The Magnolia Hotshots were just seconds away from ending the San Miguel Beermen’s four-year reign in the PBA Philippine Cup.
After June Mar Fajardo surprisingly muffed both of his free throws with 4.8 seconds left to play in Game Seven of the Finals on Wednesday night, the Hotshots managed to secure the miss.
But the Beermen stepped it up on defense. They then trapped their counterparts, making it hard for the latter to set up a shot. The seconds faded, and the chance for Magnolia to win died as well.
“Medyo masakit,” admitted head coach Chito Victolero, whose Magnolia have not won a Philippine Cup title since 2014 – or since the San Mig Coffee era led by PJ Simon, Marc Pingris, and James Yap.
The Hotshots actually made many believe that they were on their way to dethroning the Beermen, when their spot-on defense helped them build a 17-point wall in the third quarter.
But San Miguel’s championship pedigree came into play after that. And eventually, they took the lead – for good – after Alex Cabagnot’s fadeaway with 57 ticks left.
Magnolia still had chances in the end despite that. But shots by both Ian Sangalang and Jio Jalalon – shots they usually make – did not hit the bottom of the net.
“We had opportunities to win the ballgame,” said Victolero.
“But you know, it’s the breaks of the game.”
Wednesday was truly heartbreaking for the Hotshots, as they still haven’t solved the SMB puzzle. But for Victolero, they still attained one of the goals they set prior to the Finals.
“When we started the series, it is our goal to go to Game Seven,” he said, as they were beaten in five games in last year’s All-Filipino Finals. “We managed to stay close and had a chance in the end.
“Wala namang naniniwala na makaka-abot kami sa Game Seven. Some of you are thinking that this is a sweep, 4-1, or maybe 4-2. But on our circle, kami naniniwala kami na we can do it.”
Moreover, Wednesday night’s loss could not negate what the reigning Coach of the Year awardee believes was a “magnificent” run by his Hotshots in this conference.
Magnolia started the tilt 1-3 before making their way back to the playoffs. They then had to play do-or-die games in both the quarterfinals and the semis just to book a return trip to the Finals.
“Medyo masakit but, you know, pagka-tinignan mo yung conference namin, it was magnificent,” said the third-year Hotshots chief tactician. “So there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
“Talagang binigay na sa amin lahat ng Panginoon yung gusto namin, and it boiled down to one possession.”
Victolero is sure that Magnolia will play games like this again. And should that happen, he wants to be part of those games with this particular group of Hotshots.
“I love my players. They gave everything in this game. I told them no matter what happened in this game, I still love them all. And also, ang sabi ko lang sa kanila, we need to stay together,” he said. “Because, there will be a lot of battles, there will be a lot of wars na ganito in the near future.
“I love to battle with them, I love to go to wars with these kind of players. I love the grit, the determination, the attitude of these players. Wala na ‘kong mahihiling,” added Victolero, himself a former pro.
“Basta gusto ko lang pagka ganitong sitwasyon, gusto ko sila kasama ko.”
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