Not even a face mask could conceal how Ian Sangalang was overcome with emotions moments after he and Magnolia dispatched Meralco on their way to booking the first flight to the 2021 Honda PBA Philippine Cup Finals.
“Sobrang sarap lang na makabalik ulit sa Finals,” said the 6-foot-7 slotman moments after the Hotshots’ 93-85 Semis Game Six win at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga Friday evening.
The 29-year-old couldn’t be at fault for feeling relieved. It was no easy task for the perennial contenders to close out the series, for they had to overcome a 0-11 deficit at the start before putting them away in the final minutes.
“Nakita niyo naman kung gaano kahirap mag-close ng series, especially ‘tong game na to. Sobrang hirap,” said Sangalang, who finished with 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting, 14 rebounds, six assists, three blocks, and two steals.
“Pumunta kami sa game na ‘to, at ginawa lang namin talaga kung ano ‘yung dapat naming gawan para ma-close ‘yung series na ‘to.”
It wasn’t solely the game per se that made the Kapampangan cager feel that way, though. Turning sentimental, Sangalang recalled the hardships he and Magnolia had gone through to get to where they are now.
On top of which, of course, is not having their loved ones around them to better cope with setbacks, as they are away from their families for yet another conference due to the circumstances brought about by the pandemic.
“Kasi grabe ‘yung pinagdaraanan namin dito e,” he said. “Away kami from our families, hindi namin kasama mga pamilya namin ‘pag natatalo kami.
“Parang sobrang sakit sa’min kasi hindi namin nakakausap yung family namin.”
Then, of course, there’s also the bitter memories of the Clark bubble, where the Hotshots bombed out of the quarterfinals after losing to Phoenix.
Thus, the comfort felt by Sangalang as he and the crew emerged triumphant despite all of that, leading to their third all-Filipino finals trip in four seasons.
“Itong bubble na ‘to pinaghandaan namin — alam namin kung paano mananalo na kasi naranasan na namin last conference,” he said.
“Sobrang sarap lang talaga makapasok sa Finals kasi ilang taon na rin kaming wala rito sa Finals e, pero binigay ni Lord ngayon na makarating kami ulit,” he added.
“Gagawin talaga namin yung best namin para makuha namin ‘to.”