Ormoc City youngsters dwarfed by Kai Sotto, but savor experience of a lifetime
New Ormoc City National High School players take turn getting their selfies taken with Ateneo prodigy Kai Sotto. Marlo Cueto

NEW Ormoc City National High School has just received a 51-point drubbing at the hands of Ateneo, but there were smiles on the faces of the players.

Immediately after the buzzer, members of the Ormoc-based team turned from players to fans as they took turns posing for photos with Kai Sotto, Ateneo’s 7-foot-1 phenom, at center court.

It was a moment they will never forget.

Ormoc coach Benjie Inong said the team was very excited to go up against Ateneo, even though certain defeat against the reigning UAAP juniors champions so early in the tournament was bound to dent its chances at making it deep into the Division 1 playoffs.

“Ang iniisip lang talaga namin is ‘yung opportunity na makalaro sila,” said Inong, who is also the Religion and Values Education teacher in the school. ”It just so happened na Eagles din ‘yung tawag sa team namin. It was taken from Ateneo. Kaya nung natalo kami [in the seeding round] at nalaman namin na Ateneo ang makakalaban namin, it was a great opportunity.”

“Parang panalo na rin kami,” added Inong.

With a team lacking in height, Inong said he only told his players to do their best and make great use of the opportunity to play against the Blue Eaglets.

The team cheeredly loudly after Joshua Eronico scored his only two points of the game over Sotto.

“Ibigay lang nila ‘yung best nila,” Inong said. ”Kita naman maliliit talaga. Bigyan lang namin sila ng magandang depensa. Sinabihan ko ‘yung (Bernardo) Teves, ‘yung matangkad sa amin na it is your opportunity to play defense on him.”

New Ormoc National High School is the only public school competing in the NBTC, but it has a good track record in its region. The Eagles have represented Region 8 in the Palarong Pambansa from 2015 in Tagum City to 2017 in Antique.

The city itself already has a list of players who are already making a name for themselves led by San Beda’s Robert Bolick. High school players Joshua Yerro of University of the Visayas and Kobe Palencia of University of Santo Tomas are also from Ormoc.

But like other public schools, New Ormoc NHS had to make do with meager funds for its sports program. The school plays on an open court, sometimes with little or no light.

“Talagang kahit mga basic equipment, mahirap talaga. Kailangan namin gumawa ng paraan na makapaglaro. Tulong-tulong lang talaga. We have to support ourselves. Tinitiis lang namin. Ang importante, nakakapaglaro ‘yung mga bata.”

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The team's participation in the qualifiers, regionals, and the nationals should go a long way in its development, the coach said.

“Kaya nagpapasalamat ako sa NBTC na kahit papaano, natututo kami. ‘Yung natututunan namin sa coaches convention, inaapply namin. Tinitignan namin kung ano ang kaya ng mga bata,” said Inong.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @reubensports