I’ve always rooted for the underdog. Hence, my heart was cheering silently for the Magnolia Hotshots in the Finals of the All-Filipino Cup. But then, my head was saying that San Miguel’s blockbuster Beermen simply had too many aces to win the crown.
And true enough, after 7 grueling matches that would go this way and that, the heavily-favored Beermen found a way to annex the crown, edging the Hotshots 72-71 in a compelling come-from-behind nail-biter of a Game 7. Being the veteran team that they were, they found a way to squeeze through all the challenges, all the tricks the Hotshots unveiled before them. Truly the mark of champions.
June Mar Fajardo scored a mere 17 points, but hauled down a monster 31 rebounds (!) to lead the Beermen’s charge to the top. He was just all over the shaded lane, despite a double, sometimes a triple, even a quadruple-team. Truly deserving of the MVP award.
And when the entire Magnolia Hotshot defense collapsed on June Mar, the snipers led by Alex Cabagnot, Terrence Romeo, Chris Ross and Arwind Santos would blast deadly artillery fire from afar. Truly, a complete inside-outside offensive that bewitched, bothered and bewildered the Hotshot defenders.
But credit will have to go to the underdogs as well. Despite losing a lopsided 4-1 count against the same juggernaut team in last year’s edition of the All-Pinoy championship, the Hotshots made it a thrilling fight down to the very last second.
Emerging star Ian Sanggalang and the veteran Raffy Reavis matched wits with SanMig’s bigs; while the exciting triple threat of Mark Barroca, Paul Lee and Jio Jalalon went eyeball-to-eyeball with the Beermen’s star backcourt of Alex, Terrence and Chris. The inspiring Hotshots left everything – including the kitchen sink – on the table in this war of attrition against the best Pinoy team in the land. Kudos to the Magnolia Hotshots for their heroic stand against a seeming endless horde of beer-guzzling White Walkers. Your gallantry, your determination to fight, and most of all, your surprising ability to rise beyond expectations have made us believe that miracles can happen.
Except that San Mig simply had more aces up their sleeves.
You want height and heft? SanMig had June Mar, Christian Stanhardinger, Kelly Nabong, Yancy Ocampo and Billy Mamaril, all standing north of 6’5”. You want to bring in speed? The Beermen had Ross, Romeo, Matt Ganuelas, etc. You need outside sniping? They had Cabagnot, Romeo, Marcio Lassiter, Arwind Santos and more. You need veteran on-court savvy? Plenty, with Santos, Cabagnot, Ronald Tubid, et al. You need a bruising enforcer? They had Nabong. This team was simply loaded as hell. With a skyline as tall as the Himalayas, and a bench as deep as the ocean.
What’s next for the Beermen? With the Commissioner’s Cup just right around the corner, we foresee SanMig’s aces once again in the thick of the fight. They’ll get their usual dose of surprise losses, as they’re expected to switch off the ‘beast mode’ for a while. But come playoff time, expect the Beermen to turn on their defense and their physicality a few notches higher; feel the unique SanMig swag as they try their psywar tactics to get you off your psyche; and be ready for a whole new experience as the real-deal, lean-and-mean SanMig Beerbusters step front and center once more.
With the historic 5th consecutive All-Filipino crown now safely tucked under their belts, it is time for new adventures, new challenges ahead.
(For a closer look, just click on the pictures. All pics courtesy of PBA.ph)