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UP completes comeback win, clinches podium finish

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UP (5-4), 3rd000100033782
NU (4-6), 5th0020020004103

It pays to play with heart.

The University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons scored six runs in the last two innings to upend National University (NU) Bulldogs, 7-4, and secured the third place trophy, Thursday, February 26 at the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium.

Both teams stood their ground in the first two innings as neither defense allowed a hit. And that would continue for the Bulldogs held UP on the top of third inning. An error by NU shortstop Julius Mondragon put Maroons captain Martin Senador on first base. That is all the defense allowed as the NU infield got two more outs to close their side.

NU got their offense going in the third inning, as the top of the batting order went to work. Fourth-year player Herxel Fortunato had a lead-off single. After Mondragon grounded out for the first out, Alfredo De Guzman III scored Fortunato to get the first run for the Bulldogs. NU doubled the lead after as De Guzman got to the home plate himself with Ronel Peralta at bat from an error committed by UP.

The Maroons got one back in the following inning. Senior rightfielder JC Pantan hit a single to get on base. After NU starting pitcher Junmar Diarao fanned Diego Gonzalez, James Legaspi hit a double to advance Pantan to third. An error from the consequent play helped Pantan score to cut the deficit to 1, 2-1.

At the top of the fifth inning, rookie catcher Javie Lopez hit a glaring pitch deep into right field to get into third base. Senior Karl Peralta led to two balls on his at bat, but three consecutive strikes froze the Maroons shortstop for the first out. This was followed by two outs, which left Lopez stranded on that scoring position.

Freshman pitcher Kenneth Mariñas started well on their side of fifth but after pitching strikes, four consecutive balls followed and De Guzman was walked, prompting UP to make a change. Third year pitcher Gab Rodriguez took the mound and took the second and third outs to end the inning.

Diarao hit a single to start it for NU in the sixth. After Villame grounded out to Rodriguez, Keneth Ybañez hit another single to put Diarao into a scoring position at second. In a full count, Fortunato was able to hit a ground ball to the center as Diarao and Ybañez scored. NU’s pushed their lead to 3, 4-1. With Mondragon at bat, Fortunato stole to second and advanced to third off a fielding error by UP’s Lopez. But with a 0-2 count, Mondragon was forced to hit the ball but grounded to third baseman SJ San Juan for the final out of the inning.

In the crucial seventh inning, both Maroons and Bulldogs held their fort. NU defense went to work and dismissed three Maroon batters consecutively. Hoping to grab the momentum, it was UP’s turn to clamp down NU offense. Maroon “Energy Bunny” Lopez caught De Guzman who attempted to steal second. De Guzman earlier advanced to the first base off a single. Another single by Clarence Caasalan was all NU could muster as a grounder by R. Peralta was caught by K. Peralta, and Senador stepped on the second base to force De Guzman out and then threw to Legaspi to dismiss Caasalan for an excellent 6-4-3 double play to end the seventh inning.

That pumped up the Diliman-based batters as after Senador hit a ground ball to first, leading Best Hitter candidate San Juan drove a single to start it for UP. A pair of base hits by Mik Herrera and Pantan loaded the base for rookie Ron Opelanio who went it for Gino Aganon. During this sequence, San Juan pulled off his hamstring and was replaced by another newcomer Ramon Atienza. With the pitch count at 2-2, Opelanio met the pitch and drove a double into deep center as Atienza and Herrera steps into the home plate to cut the deficit back to 1, 4-3. While co-captain Pantan was on third base, Legaspi hit a long fly to left field that was caught, but Pantan pulled through and scored to level the game at 4 runs apiece. NU ended the Maroon onslaught, as rightfield Peralta caught a fly ball by Silvestre to close out their side of the eighth inning.

With the match tied, junior Rodriguez took matters into his own hands dismissing Diarao, Ericson Villame, and Ybañez in succession, to keep the Bulldogs at bay. Diarao and Ybañez grounded to the veteran pitcher and Villame’s fly was caught to end the inning.

In a need for a score to push their solid season further, the Maroons went on an offensive overdrive in the ninth inning. An error by NU third base Ybañez put Lopez on first base. After K. Peralta grounded to first for the first out, Senador hit a single for Lopez to score as the Maroons finally takes the lead, 5-4. However, the UP captain was caught stealing by Villame. A clutch hit by the sub Atienza, started what would become a two-out rally. Herrera added another hit. A succession of miscues by NU substitute pitcher R. Peralta proved to be disastrous as a ball called on him advanced Atienza and Herrera to third and second, respectively, and a wild pitch scored the base runners with Pantan at bat. After Pantan retired, the Maroons’ lead went up to 7-4.

The Bulldogs had their last chance in their side of the final inning, but it was the defense of the Maroons that prevented the oppotunity. After Miranda took a 0-2 single, Lopez dismissed Fortunato on a fly ball for the first out. Mondragon was able to push another hit against Rodriguez. De Guzman hit a deep fly to center but was caught by Pantan for the second out. Rodriguez would put an end to the game as the junior player took the final out, catching the Caasalan ball and threw it to Legaspi.

With the win and the result in the following game where De La Salle University won against Ateneo, 14-12, the Maroons finished their season in third place, improving from their fifth-place finish last year.

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Grew to appreciate various sports from tennis to judo. True-maroon kiddo since the new millennium. Fanboy. Singer. Occasional sports writer.

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