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Okunaiya strike books Ceres-La Salle a trip to the UFL Cup Final



A clinical finish by Oladipo Babsola Okunaiya midway through the second half sent Ceres-La Salle FC to the Final of the United Football League (UFL) Cup. The lone goal separated the Bacolodnons from the Loyola Meralco Sparks in a tightly-contested semifinals clash Tuesday evening at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium.

The two teams, who finished within the top three in the recently-concluded UFL Season, entered the match in high spirits. Both of them produced wins of huge margins in the earlier stages. One could infer that the bulk of goals would end once these two sides face each other, and despite Ceres beating Loyola by a cumulative margin of eight goals in the league, it turned out to be a close game as what most followers of the clubs had expected. If those scores in previous matches indicated something, it was that Ceres were foreseen to make an immediate surge. It was clearly the case as they had a better opening 20 minutes or so in the match, often causing problems to the Loyola backline. They had a golden chance to claim the advantage in as early as the third minute. Patrick Reichelt found himself with acres of space in the box but was unable to keep his balance, consequently losing control of the ball. At the 16th minute, Lee Jeong Woo sent a nifty pass to Reichelt who finished his attempt well past Trigo, but the linesman’s flag was up for offside called on the Philippine international. Aside from Lee and Reichelt, Juani Guirado and Martin Steuble also spurned a chance each off target in the first 20 minutes of the encounter.

Loyola then burst out from playing behind the ball to create chances from brilliant counter-attacking football. Phil Younghusband, playing as a central attacking midfielder, worked well from winning the ball to finding teammates who could make things happen in the attacking third. His brother James also had the same goal, although he was doing it from the left flank as a wing back. The duo sought to find Bradley Grayson, their team’s tenacious target man who had the incredible record of scoring 10 goals in the last eight games he played for Loyola. Eight minutes before halftime, Phil drilled a neat through ball into the path of Grayson, who took his time well to shoot past Ceres goalie Louie Casas. The Englishman had a go a couple of steps into the 18 yard box, but was unluckily denied by the crossbar. The Negros team was alarmed by such play that they wasted no time in trying to seize the initiative before referee Clifford Daypuyat blew the half-time whistle. Bienvenido Marañon, one of Ceres’ deadly finishers, tested Loyola netminder Tomas Trigo two minutes later. Overall, chances were few and far in between as both teams’ defenses stood firm in fending off each other’s attacks.

In the second half, Ceres resumed their dominance on the ball. They played to their pace and the only way the Sparks could punish them is by making mistakes on defense. Although Loyola nearly troubled the Ceres back row with a Curt Dizon cross falling just inches from the goal line. Fortunately for the Negrenses, no one in black shirts were there to tap the ball in. Instead, the rock rolled harmlessly for Ceres to get hold of it anew. The Bacolod team frustrated their opponents, who gave away plenty of free kicks inside their half. Loyola looked fine with that set up though, as they appear to embrace such positions comfortably. More often than not, Ceres’ dead ball plays ended up being cleared or sent out of play. It also offered the Sparks a platform to rush forward with the aim of catching the Ceres defense flat on the break. Such approach almost gave Loyola the lead, but James’ shot was parried away by Casas at the 55th minute. Seven minutes later, just after a Ceres attacking sequence, Trigo handed his team’s adversaries a window to claim the go-ahead goal. After clumsily dropping the ball, he rushed to claim it back but that was considered an infringement of the rules by the official, who awarded an indirect free kick to Ceres. Marañon fired his shot wastefully into the wall.

As minutes went by, the desire to grab the lead was mounting. Both teams were often derailed in the middle of the pitch, but when Ceres brought the ball near the box, they took the most out of it. Okunaiya whipped his shot from around 20 yards to put his team ahead. The finish was sublime, offering no chance for Trigo to keep it from bulging the bottom corner of the net. From the moment Ceres went ahead, Loyola naturally played more aggressively. Their attacking runs were promising, but it lacked the finishing needed to supply an equalizer. The closest they had of tying the match came three minutes before time. Phil located Grayson the same manner Lee saw Reichelt in the previous half. No goal was disallowed, however, as play was halted even before Grayson took aim on goal as the English striker was deemed offside. Time, which was on Ceres side at that moment, soon ran out, which signals Ceres’ right to face Kaya for all the marbles on Friday.

