By: Jerome Lagunzad
La Salle-Greenhills completed its rise to the top of the NCAA juniors basketball tournament by dethroning favored Mapua, 75-74, yesterday in their winner-take-all match at the packed The Arena in San Juan City.
Heady guard Joel Cagulangan made a pair of pressure-packed freebies that put them ahead for good with 37.3 ticks to play then the Greenies made a pair of big defensive stops down the stretch to foil the Red Robins’ back-to-back bid.
More importantly, La Salle-Greenhills achieved what seemed to be an elusive crown since making its return to the country’s oldest collegiate league in 1998.
The Greenies did it in the most impressive fashion. They first defeated host San Sebastian in a playoff match for the fourth and final semifinals spot then overhauled top-seeded San Beda College’s twice-to-beat edge in their Final Four series.
“After the buzzer sounded, it seemed like I was in a dream until everyone was hugging me and kakaiba,” said La Salle-Greenhills coach Marvin Bienvenida. “You cannot describe this in any words, just thankful that we’re part of this.”
The 5-foot-8 Cagulangan dished out an all-around performance anew with 19 points on top of nine rebounds, seven assists and four steals on the way to bagging the Finals MVP honors.
Chiefly backing him up was Joshua David who exploded for a game-high 27 points and also put the clamps down on Mapua star Clint Escamis in the crunch that turned out to be a decisive play for La Salle-Greenhills.
The Red Robins squandered an 14-point advantage in the third canto but still had a chance to win it all, only to see Mike Enriquez’s last-gasp three-point attempt bounce off the rim just as time expired.
Escamis finished with a team-high 21 points while graduating big man Warren Bonifacio hauled down 20 rebounds and reigning league MVP Will Gozum added 12 points but the Red Robins still ran out of steam in the stretch.
LSGH 75 — David 27, Cagulangan 19, Lao 8, Fornillos 6, Marcos 5, Lepasam 4, Mosqueda 3, Perez 3, Morales 0, Pedrosa 0, Sangco 0.
Mapua 74 — Escamis 21, Lacap 13, Gozum 12, Bonifacio 10, Enriquez 8, Ramos 6, Garcia 4, Arches 0, Dennison 0, Jabel 0, Sarias 0.
Quarters: 15-19, 32-44, 53-56, 75-74.