BASKETBALL hotbeds squared off and the next generation of cagers from the land that produced the likes of Calvin Abueva and Arwind Santos prevailed over the successors of James Yap and Ronald Tubid.
After another runner-up finish in the Palarong Pambansa, Pampanga dribblers under the stable of well-known basketball patron Dennis Pineda finally got the championship they’ve been coveting as they ruled the Cloudfone Batang PBA with a scintillating 101-94 win against Iloilo in the winner-take-all finals at the Gatorade Hoops Center Gym on Saturday.
Pampanga trailed against Iloilo in the early goings but mounted a comeback after coach Humperdinck Dimatulao switched to a zone defense to disorganize the offensive juggernaut of the taller Ilonggos.
“Mas malalaki sila eh, kaya ginamitan naming ng bilis. Mahihirapan kami kung makikipag slow break kami sa kanila,” said Dimatulao, one of the understudies of longtime Pampanga mentor Allan Trinidad.
“Hinayaan naming magkumpiyansa sila sa first three quarters tapos saka kami nag-adjust ng killer defense nung final period,” he added.
Iloilo still led, 74-73, with 8 minutes left in the game when the Pampangueños went on a scoring spree, anchored on fastbreak points off turnovers, to retake the lead, 78-77 and never looked back.
With Mark Adrina Mallari’s heroics, Pampanga went on to sustain their attacks, leaving their Illonggo rivals groping for answers.
“Nung lumamang kami ng isa, sabi ko eto na, nag-iinit na ang mga bata. Tapos lumayo kami, 88-82, then sinunod sunod na ni Mallari ang atake, hindi na nakabalik pa ang Iloilo,” said Trinidad, who took pride in Pampanga being named as the first ever Cloudfone Batang PBA National Finals champion.
“Masaya kami kasi pride ito para sa amin, lalo pa at gusting gusto ni Vice Gov Pineda na ipakilala ang lugar namin bilang bagong cradle ng Pinoy basketball. Kami kasi ang pinaka-active mag discover ng bagong talent ngayon,” he added.
True enough, Pineda's efforts to discover and develop players has produced some of the country's best basketball players like Abueva, Santos, Ian Sangalang, Jayson Castro, Ronald Pascual and Japeth Aguilar.
“We will continue honing the skills of our players. We have a US-based program for them. Makikita nyo naman ang bilis ang development ng mga Pampanga players, marami na kaming manlalaro ang nasa PBA at UAAP ngayon,” said Pineda, who also handles the careers of collegiate players Larry Muyang and UAAP juniors star Justin Baltazar.
Up next for the Pampanga team is their bid to finally wrestle the Palarong Pambansa championship, which they lost to NCR and Calabarzon over the last two years.
[See video of highlights here:]