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NCAA Back-to-Back Champions

NCAA Back-to-Back Champions


Ching R. Rempillo, The New Builder

FINALLY, AFTER two weeks of heart-wrenching scenes, San Beda, the more favored team that ran the socks off of nearly everyone, got run out of the ULTRA arena on Wednesday by the more determined, gutsier, faster and yes, even better-conditioned King Cardinals of Mapua, a team that did everything the Red Lions did, but only better.

No, not now. Not yet anyway. The Mapua Cardinals are not about to yield their title. No, not yet. Not this time. 

Wait, why this sudden exuberance? First things, first. 

This writer nearly got sidetracked by his emotions. 

OK. Fine. So we’ll put the excitement aside for the moment and try to retrace the steps of that historic day of October 16, 1991. 

It was nearly 1:30 in the afternoon when we (this writer had his friends for company going to the ULTRA) arrived at the arena for the championship games. Still tired after a final examination, a grueling four-hour one that ended just an hour before the scheduled game time of the Juniors match, but who cares?  

Certainly not the 7,000 or so Mapuans who trooped to the games to once again give moral support to their Alma Mater’s quest for another championship title. 

This writer was able to muster enough self-control to get a grip of the growing tension which took hold of all the Mapuans who were now relegated to mere audience as the San Beda Red Cubs whooped-it up with the Juniors plum after a convincing 79-60 win over the Red Robins. 

I was so awed by the victory that I couldn’t help wishing the game was just an ordinary scrimmage for the boys. 

Foolish thought. A non-sequitur. 

The MIT Juniors lost to a better team. Indeed, the Red Robins were totally taken out of the game by the more experienced San Beda squad. Truth accepted.  

We got another important game to tackle. The Seniors watch. The game everybody was waiting for,  

“Oh My God!”, I thought as I set my eyes on the bleachers section which was filled to the rafters with the students literally hanging from the rooftop. 

The NCAA was never in this kind of excitement before, I guess. And as expected, the constant attempt to annoy each other was inevitably present among the sympathizers of the two teams. This will always be, as long as the NCAA exists. 

Mapua was not left behind as the battle switched from the court to the gallery seection where each school gave its signature yells. The crowd was highly spirited.  

Here come the defending titlists, wearing their familiar red and yellow-gold jerseys. Applause, whistles. They began their round robin. The other contenders to the crown followed suit amidst cheers from their supporters and the jeers from the Mapua galleryy, of course. What did you expect. 

Twenty minutes had gone by. The buzzer sounded. 

Cheers and hecklings of unimaginable proportions boomed as the starting five of both schools trooped to the center-court for the opening tip-off. 

What transpired was a minute of misbaskets and turnover by Mapua until Neri Ronquilo came out from nowhere to snatch the rebound and score the first deadloock (San Beda’s Emmanuel Victoria scored the first basket of the game). A lone free throw by Randy Alcantara, back-to-back baskets by Benito Cheng and a quick three pointer by Thaddy Ramos made it 10-8 for Mapua. But, the triumvirate of Emmanuel Victoria, Merwin Castelo, and Vincnent Largo sparked an 8-0 blast that saw them pulling six-point cluster by the Red Lions gave them their first half. Another six-point cluster by the Red Lions gave them their first double digit advantage which the sensational Winchester Lemen, however, cut down to nine with the first 3-pointer for the night, 13-22.  

Mapuans were beginning to suffer from anxiety attacks, San Beda was determined to salughter us. After a time-out was called by Coach Joel Banal, our boys tightened up their defenses and started to force the Red Lions into turnovers while banking on the superb outside shooting of Ramos, Lemen and skipper Gary Topacio to inch closer at the turn, 48-51. 

Whew! First half is over. 

The Cardinals, visibly tired, dashed to their locker room amidst the cheers from the Mapua gallery. 

As the cheerleaders were doing their thing on the court, the opposing gallery sections trudged on. Jeering and being jeered at in each turn. The heckling match dragged on. Tension gripped both benches as both teams exchanged scoring spurts in the duration of the second half. With time down, to the last two minutes and with San Beda holding on to a shaky three point lead after a short jumper by Castelo, Topacio went to the baseline but was founded by Castelo., his fifth sending MIT’s glamor boy to the stripe. Topacio cooly sank both free throws to make it 86-85 still for San Beda. The ensuing plays saw Victoria and veteran Cheng trading baskets twice to up the score to 90-89 and the time dwindling down to the last 16 seconds of play.  

Coming off the bench, Ramos took matters into his own hands in the next play, playing the time before launching a forced drive off Cornelio Manucat and Aristedes Alamarez. His attempt came off weak but Cheng outjumped Alamarez and Reynaldo Dionisio and used the glass to deliver the title winning basket that sent the huge crowd into uproar. 

The Mapua bench and gallery were delirious. 

Stunned by the crucial basket, Manucat hurled a pass to Dionisio which landed at the San Beda baseline almost at the same time the final buzzer sounded. 

The Mapua Cardinals were champions once again! Chants of “VIVA MAPUA” were heard. Victory ride. Tears. Choking emotions. 

We’re no. 1. Indeed we are. And nobody can take that claim away from us. No, not yet. Not this time. 

As Mapuans leave their seats in the coliseum, the aggression was left behind. What remained was the pride of being part of MIT’s history which will forever be etched in their minds. 

Watta great feeling! 

TO CELEBRATE, the Cardinals once more tasted the team’s managers’ deserved generosity. The team set foot on Hong Kong last Nov. 9 to 12 as its championship bonus. 

Meanwhile, the champions took on two exhibition matches against UAAP title winner FEU Tamaraws and PBA’s Alaska Milk Masters at the ULTRA last Nov. 16 at MIT Gymnasium last Nov. 28, respectively. The proceeds of the friendship games went to the victims of Mt. Pinatubo and to Ormoc. The victory ball was held after the exhibition match also at the Cardinals’ homenest. 

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