Crown back to Mendiola

Crown back to Mendiola

SAN Beda University needed just five years to reclaim its old place on top of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

For Mapua University, it would have to wait another year to end its three-decade drought.

On Sunday, the Red Lions completed their grand return to the pedestal with a sleek, emphatic 76-66 Game Three victory over the Cardinals that sealed the former the Season 99 senior basketball crown before a mammoth Smart Araneta Coliseum crowd.

It was the Benedictine school’s first crown since reigning supreme in 2018 and a league record 23rd overall that put it three championships ahead of closest pursuer Letran (20).

The glorious coronation was witnessed by 23,077 fans, which included the Red Lions’ top patron Manny V. Pangilinan.

It surpassed the season-high 22,465 that trooped to Game Two at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena in Pasay City.

Impressively, it wasn’t even King Lion Jacob Cortez who delivered the biggest of blows.

It was Yuki Andrada in the deciding Game Three with his 20 titanic points including nine in the decisive fourth quarter breakaway.

His five thunderous triples were like rays of sunshine on a gloomy day. If the Finals Most Valuable Player award would count impact as one factor and not purely on statistics, Mr. Andrada would have won it. It went to James Payosing, the unassuming forward from Surigao del Sur who was content to just work from behind the scenes doing most of the dirty work and heavy lifting.

He didn’t even expect the precious trophy would land in his grasp.

But it did.

It wasn’t as if Mr. Cortez, the 21-year-old son of former PBA and De La Salle University stalwarts, didn’t do anything big.

He did as he took the burden of carrying the brunt of drawing most of Mapua’s marauding defense and even had to sit out for a long stretch after succumbing to cramps.

Mr. Cortez would eventually return and wound up with eight points, eight assists and three rebounds.

Due to cramps, Mr. Cortez missed out on winning his first individual award but it was undeniable that, without his presence, the Red Lions wouldn’t have gotten this far.

Without Mr. Cortez’s 21-point effort in a series-knotting, Game Three-forcing 71-65 Game Two win last week at MOA, San Beda would have been already sulking and crying in their Mendiola dormitories because of opportunities lost.

Mr. Cortez just practically carried San Beda on his back.

“My players are good,” said San Beda coach Yuri Escueta. “When we were struggling in the second round, they’re the ones who wanted to go to the other round and they told me they want to go this way and this our round.”

While the Red Lions basked in glory, the Cardinals just couldn’t control their emotions and wept after coming one game away from claiming their first crown since winning it all 32 years ago.

It was so close, yet so far. — Joey Villar

The scores:

San Beda 76 — Andrada 20, Payosing 11, Gonzales 10, Cortez 8, Royo 6, Jopia 6, Tagle 4, Alfaro 4, Puno 3, Visser 2, Cuntapay 2

Mapua 66 — Recto 18, Escamis 13, Rosillo 10, Hernandez 6, Cuenco 5, Dalisay 5, Bonifacio 4, Soriano 3, Fornis 2, Bancale 0, Sabsalon 0

Quarterscores: 24-15; 36-35; 53-57; 76-66