The first time in a long time

CSB 74, AUF 61

After a promising first round finish, the first five games of the second phase of Season 85 proved to be grueling for the College of St. Benilde Blazers.

Coming from a positive outcome at the end of the first nine games of Season 85 that saw the Blazers defeat a very dangerous Arellano University Chiefs in a triple overtime classic and also one that saw the green and black army gave a massive scare to the favored JRU Heavy Bombers CSB’s positive energy and winning drive, piece by piece and bit by bit, were suddenly falling apart as the second half of the elimination round rolled on.

With five consecutive double-digit setbacks at the start of the second round and together with injuries that kept four of the Blazers’ top players out of the lineup, the squad have found themselves booted out of the final four race. The players and the coaching staff, frustrated and drained from this seemingly unlucky situation, had difficulty in recent weeks in taking away the pressure that came with being razor-thin close to reaching the top four of the standings during the first round of play.

As fate would have it, however, game number six of the second round against the Angeles University Foundation Great Danes was their golden opportunity, not only to snap out of a six-game losing streak, but also to allow the pressure and frustration to finally fizzle out.

With four games remaining this season, Blazers Coach Richard del Rosario wanted his veterans to relish what would be their final playing dates as college basketball players. “Enjoy your remaining games!”, the first-year head coach told skipper Jacob Manlapaz and Aaron Umlas, both in their final playing years. Sadly, the two other Blazer vets, top gunner Jeff Morial and ace Forward Illie Johnston, have already played their final NCAA games as they are ruled out for the remainder of this season due to injuries.

In the first quarter, Manlapaz did more than just enjoying. He crashed the boards and dominated the much smaller Danes frontcourt on the offensive end. Umlas held his own as he launched timely three-pointers and, together with the effective play of Jelo Montecastro and despite the absence of starters Chuck Dalanon and Robbie Manalac, the Blazers went on to lead by three at the half.

Despite being ahead by three at the end of the first half, Coach Richard found holes on defense and also addressed during the break that the squad has yet to shrug off the pressure. “All you need to do is settle down… try to relax, there’s no pressure”, Coach Richard told his players. The Blazers responded by tightening their defense, forcing turnovers and converting baskets in transition. Down 17-26 in rebounds at the half, the Blazers also took care of business crashing the boards after the break.

By the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, the Blazers could smell the victory. Finally, they were starting to play without pressure. And they were playing better as a result. The team’s cohesiveness and hustle turned a hairline of a lead into a thirteen point spread at the end of the contest, 74-61.

After six games of playing bridesmaids to the NCAA’s top teams, the Blazers finally had the chance to sing the alma matter hymn first, and gleefully at that. Manlapaz got his very first Player of the Game honor this season, a fitting tribute to the team’s silent captain, who’s college playing career is already being numbered. For the first time since that July 31 classic against the Chiefs, the coliseum barker announced that the game’s final score was, indeed, “…in favor of the College of St. Benilde Blazers!” .

For a long period of time, the CSB postgame locker room was filled with either silence or screams from the coaching staff. This time, however, the frustration and the agony of losing was washed away, and was replaced by smiles and laughter. “It’s a good feeling”, Coach Richard shared to his Blazers. Despite being short-handed against the equally-struggling AUF squad, the Blazers were not even trying to miss the chance of ending this season in high spirits. They knew right from the start that this would be a great opportunity to get a win, and they took it.

But business has not been completely taken cared of. Up next, they have to face one more NCAA giant: the San Beda Red Lions. While the injury-depleted Benilde team seem to have no chance against the multi-decorated Lions on paper, Coach Richard urged the guys to bring the fight to the Mendiola-based collective, “Gusto ko lang na lumaban kayo!”. Expect this 10-man Blazer rotation to come out fighting against their Goliath of an opponent.

Despite the many disappointments that occurred during the season, there’s no denying that, for the first time in an awfully long period of time, good vibes is back on the Benilde side.

CSB 74 – Montecastro 24, Manlapaz 14, Umlas 11, Abolucion 11, Tan 7, dela Paz 4, Wong 3, Tajonera 0, de Guzman 0, Argamino 0, Urra 0

AUF 61 – Carney 14, Manarang 12, Fuertez 12, Gigante 8, Nacu 6, Musni 6, Gomez 3, Santos 0, Maniago 0, Henson 0, Dumlao 0

Quarterscores: 18-16; 33-30; 47-46; 74-61

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