Mapua Cardinals stake winning streak against reeling Perpetual Help Altas
Coach Atoy Co and his suddenly streaking Cardinals brace for a tough battle against the Perpatual Help Altas mentored by Aric del Rosario. Jerome Ascano

MAPUA coach Atoy Co seemed to take “one game at a time” too seriously that he claimed of having no idea who the Cardinals’ next opponent was.

“I really don’t know,” the PBA icon said in the post-game conference after the Cardinals dispatched Lyceum, 76-65, on Friday for a rare second straight win and just their third overall in 13 games.

Reminded that it would be Final Four contender Perpetual Help, Co quickly offered a succinct reply.

“Oh, s---,” the well-loved mentor blurted out, drawing laughter from the press.

The Cardinals take on the Altas on Wednesday trying to provide their opponents a worthy challenge in the hopes of keeping their string of stunning results alive.

It may not appear in the standings, but the Cardinals have been showing a lot of fight as of late, leaning on guards in CJ Isit, Leo Gabo, Exeqiel Biteng, and Andoy Estrella to move out of the cellar for the first time since last year.

In fact, expect in their first two games of the season where they lost by 34 points each, the Cardinals have kept their defeats respectable. Mapua has particularly stepped up in the second round as it lost to league-leading San Beda by five points, second-running Arellano by only three points, before finally getting rewarded with their first back-to-back wins of the season.  

That’s what the Cardinals hope to continue doing as they face the fifth-running Altas in the lone seniors’ match at 4 p.m.

“We will give them a hard fight,” Co said. “I don’t mind losing as long as we are there in the end fighting.”

The Cardinals will be hard-pressed to get a victory against the Altas, who are in the thick of the Final Four race with an 8-5 win-loss card, behind Arellano and Jose Rizal University by only half a game and eager to bounce back from a 76-80 overtime loss to JRU.

The Altas also have a formidable lineup led by Earl Thompson, Juneric Baloria, and Harold Arboleda, whom coach Aric del Rosario recently compared to his former terrific trio at University of Santo Tomas in Bal David, Henry Ong, and Dennis Espino.

“Maliit lang ito (na version), pero malaki rin ang puso,” the veteran mentor said of the trio that along with Justine Alano, have been carrying most of the load for the Altas. 

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos