Four years ago, a fabled Letran squad ended San Beda’s bid for a five-peat.
Four years later, a new batch of Knights will forever be immortalized in the school’s lore.
Behind senior Jerrick Balanza, and in front of 19,876 fans, Letran ended San Beda’s four-peat bid, earning an 81-79 triumph in Game Three of the NCAA Season 95 Seniors Basketball Finals, Tuesday at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
This is Letran 18th overall championship in the Grand Old League’s collegiate basketball tourney — their second in four years.
“We had a lot of trials we had to endure,” said first-year Knights head coach Bonnie Tan, as his squad needed to go through the entire stepladder before becoming the only team to dash San Beda’s pristine record this season.
Leading by as much as 11 points, 67-56, Letran saw its lead dwindle down to a frightening one-point margin, 70-71, with 4:52 left.
But Balanza refused to let his team collapse, knocking down two crucial free throws to stop the bleeding. Fellow Knight Ato Ular also stepped up, following his captain’s shot with a three-point play of his own.
The endgame, though, was as frenetic as it could get.
Evan Nelle and Fran Yu exchanged big baskets, with the former knocking down a long three to cut the lead down to just two, 79-81, with 11.5 seconds left.
The intensity of the game got to Bonbon Batiller and Yu, with both suffering cramps with just seconds left. Moreover, San Beda forced the latter to a jumpball with 5.4 ticks remaining, giving the Red Lions one last shot at glory.
However, Nelle’s three attempt was blocked, while Donald Tankoua could not recover. Amid falling confetti, the Knights reclaimed their throne after four long years.
“San Beda, 18-0 defending champions. Alam natin mahirap but again, walang imposible,” said Tan.
Balanza, together with fellow graduating Knight Bonbon Batiller, led Letran.
Balanza had 27 points built on five triples to go along with seven rebounds and three assists. Meanwhile, Batiller added 19 markers, five boards, three dimes, and two steals.
Christian Balagasay also donned Letran’s colors for the last time.
Tankoua paced San Beda with 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting with seven rebounds. Season MVP Calvin Oftana added 18 points and eight rebounds. The duo of Nelle and James Canlas had 11 markers each, but shot just a combined 7-of-29 from the field.
AC Soberano, Clint Doliguez, Donald Tankoua, and Arnaud Noah played their final game for San Beda.
CSJL 81 — Balanza 27, Batiller 19, Ular 9, Yu 8, Muyang 6, Mina 6,Caralipio 4, Ambohot 2, Balagasay 0, Olivario 0, Javillonar 0, Sangalang 0.
SBU 79 — Tankoua 22, Oftana 18, Canlas 11, Nelle 11, Doliguez 11, Carino 3, Soberano 3, Bahio 0, Abuda 0, Visser 0.
Quarterscores: 26-24, 44-38, 69-59, 81-79.