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Rookies lead Ateneo once more, stave off NU comeback

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For the second game, Ateneo’s young guns shone once again.

The defending UAAP Baseball champions, the Ateneo de Manila University, staged a huge ninth inning rally to stop a National University Bulldogs hijack, 8-4, to stay atop the standings Sunday morning at the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium.

Opening day hero Junmar Diarao started again at the mound for the Jhocson Street batters. However, the Ateneo batters got off to a blistering start. Lead-off batter Radito Banzon immediately connected with a single and was brought home by a single from Filipino-Japanese rookie Kai Furusawa for a 1-0 lead. King Eagle Dio Romollo added another run for the Blue side coming from a single by Gino Tantuico.

In the third inning, the Blue Eagles were able to pick up another run courtesy of Remollo. With two outs, the Ateneo senior was able to steal second base to gain prime real estate. Gino Tantuico was able to bring home his captain with a single to center field to extend the Ateneo lead to 2-0.

Another rookie, former Blue Eaglet Marco Mallari, also made his mark in the game. Ateneo’s first batter at the top of the 5th inning was able knock out a home run that was at least 320 feet to give the defending champions another run. Two more runs were punched in by the Blue Eagles during the 6th inning, coming from Ryon Tionloc and Javi Macasaet. The 5-0 Ateneo lead also forced the National University bullpen to retire Diarao for John Rey Presores at the mound.

During that span, Ateneo junior Miguel Dumlao only gave up two hits, both singles. Moreover, only one runner was able to reach second base during that span.

However, just like in their game against the De La Salle University Green Batters, the Bulldogs dug deep in the late innings, more specifically the 7th while Dumlao caved in to fatigue as well. First Kenneth Ybanez batter connected with a single while slugger Robin Libid was walked and a single by Aprix Santos loaded the bases.

With the bases loaded, a single by Alfredo de Guzman brought home NU’s first two runners. A wild pitch by Dumlao then gave the Bulldogs another run to cut the deficit. With the ouster of the next batter due to a flyout, a sarifice fly to center field by Clarence Caasalan brought home De Guzman to stay just one run shy off Ateneo, 5-4.

“Ang tingin ko my team was tested, yung composure nila. How will they be able to hold without Paulo in the lineup? Ginamit namin si Dumlao. He was telling me, ‘coach kaya pa, kaya pa,'” Ateneo baseball program director Randy Dizer said. “Siya din mismo nagsabi na he’s done during the 7th inning.” Rookie Nacho Lozano, from La Salle Greenhills, closed the game for the Blue Eagles.

With a hungry NU squad trying to stage a huge comeback, the high-octane Ateneo offense delivered once again. Back-to-back doubles by Marquis Alindogan and Rapho Balagtas paved the way for an Alindogan run to start-off the inning. To try to stop the Ateneo rally, Diarao returned to the game to close out for the Bulldogs. However a costly error at left field plagued the Jhocson Street batters that gave Ateneo the corners.

With the defense knocking off the next two batters, rookie Gino Tantuico knocked off a double to center-right to bring home the two runners on base to cap a three-run inning. Lozano and the Ateneo fielders closed out the game by only giving up a single in the bottom half of the ninth inning.

“As I told you last time, the offense will carry us,” Dizer said after the game. “The most important thing talaga is I know my team could hit. Look at how the rookies delivered again.”

Moreover, the multi-time UAAP champion coach praised the pitchers that stepped up in the absence of Paulo Macasaet. “Nacho Lozano was there but he had heart. He closed the game well. Then, Nacho Cojuangco was ready on the pen and he knows he’s going to start the next game.”

Rookie Marquis Alindogan again had a solid outing going 2/3, a single and a double with a run. In addition, former Zobel standout was just 2/5 but was able to bring home three runners.

The Blue Eagles (2-0) will next face the UST Golden Sox (1-1) on Thursday, February 11 in the last game of the day while the National University Bulldogs (1-1) look to bounce back against the UP Fighting Maroons (0-2) in the second game.

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