain or Shine.

The Fuel Masters have now lost their second straight outing and have dropped to 2-3. And for Alolino, all they have to do is learn as much as they can from this loss, especially now that they are about to face the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel next.

“Yun nga. Medyo masakit para sa’min ‘to,” admitted the National University product.

“All we have to do is magviview ulit kami ng tape para makita kung saan kami mas pwede mag-improve as a team and bawat isa — including me.”

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Basketball

Glenn Khobuntin repays Ricky Dandan’s trust with end-game heroics

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FILE Photo from PBA Images

Glenn Khobuntin can finally say that he had himself a moment in the pro ranks

The National University alumnus proved his worth for the Kia Picanto, scoring his team’s final six points to steer the often-ridiculed club to their first win after a historic 16-game skid, at the expense of the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, 98-94.

“I knew he would. I knew he would,” lauded Kia head coach Ricky Dandan of the takeover by the six-foot-four forward.

“It was a blessing he didn’t play for the first two quarters because he [came in] fresh at gigil na gigil.”

Khobuntin finished with 11 markers on 5-of-7 shooting — the best game he’s had so far, not because of the numbers he posted but with the way he made them. But the three-year pro does not want to take the spotlight all onto himself.

“Hindi lang din naman ako e, kami ding lahat e,” the 26-year-old shared. “Siguro kumbaga nagka-opportunity lang, napunta sa akin yung bola kasi yun yung nasa scheme ng play so ayun.

“Thankful lang ako na-hit ko yung mga na-design na plays.”

However, the third-year pro admitted that he had been frightened during the game’s final stretch, as Rain or Shine managed to impose a serious threat by coming back from a seven-point deficit, 94-96, with just less than 22 ticks left to play.

“Kinakabahan ako kasi two minutes pa rin yun e tapos Rain or Shine yung kalaban namin,” the native of Cagayan de Oro said. “Nakita ko nakakabalik sila. Thankful lang naman ako na yung game napunta sa amin, at least natapos yung losing streak namin.”

But more than the end of their months-long slump, what Khobuntin is grateful for is the trust given to him by Dandan, who fielded him as a starter in the second half after sitting out the entirety of the first 24 minutes.

“Nag-decide siya na ako yung i-start niya so thankful ako kasi nagtiwala siya sa akin.”

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ABL

Justin Brownlee, Alab lock down Knights for fifth win

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Paying a visit to Indonesia for the first time this season, Tanduay Alab Pilipinas needed time to figure the CLS Knights out before stifling the hosts in the final frame to take a 92-87 road win, Saturday evening at the GOR CLS Kertajaya in Indonesia.

This is Alab’s second straight win after losing to the Singapore Slingers last January 10.

With the win, the Philippine-based club team lifts its slate to 5-4 for solo fourth. CLS, on the other hand, dropped to 1-7 — just half a game ahead of the cellar-dwelling Formosa Dreamers.

Justin Brownlee displayed his all-around brilliance in the game, leading Alab with 36 points on 15-for-24 shooting to go along with eight rebounds, seven assists, and three steals.

But Alab’s bench could not sustain the effort of the starters, which meant the team was clinging to a two-point lead with 7:06 remaining.

Needing a spark, 40-year-old sniper Dondon Hontiveros provided for Alab, knocking down a triple that proved to be the starting point 14-2 Alab run. A jumper by Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. with 2:57 left capped the rally and gave Alab an 87-73 lead.

Hontiveros scored five of the eight Alab bench points. Fortunately for Alab, Renaldo Balkman and Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. were on point. The former tallying a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds, while Alab’s skipper had 14 points, four assists, two rebounds, two steals, and two blocks.

Coach Jimmy Alapag fielded his bench afterwards, but they let the quintet of Brian Williams, Mario Wuysang, Arif Hidayat, Decorey Jones, and Sandy Kurniawan slice the lead to as low as four points. Then free throws by Oping Sumalinog with eight ticks left put CLS away for good.

Williams paced CLS with 22 points and 14 rebounds while Kurniawan added 19 markers. Indonesian legend Wuysang had 17 points and six rebounds in the loss.

Alab ends its road trip on Sunday, January 28, when it takes on the Saigon Heat at the CIS Arena in Ho Chi Minh City.

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