KIKO Gesmundo blasted a two-run home run in the ninth inning as La Salle beat Ateneo, 11-9, on Friday to clinch the UAAP Season 81 crown in a dramatic fashion at the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium.
Gesmundo had a 2-1 fastball off Ateneo starter Paolo Macasaet soaring to the left field stands with two outs and the score tied at 9-all, handing La Salle its fifth championship in the league and first since 2016.
Gesmundo was later named Finals MVP in a fitting end to his La Salle career.
Gesmundo's late-game heroics were exactly what the Green Archers needed after the Blue Eagles battled back to tie the score at 9-9 behind a four-run eighth inning.
Diego Lozano walked to start the ninth for La Salle before Gesmundo, after two La Salle fly outs, blasted the game-winner.
La Salle coach Joseph Orillana was in tears before he spoke to reporters.
“Ang bigat ng laro,” said Orillana, himself a former pitcher of La Salle during the early 2000s. “Hindi pa rin ako nawalan ng tiwala sa kanila. Nandoon pa rin ‘yung lahat ng pinaghirapan namin. May mangyayari at mangyayari sa laro dahil sa tiwala ko sa kanila. Nandoon pa rin ‘yung drive nila to win. Hindi sila nawalan ng faith.”
“Sabi ko sa kanila, ang home run darating din ‘yan. Ang importante ‘yung hitting nila. Wag nila isipin ‘yung home run,” said Orillana.
La Salle won Game One, 9-7, but Ateneo, which won the title three straight times from 2013 to 2015 and again in 2017, tied the series with a 7-3 victory in Game Two.
Tuwi Park and Anton Rosas hit home a run each in the first inning, while Boo Barandiaran and Iggy Escano scored on an error and passed ball, respectively, in the fourth to stake La Salle to a 6-1 lead.
La Salle looked headed to an easy win after pelting three runs highlighted by a two-run single by Anton Acuna in the top of the eighth for a 9-5 lead.
Ateneo, however, refused to quit.
Marco Mallari sent home two runners with a double before scoring on a bloop single by Javi Macasaet. Dino Altomonte then scored on a sacrifice fly as the Blue Eagles scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth.
The Blue Eagles were unable to respond to Gesmundo’s home run as La Salle relief pitcher Arvin Herrera forced them into a season-ending double play.
Lozano won the Season MVP honor along with the Best Slugger and Most Home Runs award. Other awardees include Barandiaran (Best Hitter), Escano (Most RBIs), Erwin Bosito of Adamson (Most Stolen Base), Mar Joseph Carolino (Best Pitcher), and Mark John Philip Beronilla (Rookie of the Year).