After suffering a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of UE in the first round, Justine Baltazar made sure that the De La Salle University Green Archers wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
And even a fever wouldn’t stop him from claiming revenge on the Red Warriors.
“Kailangan kong maglaro tsaka kailangan naming bumawi sa UE,” said Baltazar, after La Salle’s 66-59 victory over UE on Wednesday.
“Ayoko nang maulit ‘yun kasi masakit samin ‘yon.”
During their first face-off last September 14, Rey Suerte snatched the victory from La Salle’s grasp, falling 88-89.
This time around, Baltazar and the Green Archers didn’t give UE that chance.
With La Salle down by two points in the fourth quarter, Baltazar unloaded eight points in a 10-3 run. He gave the Taft-based squad a five-point cushion with 3:50 ticks left in the clock.
UE was still able to trim the deficit to two points multiple times in the following sequences thanks to Suerte and Alex Diakhite. But Jamie Malonzo and Encho Serrano took turns to quell the Red Warriors’ comeback attempt.
Baltazar then iced the game after hitting two free throws with 14 seconds to spare.
“Oo, okay na kasi wala kaming big man eh. Ang dami naming mga injury, andaming may sakit, kaya kailangan ko ring maglaro,” said the pride of Mabalacat, Pampanga, who played 37 minutes in the game — including the entire final frame.
“Sabi ni coach wala nang papalit sa akin. Dikit lang ‘yung score eh kaya kailangan kong magtrabaho.”
And no one was happier than the win other than La Salle head coach Gian Nazario, who witnessed the Green Archers’ struggles in the past 48 hours.
Heading into the game, Nazario only had six healthy bodies. Andrei Caracut, Aljun Melecio, Jordan Bartlett, Malonzo, Joaqui Manuel, and Baltazar were all nursing flu-like symptoms.
In addition to their woes, Kurt Lojera — together with Tyrus Hill and James Laput — are still sidelined due to injuries.
“We weren’t really sure what kind of team we were gonna bring today. Hindi kami sigurado if they’re gonna be able to push through,” said Nazario.
“We’re happy na we were able to pull this one out, [since] we really needed this one. We really needed this one.”