By Jonas Terrado
BRT Sumisip Basilan-St. Clare completed a stunning turnaround by repeating over Marinerong Pilipino 63-60 in the deciding third game of their best-of-three series Monday to capture the PBA D-League Foundation Cup crown before a big crowd at the Paco Arena in Manila.
Hesed Gabo’s timely baskets since the start of the fourth quarter, key free throws by Joshua Fontanilla and Japs Bautista and collective defensive effort in the dying seconds enabled the Saints to upset the favored Skippers in a thrilling finish to the two-month conference composed of 14 teams.
Coach Stevenson Tiu battled tears as he finally savored his first D-League championship after two failed tries last season with Che’Lu Bar and Grill.
This time, he was able to steer a team composed of a mixture of his former Che’Lu players and top cagers from NAASCU titleholder St. Clare to the title.
“Di bumitaw ang mga bata even after we lost Game 1 by a big margin. Yun ang reward para sa amin,” said Tiu, whose team’s chances of winning it all appeared to be bleak when Marinerong Pilipino took a 69-59 win in the opener.
Sumisip-St. Clare forced a decider when he a hot start powered by Jesse Collado led to a 74-60 romp at the Cuneta Astrodome last Wednesday, denying Marinero of completing the third tournament sweep in league history.
“Yun ang wish ko for how many years sa D-League. Palagi akong second place but this one, yun ang difference dahil ngayon puro young ones na. Maybe it’s destined for me,” added Tiu.
Gabo, who joined Sumisip-St. Clare at the start of the quarterfinals, put his team in front 49-48 with five straight points to begin the fourth.
It took a while before the former Mapua guard delivered anew with a three-point shot that gave the Saints the lead for good at 59-57, over the three minutes to go.
A free throw contest ensued with Marinero’s Santi Santillan splitting a pair and Bautista hitting two to make it 61-58 Sumisip, 1:26 to go. Jhonard Clarito’s basket with 20 seconds left cut the gap to 61-60, setting up a thrilling conclusion to the series.
Bautista turned the ball over for the Saints while Santillan missed a potential go-ahead basket, leading to a split by Fontanilla for 62-60, 10 ticks left.
Mark Yee went for a game-tying three but missed and Bautista was fouled with 0.4 remaining, triggering wild celebrations from the Saints players, coaches and their supporters.
Yee posted 17 points and 14 rebounds while Clarito posted 13 points and 15 rebounds but the D-League title eluded Marinerong Pilipino for another conference.
Marinero was primed to end its quest after enlisting some of the best players outside of the PBA and the collegiate leagues.
Eloy Poligrates, who recently left his MPBL squad to join Marinero, was adjudged as the league’s Most Valuable Player after a stellar conference highlighted by a record 67 points during an elimination round game.
The Skippers added John Villarias before the playoffs, providing key contributions with his outside shooting.
These factors were not enough in the end.
SUMISIP-ST. CLARE 63 — Bautista 18, Gabo 12, Batino 11, Pare 9, Fontanilla 5, Collado 2, Palencia 2, Dumapig 2, Hallare 2, Rubio 0.
MARINERONG PILIPINO 60 — Yee 17, Clarito 13, Santillan 7, Poligrates 6, Sara 5, McAloney 3, Ayonayon 2, Rios 2, Alabanza 0, Villarias 0, Mangahas 0.
Quarters: 12-12; 24-22; 44-48; 63-60.