With Ateneo’s ace pitcher Paulo Macasaet still out to serve for the National Team, the Ateneo pitching staff proved that the defending champions have depth in that position.
Starting pitcher Nacho Cojuangco and rookie closer Nacho Lozano anchored the defense of the Ateneo de Manila University Thursday afternoon that helped stave off the upset-minded University of Santo Tomas Golden Sox, 5-4, at the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium.
It was a defensive battle in the first three innings of the game with lefty UST pitcher Lesmar Ventura and Ateneo junior Nacho Cojuangco anchoring their teams fielding. The Blue Eagles almost went up on the board in the first inning. With a strikeout of the lead off batter, a walk of Marco Mallari and a double by King Eagle Dio Remollo gave Ateneo prime scoring position. However, the UST sophomore was able to strikeout the next two batters to strand both runners.
The UST defense also contributed to the Blue Eagles early struggles. After Chong Ramos was hit by a pitch to give him base at the bottom of the second inning, Ryon Tionloc was grounded out on first base while a quick throw to second ousted Ramos for a double play.
On the other end, the Golden Sox were able to punch in a run in the second inning. First batter Christian Mercado was able to gain base after a base hit. After two outs, his cousin Max Mercado was able to gain base due to balls. A costly error by Ateneo center fielder Marco Mallari gave Christian Mercado a run to put UST up 1-0.
A thunderous fourth inning gave the defending champions the lead in the fourth inning. First batter Kai Furusawa was walked while Ramos was able to connect with a base hit. A passed ball paved the way for a Furusawa run to tie the game. After another base hit courtesy of Tionloc, Filipino-American rookie Marquis Alindogan connected with a huge two-out single to center left field that led to runs for Ramos and Tionloc.
Fatigue set in for Cojuangco at the top of the fifth inning. After an outstanding first four innings, Cojuangco gave up two hits in the inning. Errors by the Blue Eagles compounded the problem as well. Max Mercado, after connecting on his second of three hits in the game, was brought home after a catching error. An RBI single by Jhayrome Kimilat gave Arcel Aligno a run while a passed ball led to a run for lead-off batter Julius Ruiz to cap the rally and give UST the lead 4-3 entering to bottom end of the inning.
The defending champions were able to gain the run back and one more in the fifth inning. First batter Marco Mallari connected on a single while Remollo was able to bring his rookie home after a double. Furusawa’s single on the next at-bat led the King Eagle back home to gain the lead once more five runs to four.
A fresh Nacho Lozano entered the game for the Blue Eagles in the sixth inning. “Coach just told me to stay ready and do what you do,” Lozano shared about what program director Randy Dizer told him before entering the game.
Lozano only allowed a single successful hit for the Golden Sox that frustrated the UST clubhouse. “Kakaiba yung slider niya,” said one of the UST players. Moreover, during the final inning, Lozano struckout all three final batters for the Golden Sox for the 1-2-3 and the win for the Blue Eagles.
“It’s giving us opportunities. It’s showing that we have a deeper pitching staff than what many people think,” Lozano said about the playing time he, Cojuangco, and the team’s other pitchers are receiving. “Paulo’s very important to our team but I think we can still show that we are better than what people think.”
Dio Remollo played his best offensive outing so far in going 3 of 4. He had a single and two doubles for the game and was able to assist on the run. In addition, Alindogan continued his stellar play with a 2 of 4 outing. He connected two singles and had 2 RBI’s.
“It’s a great experience. Hopefully, there’s more to come. It’s just the start of the season and hopefully we continue to play well and win more games,” Lozano closed about the next string of games Ateneo has.
The Ateneo Blue Eagles have the UP Fighting Maroons (0-3) as their next assignment on Sunday, February 14 while the UST Golden Sox look to break out of their two-game skid against the DLSU Green Batters (1-2) early in the day.