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NCAA 98: Manalili, Letran escape Mapua, end Squires’ 14-year finals drought

By: Rom Anzures

Top seed Colegio de San Juan de Letran ended its 14-year Finals drought after escaping fourth-ranked Mapua University, 83-78, in the Final Four of the NCAA Season 98 Juniors’ Basketball on Monday at the San Andres Complex in Manila.

This is the first final appearance for the Intramuros-based squad since Season 85 featuring the likes of Oda Tampus, Glenn Khobuntin, and Archie Inigo.

“Ang sabi ko nga sa kanila, the last championship ng Letran is 2001 with JC Intal, JR Reyes, RJ Jazul. So it’s about time to make another history, kasi nandyan na e, may piyesa na tayo,” said first-year Squires head coach Allen Ricardo.

But the Squires needed to escape a gutsy Red Robins squad who fought back from a double-digit deficit and shook the Squires to their core.

Up 62-48, after a pair of free throw makes by Jonathan Manalili with 57 seconds left in the third, Mapua made a fourth quarter push that cut the Squires’ lead to three, 79-76, highlighted by a four-point play by Sean Salvador.

Manalili then went to the foul line and converted two huge free throws to extend the Squires’ lead to five, 81-76, in the final 28.2 seconds of the matchup.

And even with the Red Robins cutting the lead to three, 78-81, with 24.1 left in the game, Manalili still went all out, going for a huge dive to secure the ball for Letran that led to a pair of Andy Gemao free throws that iced the game.

Manalili steered the Squires with 12 points, six rebounds, six assists, and two steals, while Gemao delivered 14 points, seven rebounds, two blocks, and a steal.

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George Diamante also put up 10 markers, 14 boards, and five dimes, and Jovel Baliling finished with 11 points, a rebound, and an assist. Justine Hugo also posted a solid 10-point, nine-rebound, and a two-block line.

In his final juniors game, Nygel Gonzales scored a career-high 21 points for Mapua, alongside three rebounds and three assists.

Noel Agemenyi contributed 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and Lance Masiglat put up six points and 10 boards, while Salvador, Joaquin Coronel, and Carl Rodriquez scored eight points each for the Red Robins.

The Squires are set to face the winner of the San Beda-La Salle Green Hills matchup either on Thursday or Monday, at the same Manila venue.

The Scores:

Letran (83) — Gemao 14, Manalili 12, Baliling 11, Diamante 10, Hugo 10, Anabo 8, Silorio 8, Navarro 4, Alforque 2, Cruz 2, Padilla 2.

Mapua (78) — Gonzales 21, Agemenyi 10, Coronel 8, Salvador 8, Rodriguez 8, Masiglat 6, Dayrit 6, Valiña 4, Morenos 3, Go 2, Mulingtapang 2, Manuel 0, Santos 0.

Quarterscores: 17-19, 41-38, 62-50, 83-78

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