Mr. Enzo Flojo, HS-CMSO
Redemption, indeed, is as sweet as honey.
And for this year’s Xavier Juniors Basketball team, honey came by the truckloads.
In their climactic clash with their old nemesis this past Sunday, 21 October 2006, the Golden Stallions fulfilled their long overdue destiny.
During the 2005 season of the Philippine Athletic Youth Association (PAYA) Juniors Basketball Tournament, the Xavier School Stallions (led by 2006 UAAP Rookie of the Year Woody Co) went unbeaten all through out the eliminations and semifinals only to falter in the Championship game. Their opponent back then was an unheralded squad from Claret School of Quezon City, which upset the Blue & Gold with a last second undergoal stab.
The title escaped their grasp, at the last possible moment – nothing tasted bitterer.
Best Served Cold
And so this season’s titular tussle would be extra-explosive as the two schools would face off again for the ultimate prize.
Claret was out to defend its championship pride while Xavier had a mission to exorcise the demons from last year’s loss.
The Golden Stallions were out for vengeance, and they would dish it out the best way they knew how – cold as ice.
Out of the Gates
From the get-go, the Xaverians jumped the gun and were visibly determined to leave the competition in the dust. With the boisterous crowd egging them on, the Blue & Gold pounced relentlessly on defense, grabbing loose balls left and right. The Claretians were clearly struggling to keep up, but, just as if an invisible hand was protecting the goal, Xavier just couldn’t convert on many of their easy shots to get some breathing room.
Coach Lito Vergara, recognizing the early futility of their running game, decided to pound the ball down low to Gabriel Banal (H3D) and Justinn Sze (H4G) and the duo were able to effectively outmuscle their heftier counterparts. At first quarter’s end, Xavier found themselves up, 12-9, with Banal and Sze scoring 7 and 3 points respectively.
With a tough 1st canto behind them, the Golden Stallions regrouped and blazed through the second quarter. Utilizing an 8-0 run to break the game open, Coach Vergara’s second unit just plainly outmatched and outran the Red & Blue bench, giving the home team an 11-point advantage, 20-9, with first few minutes gone by. Claret sued for time and adjusted perfectly, bridging a 3-pointer and an undergoal basket to trim the deficit at 20-14.
The Stallions, though, returned fire en route to a 31-22 halftime spread anchored on the efforts of Banal, Anton Arellano (H3E, 4pts) and the pesky defense of Joe Umali (H4H, 3 steals).
The next ten minutes proved to be the most crippling for Claret’s back-to-back Championship hopes.
Xavier opened the 3rd quarter with a 6-0 tear to extend the gap, 37-22, but just when it seemed the title was in the bag, Claret fought back with their own 6-0 spurt and made a game of it again, 37-28.
Coach Vergara, however, was undaunted. Aided by his 2002 UAAP Juniors Championship experience, he masterfully shuffled his men and inserted his rookies. Equally bold, Banal, Arellano, Robin Tan (H3A) and Jasper Pua (H3G) connived to outscore the defending champs, 12-4, the rest of the way and pegged the count in favor of Xavier, 49-32, going into the final 10 minutes.
All of a sudden, the Blue & Gold gallery could smell the sweet scent of their first title of the year.
Going the Distance
The Claretians would not fold up easily though. Like true champions they never wavered and showed grit in crawling back into the contest. They began the last period with a vigorous 9-2 blast and slashed the deficit, 51-41.
Shortly after that Shaun Lim (H4H) was left open from beyond the arc and shot a cold-blooded 3-pointer to give Xavier more breathing room, but Claret once again clawed their way into the game and were within 7 points, 54-47, with under 3 minutes left.
Just like that, getting the title didn’t seem so certain. Claret was upset-conscious and momentum was on their side.
A young Stallion though, would rise up and stem the tide.
In front of his famous father and the throngs of loyal Xavier fans, Gabriel Banal capped his game-long brilliance with 3 magnificent plays. He showed his versatility by making two lay-ups and dishing out an assist to put the result beyond doubt at 60-47, only 58 ticks remaining.
Claret scored three more points, but team captain Ale Torres (H4A) displayed his poise by splitting his endgame charities to ice the victory, 61-50.
Sweet Victory, Sweet Triumph
After the smoke cleared and the drumbeats subsided, Xavier stood tall and proud, they have regained lost glory, they have redeemed last year’s folly and they have proven themselves worthy to be crowned champions.
Coach Vergara was obviously pleased at his boys’ laborious journey to the elusive diadem. He was able to rely on his veterans for leadership and honed his rookies into the fine players they have become.
Gabriel Banal came into fore as the Championship game’s best player, tallying 22 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 steals. His frontcourt mate, Justinn Sze ably backed him up with 9 points, 3 rebounds and 3 steals, despite fouling out in the 4 th quarter, while Anton Arellano was a revelation off the bench with 6 points, 6 boards and 1 steal.
Kudos to the 2006 PAYA Champion Team – the “Jubilee” Basketball Team of Xavier School, our very own Golden Stallions!
The 2006 Xavier School Juniors Basketball Team
Torres, Alejandro (H4A) - Captain
So, Jonathan (H4A)
Chu , Goodyield (H4C)
Borbe, Martin (H4D)
Chua, Ron (H4D)
Uychiaoco, Morgan (H4E)
Sze, Justinn (H4G)
Lim, Shaun (H4H)
Umali, Joseph (H4H)
Tan, Robin (H3A)
Banal, Gabriel (H3D)
Arellano, Anton (H3E)
Tin, Stephen (H3F)
Pua, Jasper (H3G)
Tan, Jerald (H3G)
Lito Vergara (Head Coach)
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