COSAA 9: The championship games-A A +A
A Matter of Taste
Sunday, October 20, 2013
THE Xavier University (XU) Gym buzzed with a full-house crowd recently when the XU basketball varsity, the Crusaders, having won over the Cagayan de Oro College (COC) Scorpions the previous weekend, now had to tousle with the same team in the cross-over leg of the Cagayan de Oro Schools Athletic Association (COSAA) Season 9.
The winner of that game would be pitted against the best performing team in the league, namely, the Systems Technology Institute (STI) Olympians, for the championship.
It was a Friday, late in the afternoon just as the off-hours had just kicked in, and XU students in their crisp white polo uniforms kept streaming into the gym even though there was hardly an elbow room to even breathe. Hoops royalty, such as XU Artscies player Aldrich Barba, had no choice but to watch the game from the upper stands. After all, the COC fans were already in place, filling the ringside bleachers with their colorful and gung-ho presence.
What a thriller it proved to be. From the start to the devastating finish, when the game went into overtime not once but twice, everyone was caught up in the high drama of the fight.
In the past weekend, small forward Rhodelle A. Nagac seemed to have been the Crusaders' main man - he was simply there in the nick of time. And he kept on happening.
But this time around, it was shooting guard Dan Audris Lagbas who continually sailed up the air to score one after the other. He was a marvel.
So were point guard Rhys Jefferson W. Flores and center Dario Calixto T. Piatti, who claimed the court as their very own. With their no-nonsense moves, their determination was so palpable.
At the start of the third quarter, Nagac, Lagbas, and Flores entered the court with the power-packed duo of Edgardo P. Quirit III and team captain Kim Anthony L. Labitad.
Quirit practically grew up in the XU grade school and high school varsity teams and was a trusted hand.
As for the all-around player Labitad he was the coolest guy around. And to merrily mix metaphors, his very presence was a jolt of electricity. He seemed to know what was going to happen, and he did just the right thing at the right time. He rallied his team in the best way possible.
As it happened, the Scorpions were back with a vengeance. They played like there was no tomorrow.
When the ball was in the hands of team captain Jim Custan, it was a sure shot. With his well-turned-out physique, yummy matinee-idol looks, and quiet intelligent play, many considered this power forward and center the star player. His was clearly a reassuring presence, ever-dependable.
But stars do not win basketball games by their lonesome.
Shooting guard and small forward Oscar Gamos proved to be the Scorpions' secret weapon as he clocked in three-pointers here and there with surprising audacity.
His energy and precision was matched by shooting guard and small forward Mart Mutya, who was so agile and slippery and game-perfect.
And then there were the Gabe brothers: younger Crisdale, the power forward and center who was the epitome of discipline and derring-do (I know someone who has the biggest crush on him); and mischievous Ed Louis, the small forward and shooting guard who kept on re-charging the team spirit with his game-enhancing flair whenever it began to slip from fatigue or momentary frustration.
What a well-matched game it was. At first, the Crusaders were enjoying an early high. But the Scorpions regained their composure and gave them a run for their points.
Tempers began to flare up when attention was called to the referees' perceived bias for the Crusaders. Scorpion fans threw five-peso coins at the referees as some kind of protest. Or statement.
The message must have sunk in. Suddenly, the referees were making calls in favor of the Scorpions at long last.
Nonetheless, when the final buzzer sounded, it was only by a hairline that the game went to the Scorpions.
After the game, the officials of COSAA’s Season 9 awarded the Crusaders medals for having placed third in collegiate basketball.
The Scorpions would go on to face the STI Olympians in a best-of-three series that weekend for the championship.
In fact, the Olympians, accompanied by their girlfriends, were watching the XU-COC deciding game from the upper stands. I got the feeling that there was a general preference for the Crusaders to win that game, although some of the players expressed their preference to fight it out with the Scorpions.
