MISSING the Ballpals inter-color tourney for the first time in many years, the triple 888 jersey-wearing Jamewill Abucejo had only one wish for “Stev Panaz” Salgados, GAT Tamayo, Danilo Guevara and company: a complete a grandslam feat of which Abucejo had been a great part of it in the team’s first two title runs.
With the help of long-time friends Christopher “Tope” Carretas, Darwin Josol, Froilan “Balong” Mabalot, Ronald Acenas, Agapito “Bato” Mercado and ageless center Vulture “Rock ‘n Roll” Balabat, the R-ACE Lao Warriors on Saturday battled back from 10-point first quarter deficit to overcome WingMark Green Archers, 72-68 and snagged the civic crown of the "Baby James Cup" Fiesta Conference at Barangay 24 covered court in Cagayan de Oro City.
The sweet-shooting Carretas, who was a strong prospect for the PBA during his prime, racked up 27 points to power R-ACE (formerly known as Lava Hounds then SunStar Baby James) into another championship win, three years in a row.
Josol and Balabat added 14 and 10 markers each, though Mabalot and Acenas’ timely baskets and Mercado’s solid defense in the pay-off period were the spoilers in handing the heftier Green Archers of another title setback.
“Wala tuyoa pero destiny gyod mo-champ kay bwenas kaayo ang Green pagsugod pa lang,” Tamayo said on the query of the now US-based Abucejo on how the battle was won.
“Tingog sa coaching staff nakadasig and nakahatag og dugang kusog sa tropa,” said the 50-something Egang Bernales, relishing his first title win in the Ballpals hoopfest.
“Walay discourage ningkamot lang gyod,” added back-up center Johnson "Toton" Quijada.
With erstwhile national inter-collegiate MVP Rex Armojallas in the starting five along with Andit Sacabin, Bong Mercado, Joel Jadap and Pepper Ferolino, the Green Archers immediately took control of the first quarter, erecting a twin-digit lead, 21-11, capped by a long trey from Pepper off the buzzer.
But the game swerved in the second quarter with Carretas and Balabat all fired up to lead the Warriors’ searing rally.
In fact, a 30-16 run put the Warriors up by four, 41-37 at the half, though the Green Archers’ own uprising had allowed them to take back the lead at five, 54-49.
The Green Archers, now fielding the "big 4" of Armojallas, Samboy Uy, Janjan Arcaya and WingMark Mercado, threatened to make a breakthrough. But three successive 3-point bombs from Mabalot and Carretas and a hard lay-up from Acenas had forced a 60-all deadlock.
From there, a seesaw bout ensued that saw another 68-all standoff with 58 seconds left in the fourth and final quarter.
Then, small forward Josol—a member of the iconic Ballpals squad that won the first Cagayan de Oro Southland inter-ballclub championships at Liceo de Cagayan University gym many years ago -- gave the Warriors a 2-point lead, 70-68, from his lay-up with 33 ticks remaining.
Team Mercado had the chance to snatch the win or at least forced an overtime, but they went cold after being called for a 24-second violation.
With 12 seconds left, the Warriors sealed the victory after Mercado sent Carretas to the freethrow line with a quick foul.
“Kapoy na ko kay tag-as ilang frontline. Dako tabang si Balabat ug ang pamatay sunog nga mga tirada nilang Kuya Balong ug Acenas,” said Carretas, the leading candidate for the Allen Dangcal MVP award.
Armojallas paced the Green Archers with 13 points. Arcaya and WingMark contributed 12 and 8 points, respectively.