JUST like last year, La Salle Greenhills were just a tad better than Mapua High School.
The Greenies proved just that, fending off a late rally from the Red Robins to take a 74-69 Game One victory in the NCAA Season 94 juniors basketball finals on Tuesday at Mall of Asia Arena.
Joel Cagulangan scored nine of his 16 points in the endgame as CSB-LSGH avenged its elimination defeats to Mapua. The Season MVP also had 12 rebounds and four assists as the Greenies moved close to scoring back-to-back titles.
Game Two is on Monday.
Inand Fornilos added 15 points, 11 boards and two blocks, while Mark Sangco also tallied his own double-double with his 10 points and 15 rebounds.
"We're tired of losing to them," admitted coach Marvin Bienvenida as CSB-LSGH finally scored a victory against Mapua for the first time since Game Three of last year's championship series.
The Greenies held a 13-point lead, 55-42 early in the fourth quarter before the Red Robins stormed back in the game behind injured leader Clint Escamis, who waxed hot from deep and dropped four treys in the payoff period to notch 14 points.
Unfortunately, Escamis' inspiring stretch met its untimely demise as he aggravated his injured left knee that forced coach Randy Alcantara to sub him out with 3:09 remaining.
Cagulangan's triple with a minute left felt like the dagger CSB-LSGH needed to take a 73-65 lead, but Paolo Hernandez and Jonnel Policarpio refused to let Mapua down, cutting the deficit to just three, 72-69, with 22.8 remaining.
The Red Robins still had a chance to tie the game in the waning seconds, but Policarpio flubbed his drive and Karl Mariano fouled Mark Sangco on the rebound play with 7.0 ticks left. Sangco missed both free throws, but Joshua David was there to steal the ball.
"We'll slug it out. It could've gone either way but somehow, we were able to cope up with our mistakes," said Bienvenida.
Hernandez led Mapua with 20 points and nine rebounds, while Policarpio got 15 and eight.
CSB-LSGH 74 - Cagulangan 16, Fornilos 15, Sangco 10, Calimag 8, Morales 7, David 5, Palencia 5, Valenzuela 5, Lao 3, Mosqueda 0, Lepalam 0.
Mapua 69 - Hernandez 20, Policarpio 15, Escamis 14, Arches 9, Sarias 5, Mariano 4, Smith 2, Diaz 0, Dennison 0, Quimado 0.
Quarterscores: 17-18; 42-32; 53-42; 74-69.