In between games, one of the Olympians told me one thing he observed. All throughout the game, the coaches of both teams kept on issuing instructions to the players, shouting at them, cajoling them, appeasing them, encouraging them, telling them what to do. That’s not the way our coach does it. After all our training and drills and practices over the past months, our coach treats us with respect during the games. He trusts us that we know what we are doing and that we know what to do. We have gone over all the possible scenarios during our exercises, and when the game commences, he lets us play on our own. He just sits quietly on the bench and takes in the game. He looks at the big picture. He does not mind the minor mistakes we make, even the points we bungle up. He just lets us play. He has done his work and now we will do ours.
I thought of this laissez-faire approach when, the following day, the Olympians lost to the Scorpions, who seemed to have been on a roll from the previous night’s victory. In the post-game chastisement, the Olympians were told that the reason for their loss was not the Scorpions but themselves: they wasted so many opportunities the game could have been dubbed a comedy of errors had it not been so terribly upsetting.
Thus chastised and humbled, the Olympians did a dazzling turnaround early on Sunday afternoon and ran away with the second of the best-of-three games.
At the end of the day came the one big fight.
A significant number of Scorpion fans stayed in the upper stands, complete with a drums squad and cheerleaders doing show-offy kicks and splits. They edited the XU cheer on the spot and made it their own.
Many Olympian fans stayed behind their team’s bench, ready to roar whenever they felt they needed to do so.
With the referees no longer in a cloud of doubt, the outcome of the game was in the hands of the players. From the beginning up to the last few minutes, it was such a toss-up, with both teams just within a point or two of each other. With the defense so tight (especially of the Scorpions), every little bit helped.
There were a lot of free throws it had become surreal: it seemed that points would be gained mainly from these penalties.
Point guard Michael Kent A. Salado was all smiles as he buoyed up the spirit of his fellow Olympians, darting in and out with his lithe and lethal presence.
He was gamely assisted in this team-building bravado by shooting guard Joel S. Sollano. He was, simply, the man. He carried the ball, made lightning decisions and moves, sprinted with a lot of surprises, and scored a lot, not wasting even those free throws.
And then there was center Mohammad Fernando F. Marohombsar. Impressive with his 6’3” height, he was all the more impressive with his performance. He showed he was a master of impromptu moves by catching the ball from wherever and turning it in despite all odds. Like the Crusaders’ Labitad or the Scorpions’ Custan, he could transform himself into a formidable obstacle course by just standing there quietly, the crucial man standing in a deceptive game of chess.
Marohombsar’s presence and prescience was what power play is about. Now it can be told that, to buoy up his teammates- spirit, he sent a text message saying that, hey, they are the defending COSAA champions and whoever wanted that championship are up for some fight.
And that, I suppose, is what the STI Olympians is about, too. It’s not about individual star players but the effectiveness of each well-trained player working as one team. There’s the low-key shooting forward Norvhel Kenneth C. Lerio, whose three-pointers helped make all the difference. The ever-reliable forward Emmanuel B. Akut III. The mainstays that are the Manatad brothers, center John Rey and forward Rey John. The game-changers Roberto B. Tamparong (shooting forward), Edgar Allan A. Omila (center), Mark John N. Daanoy (shooting forward), Jone Ray A. Villar (point guard), Dennis B. Jabagat (shooting guard), Jio Carlo A. Agusan (point guard), and Michael M. Cuarez (point guard). The fabulous Kwongs - power forward Richard and forward August Paul. Plus point guards Nazerdan Vincent A. Baluran, Sherwin P. Calang, and Melvin D. Dacar. And shooting guard Virg Iman G. Eduave, who gave in a rare appearance in the third quarter and did not squander his chances.
At the last few minutes, with the Scorpions’ Custan and was it Crisdale Gabe nursing foot or leg injuries?, the Olympians blasted their way to definitive victory.
As of presstime, I hear that the STI Olympians also won the Cagayan de Oro leg of the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL).
Congratulations! And, yes, happy birthday to Marohombsar today!
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on October 20, 2013.