With 12 general championships and dynasties in events such as football, tennis, and swimming, La Salle Green Hills is a powerhouse in the NCAA Juniors Division.
However, one title constantly eluded its grasp ever since it joined the league back in 1998 – the basketball title, which it finally claimed on November 24, 2017, against the Mapua Red Robins.
Key members of the squad that finally pulled it off – coach Marvin Bienvenida, Joel Cagulangan, Inand Fornillos, and Jacob Lao – discussed the legendary feat with hosts Charles Tiu, Paolo Layug, and Anton Altamirano in Tiebreaker Vods’ Coaches Unfiltered, presented by SMART.
“Before mag-start ng season, sobrang ‘di mo maiisip na magcha-champion kami nung year na ‘yun kasi nandoon ‘yung Mapua. Tapos ‘yung San Beda pa sobrang daming beterano nila, halos lahat 19-years-old. Tapos kami, 17 years old lang kami,” said Cagulangan.
“During the season nandoon ‘yung bonding namin, tapos naisip namin na kaya pala namin. Kaya every game ginagalingan lang hanggang sa nag 5-0 kami nung elimination. Parang nag-uusap-usap kami kasi tinalo namin San Beda tapos doon nagkakumpyansa na lahat.”
Every year, the goal of winning the championship is a daunting task for the Greenies. Programs such as the San Beda Red Cubs and San Sebastian Staglets have historically been perennial contenders for the crown. The previous year, though, led to the rise of Mapua under the tutelage of coach Randy Alcantara.
Even a start that yielded five straight wins needed to be tempered, as the goal of clinching the coveted crown was miles away. In fact, the Greenies’ campaign went south in the second round, which endangered their position in the post-season party.
“During that 5-0 record during the first round, I was pushing them na this is a small success for us. We need to handle it well so even though everyone’s happy I kept on reminding them na we’re still beatable, we’re not even halfway,” said Bienvenida.
“May mga times na we still lost, but that last chance of securing that fourth spot in the Final Four na may knockout pa with San Sebastian to enter Final Four… So that we had that last opportunity for us kasi knockout ang Baste. E that time Baste defeated us twice – first round, second round. 0-2 kami so we took the opportunity.”
After prevailing over San Beda in the Final Four in that epic series, LSGH then emerged victorious 74-68 to draw first blood against Mapua in the finals. However, the Greenies did not come off that game unscathed, as Fornillos was ejected for a disqualifying foul.
It was a big miss for the Ortigas-based school. The former UST Tiger Cub averaged 12.8 points and 11.7 rebounds, eventually becoming the NCAA Season 93 Rookie of the Year.
“Talagang I was bothered already on how to find a replacement, push someone to replace Inand for the second game. Malaking impact talaga. Me being the coach and right after leaving Araneta going back to my office to write down, because I got the word already after leaving Araneta,” Bienvenida explained. “So I went back to my office being the sports head din I drafted a letter of appeal, so there was no time to celebrate after Game One, to appeal Inand’s case. So ‘yun ang naging mabigat na hump for us.”
“Siyempre gusto ko manalo na sila e,, like nakaabang na ako sa labas e. Like diba 50 meters away, parang may rule ‘yung NCAA, tapos nakaabang na ako noon kasi tiwala naman ako sa kanila na kaya nila ‘yun kahit wala ako. Tapos ‘yun nga, pagkabalita na ganon na ‘yung score, like talo na kami, sabi ko Game Three na agad ‘yung inisip ko, like, ito na ‘yung final. Wala nang bukas, kumbaga,” said Fornillos.
The 6-foot-2 forward’s absence made a difference, as his teammates ran out of steam and succumbed 81-91 at the hands of the Red Robins. Will all the marbles on the line for both teams, Game Three was bound to be a tight affair for both squads.
“Sobrang nakakakaba kasi ang dami nanonood na alumni. Siguro ‘yung parang naiihi ka lagi tapos nung game, bale parang bawat galaw parang iniisip mo. Tapos nung tinambakan kami by second quarter yata, doon ko naisip na anong nagyayari? So hinuddle ko sila. Sabi ko lang, ‘Tara, laban tayo! Parehas lang tayo ng kinakain ng mga ‘yan.’ Lalaban tayo hanggang dulo,” said Cagulangan.
