In a game that lasted five hours and 13 minutes and featured high drama, great action, and tremendous resolve, the National University Bulldogs upended pre-season favorites, the De La Salle University Green Batters, in the 10th inning, 8-7, in the second game of opening day at the historic Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium.
The Bulldogs got off to a quick start, with rookie Jerome Tenorio grounding a single that brought in runners Alfredo de Guzman and Junmar Diarao at the top of the second inning for an early 2-0 lead. However, a bench-clearing rumble almost broke out during that half of the inning. Fifth year player Aprix Santos was trying to gain National U’s third run for the inning. The La Salle defense, though, continued to find the play and made a timely throw to pitcher Paul Naguit for a hard tag out to the abdomen of a sliding Santos. Tempers flared when the Bulldog confronted the third year catcher, resulting in a closed fist thrown by Naguit and Santos. In addition, both squad’s clubhouses went to the field, with some trying to stop the confrontation from escalating even further.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and both teams were called on to the field prior to the top of the third inning to shake it off. Santos and Naguit were assessed with warnings, while the league is still reviewing the incident as of publishing.
“Dahil sa alitan na ‘yun medyo na-agitate kami kaya nawala kami sa game,” Bulldog team captain Clarence Caasalan said about the incident.
Last season’s rookie of the year Boo Barandiaran and the La Salle fielders picked off NU’s batters in the next two innings. Moreover, the potent offense of the Green Batters led to five runs during that span.
With the bases loaded for the Green-and-White, Barandiaran was walked that resulted in Paolo Salud returning home to put La Salle up on the board. Then in the fourth inning, La Salle’s first batter for the inning, Naguit, was able to connect on a single, while next batter Andre Palacios walked due to balls. The NU fielders were able able to knock off the next two batters by two consecutive walks. Diego Lozano and Kiko Gesmundo loaded the bases and gave La Salle their second run of the game. Team captain Carlos Munoz then popped a double to bring home Palacios and Lozano to put La Salle up 5-2. NU Coach Saki Bacasiras then placed Caasalan on the mound to close out the inning.
“Laban lang tapos wag kami sumuko. Yung mga natutunan namin kay coach Saki (Bacasiras) dapat naming ilabas,” Caasalan reflected about the monstrous 4th inning of La Salle.
Bulldog Rookie John Presores was able to take advantage of two La Salle errors at the top of the fifth inning, but was answered right back with two runs by Palacios and Francisco Hashimoto at the bottom end of the inning to give La Salle a 7-3 lead going into the sixth inning.
After a sixth inning that almost saw the Jhocson Street batters gain a run, Barandian was subbed out for Lozano for pitching duties at the top of the 7th. The La Sallian rookie had success during the 7th but gave way in the momentum-altering 8th inning.
Clean-up batter Kenneth Ybanez was walked due to balls to open the inning, and a single by Caasalan gave the Bulldogs a good start to the inning. A fielding error by La Salle with slugger Robin Libid at bat led to a run for Ybanez to cut the La Salle lead to just three runs. A passed ball then loaded the bases for National University with no outs.
After a strike out of Diarao, Aprix Santos popped a huge grounder that paved the way for a Caasalan run. However, a controversial call was made as the sideline official deemed that even as La Salle second baseman Joshua Salinas had committed an error, he was able to make a timely throw to first baseman Lozano for a Santos ouster. In a stunning turn of events after that play, Salinas again committed a fielding error with Jerome Tenorio at bat, leading to runs for Libid and De Guzman to tie the game at 7-all going into a ninth inning that stunned the La Sallians in attendance.
One of the most dangerous closers in the UAAP, Carlos Munoz, then stepped on the mound to close out for the Green Batters at the top of the ninth inning. The King Archer was able to strike out the first two NU batters with ease but an error led to Libid gaining base. A single by De Guzman and a walk of Diarao loaded the bases for Bulldogs. Munoz, though, did not falter as he calmly struck out Santos for third out.
Diarao, who was replaced as pitcher in the early-goings of the game, returned to the mound to try to extend the game into an extra inning by the NU bullpen. “Binigyan ako ni coach ng pagkakataon para makabawi. Siyempre nanghina ako ng sinabi ni coach sa akin (before the 9th inning) na ako ang inaasahan niyang pitcher,” Diarao said.
“So naisip ko na, ako pala yung magcloclose na pitcher at kelangan kong bumalik. Sinabi ko kay coach ‘kaya ko ‘to, ako na maghohold.’”
The Laguna-native went up against the top of the La Salle batting order. With one out and Lozano and Munoz gaining base due to walks, rookies Ignacio Escano and Arvin Herrera were tasked to break the deadlock. Diarao was able to strikeout both batters to extend the game into an extra inning.
“Nung high school pa lang at nung Palarong Pambansa pa lang nakakalaban ko na sila. Mas pabor sa akin na pinalitan kasi hindi pa nila memorize yung bola ko,” the third year Bulldog said about the two strikeouts. “Nung nakita ko sila sabi ko ‘ayos ‘to.’ Kinurba ko ng kinurba kasi kahit tumama naman sila, diyan lang sa malapit kesa naman i-fast ball ko baka masunog pa kami.”
Tenorio opened the extra inning with a single, but next batter Cyrus Malit was struck out for first out, while the former was tagged out for two outs. Third batter and rookie Floro Malit was walked while a passed ball gave him second base. With nothing to lose, Kenneth Ibanez converted on his second excellent hit of the game that led to a Malit run and give the Bulldogs the lead, 8-7. A flyout at 1st base of Caasalan close out the top end of the 10th.
Diarao was able to strikeout Bilbao, while Palcios was grounded out for two outs. In a bizarre event, Hashimoto was able to knock off the ball right into the second base. However, third baseman Caasalan ran from the third base to second base to try and catch the ball, resulting in confusion from the NU fielder and a failed close out. It was meant to be for the Bulldogs, as Salud was grounded out at first base for third out and the shocking NU upset.
“Ang mindset ko lang relax lang, hanggang hindi pa tapos yung inning hindi pa tapos yung laro,” Diarao said after the game. In the six innings he pitched, he was able to strike out five batters and was able to recover from the five runs he gave up in the opening innings by giving up no hits in the final two innings.
The rookies also stepped up for National University. 17-year-old Jerome Tenorio played excellently at both ends with 2 RBI’s, a single, and three putouts on the other end. 16-year-old Floro Malit was also the one who secured the game-winning run for National University.
“Napasunod namin yung mga bago namin. 14 rookie namin, kaming mga senior nag-deliver kami pero sila nag-step up talaga para sa amin,” Diarao said about the eventful debut of their rookies.
The National University Bulldogs (1-0) have a tough task for their next outing, as they face the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles (1-0) in the first game of the day on Sunday, February 7. The DLSU Green Batters (0-1) will look to bounce back later in the day as they face the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons (0-1).