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Cards put away the Blazers to secure a spot in the NCAA 99 finals

Article by: Albert L. Dela Cruz
Graphics by: Ma. Alyssa Therese S. Manalang
Photo by: Blaise Paulhene O. Rellata

After completing their semis mission, the Mapúa Cardinals are now headed to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Season 99 Senior Men’s Basketball finals after blowing away the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (CSB) Blazers, 78-67, last November 28, at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The red and gold squad had a sluggish start as the CSB Blazers torched ahead with a nine-to-zero run in the first four minutes of regulation. Rookie JC Recto, however, pulled the trigger with a three-pointer to score their first board. Entering the second period, Clutch King Paolo Hernandez proved that he performs best under pressure, throwing in another trey to give his team the lead and showcasing his laser-sharp shooting. He fired in from all areas of the court to chip in 11 points in the second quarter alone, keeping the Cards alive in the ball game. While the Cards’ furious rally kept their opponents close, the home team remained at a disadvantage going into the second half, 34-37.

In the third inning, NCAA prodigy Clint Escamis displayed his skills again, living up to his title as one of the best players of the season, splashing two baskets from beyond the arc at the end of the quarter to secure a 56-55 lead heading into crunch time.

The tight ball game kept everyone on the edge of their seats, with the two teams exchanging bucket after bucket with the lead seemingly changing sides every minute. But Clutch Hernandez, true to his moniker, led the Cardinals’ charge during the final minutes as he splashed a crucial three-pointer before stealing the ball that led to a fast-break opportunity for gritty Center Jopet Soriano, who took advantage to cash in an easy two-pointer.

Hernandez secured the Player of the Game honors with a stellar performance, raking in 22 points, three rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Hot on his heels is MVP frontrunner Clint Escamis, contributing 21 points, while Cuenco and Team Captain Warren Bonifacio added to the offensive firepower with 10 and nine points, respectively.

Advancing to the finals is no easy feat, but what makes the Cardinals’ NCAA Season 99 performance much more impressive is that they defied all expectations. Missing out on last season’s playoffs, the red and gold team was counted out by all NCAA analysts in their Final Four predictions. The Cardinals, however, rose to the top as this year’s first-ranked team. 

Down to his last playing year in the tournament, King Cardinal Bonifacio’s hopes for an NCAA ring are getting closer. During his Red Robin days back in 2016, he was a part of the champion team along with Escamis and then-Red Robins Head Coach Randy Alcantara who managed to tame the dominant San Beda University (SBU) Red Cubs who were champions for seven consecutive years.

Now on their senior year, the Mapúa Cardinals will enter the den once again as they seek to eliminate the SBU Red Lions  in their first finals game of the seasonon December 6, Wednesday, 6, at 2:00 PM, at the Mall of Asia Arena. The game will also be streamed live on the social media platforms of NCAA Philippines and GMA Sports PH, along with a telecast on GTV.

The Scores:
MU 78 – Hernandez 22, Escamis 21, Cuenco 10, Bonifacio 9, Soriano 6, Rosillo 4, Recto 3, Asuncion 3, Igliane 0, Fornis 0, Dalisay 0
CSB 67 – Oczon 17, Corteza 14, Carlos 10, Gozum 9, Sangco 5, Mara 5, Turco 3, Arciaga 2, Marcos 2, Nayve 0, Cajucom 0, Marasigan 0, Davis 0
Quarter Scores: 14-18, 34-37, 56-55, 78-67

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