St. Clare brings off Naascu breakthroughBy Marc Anthony Reyes
Philippine Daily Inquirer
ST. CLARE completed its historic rise from league doormat to champion yesterday.
Dragged by a determined Centro Escolar side into overtime, St. Clare held on to prevail, 78-74, and sweep the National Athletic Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (Naascu) men’s basketball championship at Makati Coliseum.
The Saints, whose best finish was third place in 2003, hacked out a 2-0 record in the best-of-three series to capture their first title in the league they helped formed along with the defunct University of Manila 12 years ago.
“It’s sweet victory for us,” said St. Clare president and Naascu chief Dr. Ernest Jay Adalem. “We have proven to the community that even cellar-dwellers can one day become champions.”
Adalem said that while St. Clare won the title by dropping just one game all season, the climb was filled with hardship and frustrations.
“There were many people who were willing to help us with our program,” said Adalem in the din of celebrations.
St. Clare gained a lot after UM closed its basketball program following its victory last year. The Saints not only acquired UM coach Jinno Manansala but key players Jeff Viernes and Eugene Torres as well.
“I guess we have that distinction of becoming back-to-back champions with two different teams,” said Manansala, a former University of Santo Tomas enforcer at the UAAP who chose basketball coaching over a career in nursing.
“We have been practicing since December last year, because we know that we are forming a new, revamped team. Our hard work paid off,” added Manansala, son of former national player and PBA star Jimmy Manansala.
The Saints opened the season by winning their first 10 games before absorbing their only loss, a shocker from last year’s runner-up STI.
“That took a lot of pressure from us because after that we were no longer thinking of a sweep but just to win the title,” said the 5-foot-9 Viernes.
Playmaker Viernes and Torres are in their last season in the league.
STI defeated Amacu, 80-63, to clinch third place even as the Baby Scorpions dumped the STI Baby Olympians, 90-80, for the juniors title.
ST. CLARE 78—Viernes 31, Torres E. 14, Gil 12, Santos 9, Jamito 6, Lunor 3, Dulalia 2, Amboludto 1.
CEU 74—Garcia 15, Batino 15, Pedrosa 11, Abundo 10, Alquisalas 8, Magbitang 6, Guillen 4, Parale 4, Beldad 0, Banua 0.
Quarters: 27-21, 38-43, 59-53, 71-71, 74-78