Tiebreaker Times photo courtesy
MANILA — Letran stayed glued together amid a searing Mapua fightback in the final stretch to eke out a hard-earned 83-78 win and roll on to the National Collegiate Athletic Association juniors basketball Finals for the first time in 14 years on Monday at the San Andres Sports Complex.
Letran, which is pinning for an 11th title, last made it into the finals way back in 2009.
However, the Junior Squires bowed out to the San Beda Red Cubs in that season, the final year that the late great Ato Badolato steered the league’s most successful juniors program.
A senior athletic director of San Beda, Badolato also handled the coaching task of the school’s junior basketball squad.
It’s not yet clear as of this writing what team the Squires would face in the Finals but it could either be College of St. Benilde-La Salle Green Hills or defending champion San Beda.
CSB-La Salle Green Hills made good use of its double-digit, 26-point third quarter edge to overcome San Beda, 92-79, to arrange a winner-take-all showdown for last Finals slot.
That decider is happening on Thursday.
Letran as usual relied on the team’s usual suspects led by former league MVP Jay-R Reyes and Andy Gamao among others who gave the Junior Squires their 2001 conquest of the juniors crown.
Mapua came threateningly close at 72-73 off Aki Valiña’s drive but the Squires responded with five straight points courtesy of Gemao’s two foul shots and Emman Anabo’s booming triple for a 78-72 cushion.
Still, Mapua stayed close in the game courtesy of Sean Salvador’s four-point play, 76-79, but Letran rose to the occasion by going steady from the foul line, thanks to the conversion of Jonathan Manalili and Gemao’s pair of free throws in the final minute.
And that sealed the deal.
Gemao led the Squires with 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks, Jonathan Manalili added 12 points, six assists and six boards while Jovel Baliling added 11 points.
George Diamante had a double-double outing of 10 points and 14 rebounds to go along with five assists while Justine Hugo also scored 10 points and pulled down nine boards for Letran.
Seven Gagate scored 15 of his 24 points in the Greenies’ pivotal third quarter run and pulled down 12 rebounds while Luis Pablo also logged a double-double output of 23 points and 11 boards.
Rod Alian also played huge for LSGH with 14 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals while Gian Gomez added 11 points.
The scores: First Game Letran (83) -- Gemao 14, Manalili 12, Baliling 11, Diamante 10, Hugo 10, Anabo 8, Silorio 8, Navarro 4, Alforque 2, Cruz 2, Padilla 2. Mapua (78) -- Gonzales 21, Agemenyi 10, Coronel 8, Salvador 8, Rodriguez 8, Masiglat 6, Dayrit 6, Valiña 4, Morenos 3, Go 2, Mulingtapang 2, Manuel 0, Santos 0. Quarterscores: 17-19, 41-38, 62-50, 83-78 Second Game LSGH (92) -- Gagate 24, Pablo 23, Alian 14, Gomez 11, Ison 8, Rivero 5, Mesias 4, Zaragosa 2, R. Romero 1, S. Romero 0, Villaver 0, Natividad 0, Muyuela 0, Zamora 0. San Beda (79) -- Hubilla 34, Lopez 26, Ludovice 8, Lecciones 5, Dungo 3, Wagan 3, Mundas 0, Lorenzo 0, Reyes 0, Ronquillo 0, Lacsamana 0, Manarang 0, Sahali 0, Sollano 0. Quarterscores: 22-16, 48-48, 74-58, 92-79