FOR the second straight year, National U-Manila and La Salle Green Hills-Mandaluyong are set to meet in the 2019 Chooks-to-Go NBTC National Finals presented by SM after clearing their respective Fearless Four matchups, Friday at SM Mall of Asia Arena.
NU-Manila barely hung on to beat San Beda-Manila, 91-90, if not for Gerry Abadiano's heroics while LSGH-Mandaluyong turned back FEU-Manila, 87-77, to advance to the Division 1 championship game set for Sunday still at the same venue.
Team captain Abadiano led the Bullpups with 23 points, four steals and three assists while Cyril Gonzales and Terrence Fortea each tallied 18 markers in the nail-biting win in the Fearless 4 of the national championship for high school backed by Chooks-to-Go, Darlington-Exped Socks, EPSON, Huawei, Freego, Purefoods, Gatorade, Go for Gold, SM, Molten, and presented by 5Plus and Lighthouse Events.
After being down 26 late in the first half, the Red Cubs stormed all the way back and Penny Estacio's layup even gave them the lead, 85-84, with 2:10 left to play.
Both squads then traded leads until ex-NU star and now-San Beda main man Rhayyan Amsali knotted it up again at 89-all with 22 ticks left.
After a timeout, Abadiano wasted away the clock before silencing the Red Cubs once and for all with a game-winning midrange jumper.
"Siguro, iniisip ko lang, syempre pina-practice ko lagi (yun). Iniisip ko lang, last shot na 'to para mag-championship na kami," shared Abadiano. "Pag tinira ko 'to, bahala na. Bahala na kung pumasok or hindi, manalo or overtime. Nung tinira ko pumasok naman siya, sobrang saya."
With two seconds still on the clock, Estacio had a shot to send the game into overtime after getting fouled at the buzzer, but missed his first freebie.
“That’s what I’ve been pointing out from the very first game, sinasabi kong pinakaimportante yung pagiging consistent namin,” said coach Goldwin Monteverde. “We were leading by 26 points pero once na matulog ka diyan, in a short span, pwedeng mahabol, which is what happened. San Beda played very well in the second half and on the other end naman, sama ng depensa namin.”
Amsali powered San Beda with 26 points and 10 rebounds while two-way guard Tony Ynot sparked the fightback and seized 16 markers and 7 boards.
Meanwhile, Joshua David led LSGH to an 10-point triumph over FEU with 21 points and six rebounds while Kobe Palencia gave a 17-point boost off the bench.
But the highlight of the game was the surprise return of NCAA 94 Juniors MVP Joel Cagulangan who is coming off ankle surgery, but still tallied eight points and three assists in eight minutes on the floor.
“Sobrang sarap sa pakiramdam kasi nakalaro ko na uli mga kakampi ko,” Cagulangan said. “Dapat nga bawal pa ako pero sabi ni coach. Gusto namin mag-Finals eh."
RJ Abarrientos did everything he could for FEU but eventually saw his 38-point eruption go to waste. The spitfire guard went down swinging, hitting 7-of-16 three-pointers.
The Greenies were well within control halfway through the fourth quarter, opening up a 14-point gap, 77-63, after a Jared Lao three-ball.
Staying true to his new reputation as the Baby Tamaraws' “King of the Fourth,” however, Abarrientos then responded with two straight contested triples to trim the lead to seven with 3:57 left to play.
However, Cagulangan proved he has not lost his killer instinct and responded with two threes of his own in the last two minutes, effectively dousing cold water on Abarrientos’ hot streak and FEU’s finals hopes.
Before NU and LSGH square off for the national championship, however, fans will first get to see the best of the best high school ballers duke it out on Saturday in the NBTC All-Star Game, also at SM MOA Arena.
That exhibition, alongside the tournament Finals, will be aired live on ESPN5 and streamed live over at tv5.espn.com.
The centerpiece weekend of the week-long tourney is still free of admission, with fans needing just a valid ID to enter SM Mall of Asia Arena.