There will be no title defense in the NCAA Season 98 Juniors Basketball Tournament.
Third-seed La Salle Green Hills disarmed defending champion San Beda-Rizal last Monday before putting the finishing kick three days later with a pulsating 89-85 victory in their do-or-die encounter and advancing to the best-of-three Finals at San Andres Sports Complex.
This is the Greenies’ first finals appearance since 2018. Back then, LSGH was led by JD Cagulangan.
LSGH will now face top-seeded Colegio de San Juan de Letran on Monday at the same venue.
“It’s always big going to the finals but it’s not yet done. Gusto natin manalo tayo sa championship. Malaking bagay, it’s a big honor for us, but it’s not yet done,” said first-year Greenies head coach Renren Ritualo as his team has a chance to avenge the finals loss of their big brothers in St. Benilde against the very same school.
But unlike their 92-79 win in Game 1, this game was not for the faint of heart as no team budged until the dying seconds of the contest.
Entering the final two minutes of the ball game, Jharmaine Lecciones and Seven Gagate exchanged baskets, giving the Greenies a 79-78 advantage.
Nicko Lorenzo answered back with a booming triple giving San Beda the lead for a while before Pablo’s four-point swing of his own coming from an and-one play and a putback coming from his missed free throw, to gain an 84-82 lead with 50 ticks left.
However, Lecciones was not done as he scored a layup over the outstretched arms of Seven Gagate, for the third deadlock of the intense payoff period with 84-all. Christian Mesias though knocked down the biggest shot of the game with a triple to get the three-point 87-84, advantage with 25 seconds remaining.
Coming off a Red Cubs’ timeout, Chris Hubilla was fouled but split his free throws, 85-87.
A crucial turnover from James Ison left the door open for San Beda. But the possession turned as Ison atoned for his error, scrambling for a loose ball and fishing for a foul.
The heady guard, who had been filling in the shoes of injured Joshua Coronel all season long, nailed both his free throws to ice the game.
“Well, I really appreciate their game [Ison and Mesias]. They gave their all. Kahit anong mangyari hindi sila bumitaw. I really appreciate that,” said Ritualo, himself a La Salle legend and a product of the Red Cubs program.
Luis Pablo delivered a monster double-double with 25 points on 10-for-18 shooting, 19 rebounds, and two blocks. His fellow tower Seven Gagate added 20 markers and nine boards.
Rod Alian had a well-rounded 11 markers, eight boards, and six dimes, while James Ison and Santo Romero both finished with 12 with the former having six rebounds and five assists, and two steals, while the latter added two boards, two dimes, and a swipe.
“I give it all to my players. They really performed. They really dug deep. Kung ano yung pinaghuhugutan nila dito is really deep. So I give it all to them. So talagang they made an effort dun sa ginawa namin,” expressed Ritualo.
In his final high school game, Hubilla gave his all, dropping a season-high 37 points with 14 rebounds and two steals.
Lecciones added 11 markers, eight boards, and three dimes while John Lopez and Nicko Lorenzo had 13 and 10 points, respectively.
LSGH (89) — Pablo 25, Gagate 20, Ison 12, Romero 12, Alian 11, Mesias 5, Gomez 3, Rivero 1, Zaragosa 0.
San Beda (85) — Hubilla 37, Lopez 13, Lecciones 11, Lorenzo 10, Ludovice 8, Dungo 2, Mundas 2, Ronquillo 2, Lacsamana 0, Reyes 0, Wagan 0.
Quarterscores: 22-19, 46-41, 63-62, 89-85