On the Trail of Champions: Vengeance Falls Short

I won't follow the whole Juniors tournament. I'll follow the Eaglets. Where will it take me? A rare 4-peat? The Final Four? Or somewhere else entirely? Doesn't matter as long as I'm on the trail of these champions. One BIG Fight!

Mark Gamboa was effective playing QB for the Eaglets.
(image by Alyson Yap/Fabilioh.com)

It was a cool April morning when I went to the Filoil Flying V Arena to watch our beloved Ateneo Blue Eaglets strut their stuff against the De La Salle Zobel Junior Archers. I was raring to see the latest incarnation of the team in action, and I wanted to gauge how well they'd do against top-flight competition.

I had watched them at practice and in an exhibition against the Letran Squires several days before, and I liked what I saw. The team had size, speed, shooting, and defense. No big names, but they all had big games. I was half-expecting them to dominate the Junior Archers.

But what happened was atrocious to watch.

Behind scorching shooting, and aided by the Ateneans' sloppy defending, the Archers built a commanding 22-point bubble by the end of the 1st quarter. Zobel would never relinquish the lead, and they practically cruised to victory. The Eaglets were schooled, 82-62.

Some La Salle fans were overheard saying, "Challenge naman diyan!" It was a thorough beating of the most non-sublime way. Our boys, the defending champions, severely struggled against the vaunted La Salle press and just weren't able to make shots.

Fast-forward to July 13, 2011 -- the two schools open the Season 74 Juniors hostilities by being hostile to each other on the hardwood.

When asked whether they had what it took to hijack Zobel, some Eaglets responded in the affirmative. They promised that the Filoil debacle wouldn't happen again.

The Archers were out to establish supremacy, but we were out for one thing, and one thing only -- vengeance.

And we almost had it.

Amidst an atmosphere comparable to that of a championship game, the Eaglets and Junior Archers fought toe-to-toe, with 40 minutes not enough to produce the victor.

Mark Gamboa opened things up for the home squad with a quick lay-up before DLSZ countered with two threes in quick succession -- one by star recruit Isaac Lim and the other by seniors-bound Gabby Reyes. After a few minutes that saw our Eaglets struggle with their sets, Ateneo retook the lead using a 6-0 mini-run anchored on RP Youth member Tomas Ramos and Gamboa.

RP U18 mainstay Tomas Ramos sent the
game to overtime.
(image by Alyson Yap/Fabilioh.com)
That kind of if-you-can-make-a-run-I-can-too exchange was pretty much the story of the whole game, with each team putting together the points in bunches. 

Case in point:
- Behind star center Kris Porter and cat-quick guards Lambert Tenorio, Fran Asuncion and Kiefer Lim, the Eaglets used a 12-1 spurt to turn a 20-26 deficit into a 32-27 lead at halftime.
- BUT the Archers opened up the second half with guns ablazing -- Reyes teamed up with swingman John Boo to tie the count at 34. 

Lambert Tenorio and the rest of the Eaglets fell just short
of upending their arch-rivals.
(image by Alyson Yap/Fabilioh.com)
The see-saw affair continued well into the 4th quarter with Zobel finally taking the lead behind the hot shooting of former UNO High sniper Isaac Lim, who hit 3 of his 4 triples in the final period. Gabby Reyes followed his lead with 2 of his 5 long toms as well, enabling the Junior Archers to enjoy a 67-63 advantage in the dying minutes. It also hurt the Ateneans that Porter fouled out with less than 4 minutes left.

Eaglet Jed Austria cut it down to a pair with an inside stab before Ramos stole the ball off a Zobel timeout with 9.9 ticks to go. Ateneo tried to set up a play until La Salle's Kiko Velhagen fouled him with 3.1 to go. After the La Sallians tipped the ball out in the ensuing play, the Ateneans inbounded the rock to a cutting Ramos, who got fouled under the goal. The HS senior had to hit both charities to send the game to extra time.

So he did, and after a Zobel miss, the score after 40 minutes was 67-all.

As they had done throughout the game, both teams traded jabs in OT, with Ateneo's other National Team standout Kiefer Lim combining with Gabe Capacio and Austria for a slim 73-71 lead. Zobel had the last say, though, using a 7-2 windup, mostly on free-throws, to finally ice the game, 78-75.

Zobel won again, and our quest for payback went unfulfilled.

But, and this is me feeling renewed hope for the Eaglets' chances this season, we did succeed at something despite the loss. 

Seniors prospect Kris Porter finished with a double-double despite the loss.
(image by Alyson Yap/Fabilioh.com)
You see, after that 20-point loss in April, I've been preaching how heavily-favored the Archers are (and they still are the top-seeds), but now they're fans won't be saying, "Challenge naman diyan!"

Now they know they'll get a challenge, and more. Now they know they'll be in for a dogfight with our Eaglets.

And as for vengeance? It'll happen. Mark my words. It could be in the next round, or it could be in another game with that unmistakable championship atmosphere.

Vengeance. It'll happen.

DLSZ 78 - Reyes 21, Lim 16, Boo 12, Torres 8, Velhagen 6, Subido 4, Joven 4, Tempongko 3, Yu 2, Betia 2, Angeles 0
AHS 75 - Porter 16, Gamboa 14, Ramos 10, Tenorio 10, Lim 8, Asuncion 5, Capacio 4, Austria 4, Asistio 3, Black 1, Ravena 0, Ladaban 0, Vitangcol 0, Puno 0
QS: 16-13, 27-32, 48-50, 67-67, 78-75

*Familiar faces at the game: Glenn Capacio, Leo Austria, Kiefer Ravena, Von Pessumal, Ael Banal, Jai Reyes, Bajjie Del Rosario, Paolo Paraiso, Maxene Magalona, Jay Javelosa (contrary to prior reports, Jay is in Reedley and NOT in Zobel), Kirk Long, Norman Black, LA Tenorio, and Larry Fonacier. Practically the entire Seniors team (including former Zobel players Gwynne Capacio and Nico Elorde) were able to follow and watch the last few minutes of the match.

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