SOME miracles in basketball could happen anytime, anywhere. And one of them certainly transpired during the season-ending conference of Ballpals 2019 Inter-Color Basketball Tournament in Cagayan de Oro City.
Down by 34 points at the onset of third quarter, the Ballpals Airron hoopsters, otherwise known as Team Orange, showed a “no surrender” Japanese straggler-kind of spirit as they fought back by pulling off a shocking 75-71 reversal in double overtimes.
The one-in-a-million come-from-behind win orchestrated at Southern Philippine College (SPC) gym was just in time for Christmas, crowning Ballpals Airron as the 2nd President’s Cup 2019 ruler.
It also ended the back-to-back championship reign of Team Black fronted by the formidable quintet of Janjan Arcaya, Andy Sacabin, Michael Pamesa, Noel “Kidd” Escobido and Buchoy Quijada.
“Grabe ka historic win. Mag 39 years na ang Ballpals in March 2020, karon pa nahitabo. Naka-survive ang usa ka team sa final half sa ing-adto ka dako nga biya. Mora’g lisod na nga record sa Orange matupngan,” said tournament commissioner Andit Mendoza.
After the heavily-favored Team Black of playing coaches Wingmark Mercado and Archer Lingaton posted a 19-6 first quarter and 36-13 second quarter advantage, perennial Most Valuable Player (MVP) Arcaya and company even padded the lead to 34 in the first five minutes of the third frame.
Then, Balong Mabalot, Ariel Sicad, lawyer Aldrich “Dong” Bonete and the late-arriving Vulture “Rock N Roll” Balabat and Danilo “El Kap” Guevarra began to make something fruitful that skinned Black’s commanding lead of 34 to 21 at the close of the third quarter.
“We can win this one kay sa ato na ang momentum,” declared Guevarra as he shifted his focus to coaching the Airron Warriors alongside GAT Tamayo, Bong Mercado and Stev Panaz.
It was at this juncture that the team’s heart and soul Nanding Abapo and “Ven Camon” Shimomae, as well Baltazar Villaganas, Larry Bagayna and Mabalot employed a no-hold-barred full-court press defense that guadually shaken Black’s confidence.
Villaganas thrived on fastbreak and top gunner Abapo finally found his range off the rainbow sphere that was compounded by another three-point basket from Mabalot to force a nail-biting 58-all deadlock.
To Black’s great worry, the do-it-all Arcaya fouled out less than a minute of the regulation period.
“If my teammates just focused on feeding me as first option in offense because I know how to size up and look for an open man...there will be no overtimes,” said Arcaya.
It remains a close fight in first five-minute overtime when the tough-defending Shimomae overlooked the fast-winding ticks of the clock for his final attempt that could have shattered another 66-all standoff.
In the second three-minute extension, Shimomae picked his fifth personal foul. But the 1-2 combo of Villaganas and Mabalot put Airron ahead by four and the visibly-tired Abapo dared to return on the floor if only to ensure there will be no more “missed chances” for the avenging Orange dribblers.
“Personally, I can’t still believe that we won a monster game like that. It’s very memorable for me as my first title win in my comeback trail with Ballpals,” said Bonete, who was among the few varsity players in Cagayan de Oro who made it to the law profession.
Abapo, Villaganas and Bonete paced Ballpals Airron with 18, 15 and 10 points each with eventual 40-up MVP Mabalot and Japan-based Shimomae adding nine and four markers apiece.
“Yes, I was there all the times in Team Orange games and was optimistic when I heard that Shimomae could play in the deciding Game 3 kay importante kaayo iyang depensa,” said Mabalot.
For his part, the ageless Abapo shared he felt very sickly coming into what has become now a historic championship finish for Ballpals.
“All I prayed for was for the Great Lord to give me enough strength so I could contribute to our team,” Abapo told SunStar Cagayan de Oro.
The 39-below rivalry was also decided in Game 3 with Team Gray of Shian Galanida and Joseph Smnanga withstanding the challenge of Team Black, 2-1 for the crown.