The University of Santo Tomas Tiger Softbelles have four national team members – RP Blu Girls – in their lineup for the 78th season of the UAAP.
However, they have “under-performed” this season as pointed out by UST head coach Sandy Barredo. “If you’re wearing the colors of the RP Blu Girls, you should perform better than everyone in the field,” Barredo said about the performances of sophomore catcher Celestine Palma, senior first basewoman Louisse Garde, and junior center fielder CJ Roa. “Kaya ko sila nilagay sa starting nine because I have trust in them. But the bottom of the batting order ang nagdedeliver sa amin.”
The Tiger Softbelles finished the first round of the tournament with a 3-3 slate, good for third place. Palma, one of the hitters Barredo was expecting to step up this season, posted a .278 batting average (5 of 18) to end the round.
In the second round, the Espana-based squad went on a rampage in going 3-0 in the first three games of the second round. Their streak was capped with an impressive 7-0 abbreviated fifth inning dismantling of the National University Lady Bulldogs.
On a high, the Tiger Softbelles went into their game against the Ateneo Lady Eagles last February 27 with all the confidence in the world. Coach Sandy Barredo plugged in a first nine that featured eight of the team’s second-stringers with Tin Palma at the catcher’s position. The bottom-ranked team in the league had other things in mind.
The Lady Eagles shocked the Tiger Softbelles with a huge 5-1 lead in just the second inning of the game that immediately made Barredo make a platoon swap.
Slowly, the Espana-based squad chipped into the lead and were within one run at the bottom of the sixth inning. “Ako ang nagka-error kaya kami natalo,” the 18 year old Palma shared.
With two outs, Palma attempted to oust Ateneo’s Gabby Macatulad to end the inning. However, she overthrew the ball to third base that resulted to a Macatulad run and the insurance run needed by the Lady Eagles to secure the upset.
The throwing attempts to throw out runners of the Bacolod-native had been a pet peeve of her mentor. “Lagi ko sinasabi sa kanya na ang balikat hindi pang-bato, pang-palo yan,” Barredo shared.
“Hindi pa kami kinakausap ni coach,” she said after their win against UP, the game prior to facing Adamson. “Binilin na lang namin lahat. Lahat ng errors and doubts at tiwala sa sarili iniwan na lang namin kay God. After nung talo sa Ateneo, nanonood kami ng movie, yung ‘Facing the Giants.’”
“Ilang ulit na namin yun pinapanood, paulit-ulit pero iyak pa rin kami ng paulit-ulit. Sobrang naka-relate kami.”
Even with her morale down, she went to her faith to help her break the funk she is in. “Naging inspiration namin yung ‘Facing the Giants,’ nothing is impossible with God,” the UST catcher reflected. “Hihingi lang tayo sa kanya at ibibigay niya iyon pag pinaghirapan.”
Palma then shared that after their practice that focused on their conditioning last Tuesday, she went to Quiapo Church and prayed harder than ever. “Stats-wise hindi maganda ang pinakita ko kasi maganda yung pinapakita ko sa training pero hindi sa laro. Kahit sinong player nangyayari yun, siguro dahil may problems din kasi ako, pero still namamanage ko pa rin.”
After all the ups-and-downs of the season, Palma played the game of her life against the Lady Falcons. In her first at-bat for the game, the clean-up hitter immediately fired-off a huge double to center-right field to punch in the first run of the game. The 18 year old then connected on her second double of the game in the third inning that doubled the lead for the Tiger Softbelles.
Up 6-0 with two outs at the bottom of the fourth inning, Palma almost picked off another RBI double, but the first-base umpire adjudged that the UST veteran missed stepping on the first base, nullifying the run scored by Guevarra. The run would have given a dominant mercy rule win that would have ended The Streak right then and there.
Tin though admitted that she was disappointed with herself for that mental lapse. “Inisip ko na lang nun na wala talagang madali. Lahat kailangan paghirapan,” she shared to Tiebreaker Times.
The Tiger Softbelles were able to hold-off the defending champions in the final inning for a 6-2 win that sent shockwaves through the local sporting community. Moreover, the win forced a Final Four in the tournament for the first time in eight years.
For Palma, she is still grateful that even if Coach Barredo had yet to speak to them last Wednesday, he still continued to guide the team all throughout the season. “Still, ginuide pa rin kami ni coach kahit may kasalanan kami. Kasi hindi uubra yung team na ito pag wala siya, walang mag-lealead sa amin,” a grateful Palma shared.
“Hindi rin namin magagawa ito pag walang hard work at walang tiwala sa isa’t isa. We just continued thinking positively with God.”
The win will end up as one of the most historic wins in the history of the UAAP. But for Palma, this win is what she needed to keep her going for the next stage of the tournament: the Final Four.