IT took a while to sink in. And when it finally did, the Mapua Red Robins are finally celebrating their title conquest in the 92nd National Collegiate Athletic Association Junior Basketball Tournament.
It came after a 16-year wait and two years of frustration.
“I can’t describe the feeling. It was given to us. God gave us this win,” said Red Robins coach Randy Alcantara after they finally got past the defending champion San Beda Red Cubs, 84-67, to snatch the junior crown last Friday in Game 3 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The last time they tried was in 2014. But the Red Cubs prevailed in overtime of Game 3, 78-65.
This time around, the Red Robins took charge in the first two quarters and put the Red Cubs in an unfamiliar situation of being behind all throughout the game.
“The boys sacrificed all year. They really worked hard for this. We suffered injuries. We lacked the manpower. But we came to win,” said Alcantara.
The Red Robins sustained their momentum in the last two periods and continued to frustrate the Red Cubs with their firm grip of the lead until the end.
They finally put an end to the Red Cubs’ reign.
One of the team’s newcomers is Brian Lacap, a transferee from University of Santo Tomas.
He tallied 16 game-high points for the Red Robins.
His triple and jumper in the last seven minutes of the third period was also instrumental as they improved on their runner-up finish to the Red Cubs in 2014.
“We avenged our loss in 2014. We were one shot away then,” said Alcantara, who recalled how Noah Lugo could not convert two successive attempts from long range. The first with a second left and the second missing its mark as the buzzer sounded to send the game into overtime and the eventual San Beda victory.
Lacap’s basket came as he and Warren Bonifacio led a 9-0 blast that gave the Red Robins a 25-point lead, 47-24.
Clint Escamis, who came from San Beda-Alabang, gave himself a fitting birthday present a day after his 16th birthday.
He chipped in 14 points, with his two charities during an 11-4 run in the first half sending the Red Robins to a 24-13 first quarter edge.
“We know how take the lead when playing against them and how to beat them,” said Alcantara.
Finals MVP Brian Samudio, who came from Jesus Is Lord High School in Bulacan, drilled in 13 points, eight of it in the last period.
His drive which resulted in a three-point play in the final 8:23 pushed them ahead by 14, 57-43.
The 6’3” Samudio kept a keen eye on Red Cub big man Germy Mahinay, who fouled out in the remaining five minutes, with Mapua up by 15, 63-48.
“We struck to our gameplan and remembered how we got knocked out of the Final Four last year and lost the title in 2014. We really prepared our players,” said Alcantara.
The Red Cubs, who were champions from 2009 to 2015, were put in an unfamiliar situation of being behind in the first period.
Coach JB Sison admitted that the players felt pressured and frustrated at having to play catch up in the first three quarters.
Juaquin Garcia shot 12 points. His jumper in the fourth helped the Red Robins stay up by 15.
“The boys were pressured. We were flat the whole game. I was expecting a closer game because this is a deciding game. But, the whole game, we were trying to catch up. They had an answer for every time we made a run,” said Sison.
Carlo Obenza led the Red Cubs with 14 points while Addie Velasquez also had 14. Mahinay added 11.
The Red Robins made do despite the absence of point guard Mike Enriquez, who suffered a recurring foot injury in Game 2 which the Red Cubs won 81-78. The Red Robins took Game 1 with an 83-64 win.
This early the Mapua Red Robins are considered the favorites to win back-to-back titles the next NCAA season.
Alcantara said they are in a strong position to win a second straight title next season with the core of their champion team returning.
“We’re only losing three players this year so we’ll have a good chance of repeating next year,” said Alcantara referring to Sherwin Concepcion, Jasper Salenga and Samudio, who played their final season.
The Robins have actually adjusted to the loss of Concepcion, who went down with a season-ending shoulder injury late in the second round of elimination. They would need some time to fill the void left by Salenga and Samudio, the finals MVP.
“Samudio, Salenga and Concepcion are big losses to the team but I’m confident we can find ways of filling those holes,” said Alcantara.
Expected to come back next year are Lacap, Escamis, Garcia, Warren Bonifacio, Romuel Junsay and Will Gozum, all instrumental in Mapua’s successful title campaign.
Alcantara said the key was trying to be like their nemesis–San Beda.
“After our loss to San Beda in the finals two years ago, I focused my time studying them and finding a way to beat them,” said Alcantara.
“In fact, I’ve always based my recruitment with the thought of matching up against San Beda,” added Alcantara.
He also trained his players to play the way San Beda did.
“We didn’t practice light because we know San Beda isn’t practicing light. We really used them as motivation,” he said.