Ever since his high school days, Mark Cruz has been a true-blue Letranite.
Ask any Letran Knight or Squire about what game they always look forward to in the elimination round and it’s a safe bet that they will answer the San Beda Red Lions or Cubs game.
Last Tuesday though was not any other Letran-San Beda tilt. The stakes were high for this elimination round rivalry game as a win gifts the victor a twice-to-beat advantage while a loss can send them to the stepladder. In Ola Adeogun’s words, it’s like “choosing between heaven or hell.”
In their first round outing, pint-sized guard Mark Cruz was all over the court in tallying 16 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists in a 93-80 win for the then-leading Letran Knights.
Three months later, the Knights were sent to a 77-73 loss. A huge 43-25 lead for the Red Lions in the first half largely factored in the loss. Moreover, the Knights struggled from the field (35%) and the charity stripe (44%) in the game.
The Knights were able to cut the lead to just five points, 77-72, with 1:04 remaining. In the ensuing plays, the Knights’ pressing defense resulted to stops. However, missed free throws and desperation heaves by Cruz doomed Letran.
The “Ant Man” was distraught after the game and had to be consoled by teammates and officials. He finished the game with 12 points on a dismal 5/23 shooting, 2/13 from downtown.
“Galit ako sa sarili ko. I felt like wala ako naitulong sa team ko. So yun sobrang frustrated,” an exhausted Cruz said after the game. However, being the team leader, he had to keep a straight face in the locker room to bring the sad morale of the team up a little. “Siyempre, medyo malungkot pero nandun naman ako at ang coaching staff para i-cheer up yung team. Kahit ako yung pinaka nafrufrustrate sa amin but as the team captain it’s my responsibility to cheer up sila.”
In their last three losses and even during their last win, the Knights struggled with slow-starts. The team needed a huge fourth quarter surge to hijack the game against the Arellano Chiefs last September 26. For Cruz, the team’s shooting woes is the reason for the early deficits they have been facing. “Lagi talaga namin ni-reremind yung first group ng strong pero unfortunately talaga off yung outside shooting namin. Yun nangyari na and move-on to the next game.”
The leader of the Knights’ round table, even in this hard times, still preaches that the team needs to continue to stick together and follow Coach Aldin Ayo’s game plan for their final assignment, the Perpetual Altas. “We have to stay together. Kami lang naman magtutulungan sa loob, we just have to stick together. Manalo man o matalo,” he said. He then added that, “kelangan mag stick to the plan, sa gameplan ni coach. Kung ano lang gusto pagawa ni coach.”
“Bounce back na lang talaga sa next game.”