The Redeem Team: Eaglets out to bring the crown back to Loyola Heights

The Ateneo de Manila HS Blue Eaglets ended their second round on a sour note, breaking down in overtime to hand National University a clean sweep of the entire elims. Coach Joe Silva's boys, however, bounced back several days later, defeating the FEU-FERN Baby Tamaraws in the stepladder playoffs to earn the right to face the Bullpups in the UAAP Season 76 Juniors Finals.

The caveat? NU, by virtue of its sweep, enjoys a THRICE-TO-BEAT advantage. Think of it this way -- the Juniors Finals will be a race-to-three-wins affair, but NU is already automatically ahead, 1-0.

Jme Escaler helped lead Ateneo back to the
UAAP Juniors Finals.

Game Recaps:

NU Bullpups over AHS Blue Eaglets, 82-81 (OT)

With just under three minutes to go in overtime, Thirdy Ravena gave the Ateneans a 6-point lead, 79-73.

Looking back, the game should have been, more or less, wrapped up at that point already. Both teams were dead tired. Players were bent over, holding on to their shorts, breathing heavily.

NU's superb playmaker, Huber Cani, troops to the line after he's fouled. He splits it to trim the lead to 5 points.

A few seconds after, Ravena gets fouled, too, and then he finds himself trooping to the line for his own pair of charities. This is a good chance to extend the lead even further to seven points and virtually seal the deal. Up until this point, Ravena was awesome from the line, shooting 8/9 in regulation. Surely the Asian 3x3 champion can make at least one, right?

Ravena misses both.

NU suddenly finds itself staring at a door half open, and they pounce with impunity. Cani slips through the defense and makes a bucket.

And one.

Cani makes good on the bonus free throw and trims the deficit to just 2 points, 79-77.

Gulp. Suddenly, things are a little too close for comfort.

Ateneo fails to produce anything in its next play, so NU has the initiative again. This time, it's Lorenzo Battad who makes a big shot, knotting the count at 79 with 90 seconds to go.

Less than 2 minutes ago, it seemed Ateneo had this, but now the Eaglets have found themselves in a rather precarious position.

Thirdy unloads his frustrations in the next play and manages to draw an NU foul.

Two more free throws for a guy who shot 56% from the stripe prior to this game. Man, what a time for the percentages to catch up with him.

The graduating Eaglet misses two more. Game is still tied.

NU's brutish big man Mark Dyke gets the rock in the next possession and bullies his way to the basket, making a shot.

Plus a foul.

Dyke makes his charity, pushing NU ahead, 82-79.

It's a 9-0 nightmare for the Eaglets.

Or so it seemed.

Thirdy refuses to give up, going strong to the hoop with under 40 seconds left and making a shot.

This time, it's NU whistled for the foul.

Thirdy troops to the line for his final free throw of the game. He can tie it here and potentially send the game to another extra inning.

Clang. Another miss.

The drama, however, doesn't end there. By some wicked twist, Ateneo ends up with the basketball in the dying seconds and Mike Nieto is fouled.

Two more free throws for Ateneo. This time it's one of the Blues' better shooters on the line. Mike, however, cannot even walk to the stripe. He has succumbed to cramps.

It's super soph, Jolo Mendoza, who's number is called up. If he makes one, he can force another OT. Make both, though, and the Eaglets emerge victorious. More importantly, an Ateneo win means NU suffers loss #1, and a Final Four is in the offing.

Mendoza, who is one of the team's designated snipers, fails to find the mark in his first attempt.

Okay lang. Pwede pa mag-overtime.
Mendoza misses the second as well.

NU wins. The Bullpups sweep and make the UAAP Juniors Finals for the third straight year.

The Eaglets falls short. There is no Final Four. In its place is a stepladder phase were FEU-FERN battles DLSZ for the right to face second-seeded Ateneo, who will enjoy a twice-to-beat edge.

Oh to come so close. Coach Silva's boys would have to wait a bit more for another shot at NU.

NU 82 - Cauilan 23, Cani 21, Dyke 18, Battad 10, Mosqueda 7, Manalang 3, Lopena 0, Lapiz 0, Go 0, Claveria 0, Castillo 0
AHS 81 - Ravena 24, Nieto Mi 16, Nieto Ma 14, Mendoza 10, Black 10, Escaler 7, Salandanan 0, Ramos 0, Magpoc 0, Joson E 0, Calilung 0
QS: 12-21, 32-42, 55-54, 71-71, 82-81

Mike Nieto shoots over NU's Mark Dyke.

Thirdy Ravena is a picture of exasperation after
the Eaglets fell to the Bullpups in OT.

AHS Blue Eaglets over FEU-FERN Baby Tamaraws, 69-64

Over the past decade, the FEU-FERN Baby Tamaraws have been part of a nouveau rivalry with the Ateneo Blue Eaglets. One reason for this is that the schools are located relatively close to each other. Ateneo is along Katipunan, while FEU-FERN is in the Diliman area (near BF Homes QC and the Mapayapa Villages). Along with UPIS, these are the only UAAP high schools located in Quezon City (Zobel is in Ayala Alabang while the rest are in the heart of Manila). Another reason is that these teams have had many memorable match-ups over the years. The Soc Rivera-led Baby Tams lost to the Mike Gamboa-led Eaglets in the Finals of Season 69. The Russel Escoto and Mike Tolomia-led Baby Tamaraws found themselves in some tight games against Ateneo's Kiefer Ravena, Von Pessumal, and Paolo Romero in the following seasons. They actually met in the Season 71 Finals, which Ateneo won in two games.