Ceres-La Salle coach Ali Go was pleased to have steered his team a step closer to an enviable “double” but insists that it took them a slice of luck to get there. “It was a very exciting game. We’re just lucky that the game went our way,” he said. Go also suggested that his team’s commitment to their game plan bore fruit, accomplishing it “from the beginning until the end” according to him. They now have two days to prepare for an intense duel against Kaya FC, who had the fortune to emerge victorious over Stallion FC via penalties in the other semifinal played nearly three hours before Ceres went to action. The colossal match whose winner will be crowned as the 2015 UFL Cup Champions will be held still at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium, 8:15 PM on Friday, August 28. — LGT

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Tireless J-Jay Alejandro heads from D-League game to Gilas training



Former NU Bulldogs captain J-Jay Alejandro was at the Pasig Sports Center Monday afternoon, making his debut for the Go for Gold Scratchers. After their 75-68 win over Gamboa-St. Clare Coffee Lovers, he immediately packed his bags and headed for the exit.

Why was he in a rush? He did not want to be late for Gilas later on.

PHOTO by PBA Images

“Sayang, malapit na ako eh. Pasig lang. Walang showbiz-showbiz, malapit lang talaga,” shared Alejandro, who had five points, five rebounds, seven assists, and two steals for Go for Gold. “Wala rin akong gagawin kasi.

“Tsaka minsan lang magpa-tawag ng practice, every Monday lang, so sayang ‘yung chance makapag-practice.”

The 6-foot-2 combo guard was a much-needed body by the pool of Gilas as only eight players suited-up for Monday’s session. Besides helping out the seniors team, the 22-year-old is looking at the sessions as a way to not just improve but also get in touch with his former collegiate foes.

“Well, ganoon talaga eh. Player, mapapagod at mapapagod ka talaga,” said the All-UAAP team member.

“Pero nakakasama ko sila Arvin Tolentino, sila CJ Perez, tsaka ‘yung ibang mga PBA players, siyempre experience ‘yun eh, tsaka learning process din sa akin.”

Moreover, he knows that being under the tutelage of coach Chot Reyes will only do wonders for him, especially with the 2018 PBA Rookie Draft just months away.

“Mas pisikal talaga sa PBA. ‘Yun, kung paano mo gagamitin ang utak mo pati ‘yung katawan mo sa tamang posisyon sa laro, makukuha ko yun rito,” he said.

“Well sa akin kasi, ‘yung mapabilang ka sa Gilas, mapabilang lang ang pangalan mo sa Gilas, sobrang fortunate na ako, sobrang blessed na ako,” Alejandro added.

“And siguro sa akin, may opportunity na nag-open, so iga-grab ko na lang — either PBA or Gilas.”

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Loaded Wangs-Letran wallops AMA in debut



Armed with new recruits, the Wangs Basketball-Letran Knights embarked on its new chapter with a rousing 93-75 rout of the AMA Online Education Titans, Tuesday afternoon at the Pasig Sports Center.

Everyone clicked for the Couriers with Bong Quinto spearheading the blowout with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists.

Newcomer Bonbon Batiller added 15 markers, five boards, and three dimes in his debut, while starting point guard JP Calvo chipped in 12 points, eight rebounds, and two assists.

Christian Fajarito also registered 11 markers and nine boards, while Alex Mandreza had 10 points for Wangs-Letran.

Despite the promising showing, coach Jeff Napa said that he still wants to see more from his Couriers moving forward.

“Masaya kami syempre dahil nanalo. Pero marami pa rin kaming kailangang gawin,” he said as he wanted more from the Knights after outrebounding the Titans, 57-44.

Quinto and Calvo triggered Wangs-Letran’s second quarter pullaway to establish the 38-26, lead which grew to as high as 22 points, 81-59 in the payoff period.

Michael Cañete topscored AMA with 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Kris Porter had 13 in the defeat.

Wangs-Letran will have vengeance on their minds on Monday, January 29 when it takes on NCAA tormentors Che’lu- San Sebastian Revellers. AMA, on the other hand, will have a tough assignment when it takes on the Zark’s-Lyceum Jawbreakers on Thursday, January 25.

The Scores:

Wangs-Letran 93 — Quinto 19, Batiller 15, Calvo 12, Fajarito 11, Mandreza 10, Trinidad 8, Publico 6, Vacaro 4, Balagasay 3, Ambohot 3, Muyang 2.

