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Sparks wake up in second half to hammer stubborn Tigers

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The Loyola Meralco Sparks ended the United Football League (UFL) Cup 2015 Group C action by claiming an emphatic 7-0 victory over University of Santo Tomas (UST) FC Sunday night at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium. It was not as easy as it looks, however, as UST frustrated the Sparks in the opening half of the match.

Early in the match, UST goalkeeper Jose Zaldy Abraham faced a lot of unsuccessful chances coming from the Loyola players, the first would be coming from Curt Dixon five minutes into the game. Not given a chance by many prior to the start of the match, UST nearly seized the lead against the run of play when Steven Anotado left Loyola goalkeeper Saba Sadeghi frozen in front of goal. Unfortunately for Anotado and UST, the ball smacked the crossbar before allowing the Sparks to clear the ball from danger. It was the only time UST got to test the Loyola defense as the Division I title contenders dictated the tempo of the game. After an array of opportunities to put away was wasted by Loyola, time in the first half ran out with the score still at 0-0.

It was an unhealthy first half for Loyola although Abraham anchored the UST backline well to preserve the clean sheet going into the break. The Tomasinos were unwavering in the first half but they seemed to have fallen flat in the next period. As early as the first minute of the second half, Dizon placed a good pass towards Graham Caygill to open the scoring for Loyola. The Sparks were relentless after taking the lead, seeking to score in every chance that was bound to come. For the most part, the Tigers were determined to keep the deficit slim as they continued to resolutely defend against the far more experienced and skilled Loyola squad.

The introduction of Phil Younghusband, however, changed the complexion of the match. Just two minutes after he came in, the Philippine international teed up Charlie Beaton whose shot was tapped in by Napoleon Bustillo just on the line to extend Loyola’s lead to two. Bustillo scored his second six minutes later with Tahj Minniecon providing the assist. Joining the scoring party was Younghusband who dinked the ball from just inside the UST half into an empty net, catching Abraham off his line at the 84th minute. Less than 60 seconds after, Minniecon got into the score sheet after he was set up by Beaton in a quick attacking play. Two minutes later, Loyola’s advantage ballooned to six when Beaton capped his night with a brace from the spot. Putting the cherry on top was Younghusband whose shot was too much for the fatigued UST goalie to handle with two minutes left on the clock.

We needed to run up the goals. One thing we’ve been guilty of in the past is not running up the goals against teams who give us opportunities to [do so], and to be fair to these guys, they didn’t give us an opportunity until twenty minutes from the end,” Loyola coach Simon McMenemy commented after the match. He also shared that he addressed finishing woes in the dressing room when they were still in a deadlock with UST.

To be fair to Loyola, they did not play to their full strength, opting to rest a handful of key guys in what is a game that had little meaning to them. In doing so, McMenemy showcased his squad’s depth by fielding players who he thought needed playing time at the start of the match before tossing in quality players who totally altered the direction of the match. “Fortunately for us we were able to do that because of the squad we have. I feel the score has been tough on these [UST] guys. I don’t think they deserved [losing in] a 7-0 scoreline,” he concluded.

UST coach Marjo Allado pointed out Younghusband’s presence to have totally “Noong pumasok na si Phil, bumilis ‘yung laro ng Loyola tapos nakakaset-up ng pasa si Phil. Noong wala si Phil kanina, ‘yung laro nila iba eh. It’s more on passing lang but noong nandoon na si Phil, nag-iba na na ‘yung game. Dahil doon, naka-penetrate na sila. Kaya ang daming goal kaagad,” he elaborated. “The boys tried eh. They will learn from this game,” he stressed as he is in the process of rebuilding a powerhouse UST team filled with relatively young players and a battalion of returning veterans.

Loyola sealed the fourth seed in the round of 16, with only three teams claiming better records on points while Stallion finish a place below them due to the Sparks’ superior goal difference. On the other hand, UST’s hopes of reaching the knockout phase hangs by a thread. They are currently placed 16th as three teams have zero points but one of those, Nomads, will have the chance to change that on the final day of the UFL Cup group stage. Philippine Army was forced to withdraw, making the one-point Tigers the holders of the last playoff slot as of the moment.

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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 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 bout returned to the 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 Phoenix Fuel Masters 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 Mahindra Floodbuster.

But that achievement of his won’t be that memorable, as it went for naught following a 91-97 defeat they had absorbed into the hands of Paul Lee and 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 was there in contention all through out the match. In fact, they were even ahead, 89-84, with just three minutes left to play. But then, the Hotshots’ comebacking skills were unleashed, leading to the narrow win.

“Siyempre kami lahat nasayangan. Maganda naman yung team effort talaga namin,” expressed 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 Barangay Ginebra 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 Kia Picanto, scoring his team’s final six points to steer the often-ridiculed club to its’ first win after a historic 16-game skid at the expense of Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, 98-94.

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

“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 it. But the three-year pro does not want to take the spotlight all by 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 got 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.

Alab’s bench however could not sustain the effort of the starters that led to them clinging to a two-point lead with 7:06 remaining.

Needing a sparkplug, 40-year-old sniper Dondon Hontiveros provided the spark 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 with 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 that resulted to the quintet of Brian Williams, Mario Wuysang, Arif Hidayat, Decorey Jones, and Sandy Kurniawan to slice the lead to as low as four points. 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 they take on the Saigon Heat at the CIS Arena in Ho Chi Minh City.

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