When Kiefer and Co. graduated at the end of Season 73, it was FEU's turn to return to prominence. The emergence of Cebuano recruit Jerie Pingoy put the Baby Tams back near the top of the Juniors table. Pingoy led FEU all the way to the Season 74 Finals, defeating Kris Porter's Eaglets in the Final Four. The Baby Tams, however, eventually lost to the NU Bullpups, who were led by Rash Rivero (now with LSGH) and Raph Atangan. NU won its first ever Juniors title that year. In 2012, FEU-FERN returned to the Juniors Finals and, again, it was at the expense of the Eaglets, who lost in the Final Four to the Baby Tams for the second straight year.

Fast forward to this season. Thirdy Ravena and Aaron Black are both on their third year with the team. They are much better built this season, and have the experience needed to finally get the FEU monkey off the Eaglets' backs.

Ateneo had something to prove, too. FEU contributed to the Eaglets' slow start in Season 76, unexpectedly beating Ateneo in the first round. With Pingoy gone, the Baby Tams shouldn't have been too much of a problem for the deep and experienced Eaglets. This Ateneo showed when it dismantled FEU in the second round.

This time, however, with their backs against the wall and with the desire to defend their crown burning inside them, the Baby Tams fought the Eaglets on an even keel. FEU-FERN had the better start here, outscoring Ateneo, 17-9, in the first period. The marquee Eaglets couldn't find their shots, with the big three of Ravena and the Nieto twins combining for just 2 markers.

FEU eventually built a 14-point bubble in the second quarter, 25-11, after Marvin Lee scored his fifth and sixth points of the contest. At that point, it seemed like the Eaglets had had enough dilly-dallying. Ateneo uncorked a 21-7 windup to the first half and tied the score at the break, 32-all. Ravena, Mike Nieto and Jme Escaler came alive in this period, combining for 16 points.

The nip-and-tuck affair continued well into the third canto, which saw 2 ties and 3 lead changes. The Baby Tams continued their strong stand in the final frame, outscoring Ateneo, 13-8, in the first five minutes for a 59-55 advantage. Southpaw shooter JJ Domingo caught fire in that span, hitting 2 treys on his way to 8 points in the quarter.

Now it was the Loyola quintet's turn to make a run. Behind Big Mike, Aaron Black, and Escaler, Ateneo blasted the Baby Tams, 14-3 in the next four minutes. This enabled the Blues to erect an insurmountable 69-62 lead with half a minute to go in the game.

Though Marvin Lee managed to beat the buzzer and peg the final score at 69-64, the game and season was all but over for FEU. The Green & Gold had relinquished their Juniors crown to their cross-town rivals.

Ateneo prevailed and, after two seasons of getting knocked out by the Baby Tams, finally booked a return ticket to the Juniors Finals.

AHS 69 - Nieto Mi 14, Escaler 14, Ravena 11, Black 10, Nieto Ma 9, Mendoza 7, Ramos 2, Magpoc 2, Salandanan 0, Joson E 0, Calilung 0
FEU-FERN 64 - Lee 19, Domingo JJ 15, Bienes 9, Completo 5, Aquino 5, Tabudlo 4, Lumba 4, Comboy 3, Rumbaoa 0, Paglinawan 0, Domingo JS 0
QS: 9-17, 32-32, 47-46, 69-64

JJ Domingo shoots over Miguel Ramos.

Coach Joe Silva enters his first UAAP Finals as
the Eaglets' head coach.

Mike Nieto goes up strong in the paint.

So now Thirdy Ravena and his Eaglets will face Hubert Cani and his Bullpups for the right to reclaim the UAAP Juniors crown. Ateneo last won it in Season 73, while NU copped it in Season 74. Both Ravena and Cani will be blue chip recruits for Season 77's Seniors wars, and both would certainly want to end their respective Juniors runs leading their respective squads to the title.

Ravena, for his part, has never been part of a Juniors championship team. When Kief, Von, and Pao last won it in Season 73, Thirdy was just a freshman who played in less exposed leagues. Despite having already won a FIBA Asia title and booking a FIBA World Cup ticket (both of which his kuya does not have… yet), Thirdy would surely want to exorcise the ghosts of Ateneo-NU round two and prove that he, too, can carry his team to the promised land.

Can Thirdy Ravena finally cop a UAAP title?

As for Cani, the last time NU won the title, he was playing second fiddle in the backcourt. When he became head playmaker in last year's Juniors Finals, he squared off against a more mature and superior Jerie Pingoy. Now he, too, has another chance at redemption.

WIll Hubert Cani lead the Bullpups to their second
Juniors title in three years?

Which star-in-the-making will make the most of his borrowed time in the spotlight? Which title-starved team will prevail? Can the Eaglets duplicate their preseason finish and defeat the Bullpups when it counts the most (Ateneo defeated NU in the 2013 Freego-FCBL Finals this past May), or will NU live up to its billing and flawless record by winning its second Juniors championship?

The titular series begins on October 6, 2013 (Mendoza and the Nietos are still in Tehran, Iran, representing the Philippines in the 2013 FIBA Asia U16 tournament).

Unless otherwise specified, all images are by Mon Rubio/Filoil Flying V Sports.

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1 Comment

Dapat ipasok sina Kiefer, Thirdy, at Jeron sa Richard Del Rosario school of free throw shooting.