AMA Online Education 75 — Cañete 20, Porter 13, Escalambre 11, Casiño 10, Antonares 6, Manalang 6, Garcia 4, Ng 3, Parcero 2, Bragais 0, Carpio 0, Paras 0, Raflores 0, Salonga 0.

Quarterscores: 16-13, 44-35, 67-52, 93-75.

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Jovie Prado, Arellano make epic comeback against Perpetual to remain unscathed



The defending NCAA Women’s Volleyball champions Arellano University Lady Chiefs would just not give up.

Down two sets, the Lady Chiefs turned back the University of Perpetual Help System DALTA Altas in five thrilling sets, 22-25, 19-25, 25-21, 25-20, 15-5, Tuesday afternoon at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

Outside hitter Jovielyn Prado and middle attacker Andrea Marzan showed up and produced their expected numbers in this crucial tussle at 20 and 16 points, respectively.

Head coach Obet Javier was still optimistic that his players could pull it off after the 0-2 hole. “Siyempre, kailangan mong magtiwala sa players mo,” he said.

The long-time coach added, “Nung first two sets, ang pangit ng laro namin. Siguro sa game, lumabas lang ‘yung maturity ng players ko at ‘yung pusong champion.”

It was a nip-and-tuck affair throughout the day, but the deciding set was all Arellano, as setter Sarah Verutiao fired off vicious serves after another and virtually bag the win with a 10-1 lead.

Bianca Tripoli registered 20 markers to pace the Lady Altas.

At 6-0, the reigning queens will try to extend their longest winning run in the league to 19 when they face fellow unscathed San Beda College (5-0) on Friday. Perpetual (4-2) will take on Mapua University (0-5) on Tuesday, January 30.

The Scores:

AU 3 – Prado 20, Marzan 16, Arocha 14, Ebuen 7, Esguerra 4, Ramirez 1, Bello 1, Balanoba 0, Donato 0, Flores L, Buema L.

UPHSD 2 – Tripoli 20, Imbo 19, Clements 12, Verzosa 6, Llorente 5, Gual 3, Sangalang 3, Estanislao 0, Rosal 0, Umandal 0, Medalla L.

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Matt Nieto looks forward to learning from Jio Jalalon, Jayson Castro



When Matt Nieto made his way into the Meralco Gym on Monday evening, the 20-year-old quickly changed his clothes after receiving his Gilas jersey. And once he got dressed, the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles’ floor general quickly went to work, as he wanted to absorb everything he can from the night’s session.

“Actually na-star struck ako. ‘Di ako makapaniwala na nandito ako eh,” expressed the six-foot point guard.

Playing and practicing with the players they idolized growing up has been a theme for almost all of the 23 for 2023 cadets. The same could be said about the wide-eyed Nieto, as he could not believe he was side-by-side with the present and the future of the game in Jayson Castro and Jiovani Jalalon.

“Nakita ko pa lang si idol Jiovani Jalalon, nakikita ko parang… di ako makapaniwala na sa isang practice magkasama kami.

“Sila Kiefer [Ravena], lalo na si Jalalon talaga at si Jayson Castro kasi talagang idol ko talaga sila eh. Napapasma nga ako nung una eh kasi parang baka akalain nila ‘sino ba to?’,” the one-time UAAP champion shared.

Nervous, Nieto tried to talk to Castro and Jalalon numerous times during the practice. The two did not turn, welcoming the young buck with open arms.

“Nung nakausap ko na sila medyo na ano na kasi hindi lang sila magaling, sobrang bait pa nila. Madali akong naka-adjust kaagad dito,” he beamed.

Coach Chot Reyes has high expectations with Nieto, as he is being groomed as one of the leaders for the 2023 team. Still, he knows that there is still a long way to go for him.

To become a better leader, the second-generation Blue Eagle knows who to reach out to.

“Gusto ko matuto kay Jayson pati kay Jiovani kasi same position kami. And of course yung leadership ni Kiefer, yung mentality na talagang laban kung laban.

“Gusto ko marami matutunan sa kanila kasi wala pa eh, wala pa ako sa peak ko. Sila andun na. So marami talaga akong matututunan sa kanila kasi sobrang galing nila at sobrang dami na nilang na-achieve sa kanilang basketball career,” Nieto gushed.

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