Squires reclaim NCAA glory

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF NCAA LETRAN celebrates after beating La Salle Green Hills, 77-61, to clinch their first NCAA juniors title since 2001.

Letran essayed a fitting ending to its 22-year drought when it pulled off a 77-61 victory over La Salle Green Hills to rule the National Collegiate Athletic Association juniors basketball crown yesterday at the packed San Andres Sports Complex in Manila.

Reserves Jovel Baliling and Jonathan Manalili were impressive while Finals Most Valuable Player Andy Jemao was at his best to power the Squires to a Game 2 victory in this best-of-three title series.

Baliling had 19 points, four rebounds and two assists while Manalili finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two blocks for the Squires, who clinched their first title since the group of Jay-R Reyes, RJ Jazul and Rey Guevarra ruled in 2001.

It was also the first time since 1983 for the school to reign supreme in both the juniors and seniors divisions.

The 16-year-old Gemao, for his part, fired 14 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals. He averaged 17.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the two-game series.

Letran coach Allen Ricardo said they doubled down on their defense, especially against Season 98 league Most Valuable Player Luis Pablo and Mythical and Defensive Team member Seven Gagate.

“We just defended. We have to outwork their starters, especially Pablo and Gagate, to get the momentum we needed,” Ricardo said.

“That’s our initial game plan: Defend and then run.”

Pablo led the Greenies with 20 points and 14 rebounds while his frontcourt partner, Gagate, also had a double-double outing of 11 points and 18 boards to go along with three blocks.

Rod Alian and CJ Mesias were the other LSGH players in twin digits with 13 and 10 points, respectively.

Joining Pablo in the Mythical Team were his teammate Gagate, Gemao, Matthew Rubico of Lyceum of the Philippines University, Amiel Acido of University of Perpetual Help System Dalta and Chris Hubilla of San Beda.

Rubico was named this season’s Rookie of the Year in his one-and-done stint for the Junior Pirates while Gagate claimed the Most Improved Player plum.

The Defensive Players of the Year awards were shared by PE Enal of Jose Rizal University and George Diamante of Letran.

Completing the All-Defensive Team were Pablo, Gagate, Acido, Diamante and Ivan Panapanaan of Arellano University.

The Red Cubs, meanwhile, won the Sportsmanship Award.

The scores:
LETRAN (77) — Baliling 19, Manalili 16, Gemao 14, Silorio 12, Alforque 4, Hugo 4, Anabo 3, Cruz 2, Reyes 2, Diamante 1, Navarro 0, Datumalim 0, Paguiligan 0, Padilla 0, Cuajao 0.
LSGH (61) — Pablo 20, Alian 13, Gagate 11, Mesias 10, Ison 5, Villaver 2, S. Romero 0, R. Romero 0, Rivero 0, Zamora 0, Gomez 0, Hachuela 0, Zaragoza 0, Muyuela 0.
QUARTERS: 21-18, 38-28, 56-44, 77-61.

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