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It’s now or never for Ayo, Racal

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BY: Joaqui Flores and Matthew Li

In a highly physical, adrenaline-inducing, and fast-paced championship duel last Friday at the Mall of Asia Arena, the gritty Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights again pulled off a massive stunner to come within a win of dethroning the defending five-time champions, the San Beda Red Lions, with a 94-90 win.

“We’re expecting this kind of game [and] knowing it will be a tough game,” Letran head coach Aldin Ayo told reporters after the game. “We know it will be a dog fight and sa amin naman, sabi ko sa mga players, we just have to be tough and we just have to grab this opportunity because not all players, not all coaches are given this kind of opportunity.”

As members of one of the toughest and hard-fighting teams in the NCAA, many of the Knights showcased great all-around games. Kevin Racal dropped a game-high 28 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals, while Mark Cruz chipped in 17 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 steals. In addition, Rey Nambatac followed up with 18 points, 5 rebounds and 4 steals while Mcjour Luib had 16 points and 5 assists.

Beyond the statistics, it was obvious Letran wanted the game more than the opposition during the Finals opener. They would dive relentlessly for 50-50 balls, run at every opportunity, and defend their opponents as if their lives depended on it.

After all, the players, fans, and supporters of Letran had had enough heartbreaks by the Red Lions in the past few years, and they are hungry to bring back the title to Intramuros. They had their chances; they fought valiantly against San Beda during the 2012 and 2013 NCAA Basketball Championships, but they came up short in both attempts.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times It’s now or never for Ayo, Racal News    Now, another opportunity to remove the stings from the past, and deny San Beda’s pursuit of a sixth straight title, will prove an immense source of motivation and competitive fire. Surely they cannot afford to pass this up.

“Siguro, even Mark, K-Racs, Mcjour and the rest of the guys [and] ‘yung mga beterano, they have suffered enough [against San Beda],” Ayo commented. “Even kami naman, noong nasa Sorsogon ako pinapanood ko pa sila doon sa natalo nilang series, well lahat ng Letranista were heartbroken and we don’t want to feel that again.”

Senior Kevin Racal can attest to this in saying that the team’s effort on defense is what makes this batch of Letran different from the past. “Effort talaga namin sa defense yung nagiba,” he commented. “Sa practice kasi wala na kaming gustong ibang isipin kung hindi kung ano ang kelangan gawin.”

Beating the Red Lions will always be a tall order for any team, especially during the championship round. For the past years, many have tried; only the 2009 San Sebastian Golden Stags, led by Jimbo Aquino, have succeeded in doing so.

However, as they have proven all season long, Letran love defying the odds and they’ve never backed down from even the toughest of challenges. They don’t mind if they’re undermanned or undersized, they just rise to the challenge and play 40 minutes of hardnosed basketball.

But come Game Two, they know that San Beda will make adjustments, and Ayo expects that they won’t go down without a fight.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times It’s now or never for Ayo, Racal News    Furthermore, the rookie coach also believes San Beda’s seniors Art Dela Cruz and Baser Amer will bounce back from their subpar performances during the opening game of the series. Dela Cruz only managed to put up 7 points and 5 rebounds in 24 minutes of action, while Amer only had 8 points but dished out 10 assists.

“Of course, they [San Beda] are going to adjust because they lost this game. Iyon din ang ginawa namin noong natalo kami noong playoff and noong second round: nag-adjust din kami,” Ayo added. “We’re going to expect that they’re going to come up big in Game Two. Alam natin na babawi ang dalawang iyon [Dela Cruz and Amer] so we’re going to prepare for them.”

Game Two will surely promise to be another classic. Will Ayo and the Knights finally exorcise their demons against San Beda to end a 10-year title drought? Or will Jamike Jarin and the Red Lions even the series and force a sudden-death Game Three? The fans must until this Tuesday to find out.

“We’re going to do our best. We’re going to do our very best para hindi mangyari ulit iyon,” Ayo declared.

For K-Racs though, the team should have a now-or-never mentality for Game Two. “Siyempre kelangan mag go-hard! Sabi nga ni coach, mawawala lahat ng pinaghirapan namin pag natalo kami sa Game Two.”

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