“For me, I was coming into Game Three, hinatak na ako ni Coach (Marvin) before mag-game. Sabi niya, ‘Oh, last game niyo na, sulitin niyo na lang. Last game niyo na rin eh. Bigay niyo na lang ‘yung best niyo.’
“Kasi the night before, I was talking to my dad. Sabi ko, ‘I don’t know if I can play well tomorrow.’ Pero with my dad kasi, he never pressured me with anything. He just told me whatever happens, just give it your best,” said Lao.
The Greenies were down by as much as 14 points in the contest. However, the heroics of Joshua David, Cagulangan, and Lao managed to turn the tide for the Greenies.
With the game on the line, it was Cagulangan who sank two clutch free throws to give LSGH the 75-74 lead. Mapua failed to overturn the deficit right at the death, as Mike Enriquez’s Hail Mary shot hit the rim.
“Hinabol namin sila nung third (quarter), ganda nung depensa, lahat. Kaso lang pagdating ng fourth, bigla kaming nawala. Tapos biglang si Inand hindi na naka-shoot. E ‘di sinabihan ko siya, ‘Bai, gising!’ Ginaganon ko ‘yung ulo ni Inand. Sabi ko, ‘Bai, gising, bai! Kailangan mong gumising’,” said the 5-foot-8 guard.
“Tapos nung mga ilang seconds nung natira ni Enriquez ‘yung last shot, kinakabahan talaga ako. ‘Kala ko mashu-shoot. Nasa ilalim ako ng ring tapos biglang ‘yun na, panalo na kami, lahat nagsisigawan, nagtatalunan.”
Lao, in particular, had clutch moments. He provided crucial minutes and converted timely baskets off the bench. One moment was memorable, as Bienvenida pointed at him as the open man. He faked his defender to drive to the hoop and score while being fouled for a pivotal and-1 play.
“Ako, coming into it, I felt good na I have no pressure on my shoulders that I have to win. But siyempre being a competitor gusto mo rin manalo di ba? So by that time kasi, I was playing bad at the first half, parang 0-of-4 yata ako sa threes noon,” said Lao.
“Nung halftime, hinuddle na kami ni Maimai and I had to pull myself out, I had to compose myself. And this time kung ano lang matulong ko, gagawin ko na lang. Tapos e nung last possession kasi noon I remember nasa sideline ako noon e, sinub kasi ako ni Sidney (Mosqueda). Tapos nakita ko ‘yung tira ni Enriquez, talaga derecho. As in from my angle, akala ko mashu-shoot din, so… But swerte, nagmintis. Thankful pa rin.”
For Bienvenida, currently the director of LSGH’s sports program, the achievement of becoming the coach who won the school’s maiden NCAA Juniors Basketball crown and La Salle’s first in the said tournament since De La Salle College’s success in the 1955-1956 season is a legacy that will never be forgotten.
“It’s the feeling of you would know that lahat ng alumni who played for La Salle Green Hills in the NCAA and during my time when I was in high school, na wala pang Green Hills sa NCAA that feeling of winning that for them, winning for everyone,” he said.
“That was just my prayer that time. Parang I’m hoping I could help out to deliver this to win for everyone, for all of those guys who became my teammates, my brothers, teammates, different batches and all,” he continued.
“I mean it’s not really a life-changing thing na you would receive recognition, bonuses, or whatsoever, but that distinct feeling of you won it finally for yourself, for your family, for everyone, for the whole alumni ng LSGH. Nakakataba ng puso and that’s the thing I would carry on for the rest of my life.”
Ultimately, that was a season to remember for Bienvenida, Cagulangan, Fornillos, Lao, and the rest of that team. There is no telling when LSGH can reclaim the NCAA crown. Still, finally getting the monkey off its back and doing so in that fashion will live long in the memory of those who witnessed it.