Lipa City, Batangas
It’s our ninth month since my wife and I got married. She’s eight and a half months pregnant now. And we’re celebrating in some coffee shop here in Lipa City on this one cold, rainy night. It turned out to be a double celebration as University of Santo Tomas brought down National U, 76-69, to clinch the last spot to the UAAP Season 76 Finals. There, the Tigers will face the La Salle Archers in a best-of-three championship. For all the marbles. Flashback to the 90s when, to tell you all honestly, the time when I started to write sports stories, first with the Manila Times, then for The Philippine STAR, the paper you read from cover to cover (Shameless!).
You see, my wife is ecstatic. Delirious actually. She’s a UST alumna and went to high school at La Salle-Lipa. It’s a win-win situation. But she tells me her heart is for the Tigers. She’s like that with me at this stage of her pregnancy. Tigress to the end. My sister-in-law, my kuya’s wife, is also from UST, by the way. For everyone, I’m neither from a UAAP school or NCAA school. Whichever school wins, I don’t give a S#@t! But when my wife in front of me, you know which team I’ll cheer, right?
The reason I’m writing this blog is the awe I’m feeling on how UST achieve the impossible. Ateneo has MVP, or telecommunication honcho and sports philantrophist Manny V. Pangilinan. La Salle has San Miguel’s Danding Cojuangco. National U has Henry Sy and the massive SM chain of malls. And MOA Arena too. Now who or what is feeding the Tigers? Who is supporting UST?
I joked that it was Bulaluhan sa Espana. Familiar with that food joint past Blumentrit in Espana just before Welcome Rotonda? That’s open 24 hours a day and its famous for its Bulalo and grilled hito (catfish). It makes me hungry thinking of it. Or perhaps Pansitan sa Dapitan, if there’s such a joint.
Inquirer assistant sports editor Francis Ochoa answers these: The valiant legions. Thomasians. Julius Manicad, the burly, Metta World Peace-like reporter from The Daily Tribune, says God is a Thomasian. Abac Cordero, our senior reporter at The STAR, says its Erap. Malaya’s seasoned reporter Manolo Pedralvez butted in and says its Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile. I answered I hope its not Napoles, the brains behind the mother of all scams. But whoever is funding UST must be feeding it with a lot of Gatorade or Cobra or some adrenaline pump.
The Tigers, to tell you honestly, are poor as hell. What’s funding them are the generous alumni who chipped in here and there to make ends meet. And the crowd support too, which is crazy as hell. It’s like four-peat all over again in the 90s. The Aric magic of coach Aric del Rosario is back. Only its with Pido Jarencio, the quotable coach who steered the Tigers to their last championship in 2006. And I remembered 2006. They came from a miserable 2-5 (win-loss) start, ended up tied with Admason at No. 3, beat No. 2 seed Bon Bon Custodio and the University of the East Warriors twice in the Final Four before facing Ateneo in the best-of-three finale. You know that one is a classic right? Ateneo won Game One on a buzzer-beating alley-oop shot by Doug Kramer with exactly a second to go. UST got a reprieve when “Milenyo” forced the UAAP to postpone Game Two, taking away the momentum factor from the Eagles. The Tigers won Game Two and then edged the Eagles in overtime in the deciding Game Three. History.
Now its La Salle vs UST. They’ve faced four times in the UAAP Finals with the Tigers winning the first three as the culmination of their four-peat in in the mid-90s before the Archers, then composed of Ren Ren Ritualo, Don Allado, Dino Aldeguer and team captain Francis Zamora, who is now a Vice Mayor in San Juan, got back in 1999 to win it all.
It will also be Jeric Teng vs Jeron Teng. Sibling rivalry, these sons of Alvin “Robocop” Teng. It’s also nice to see Pido Jarencio taking on Juno Sauler. For me the winner there should be Coach of the Year hands down.
But its intriguing to see how UST’s journey has turned out. First it dethroned five-peat champion Ateneo to make it to the Final Four. They then stunned top seed NU to become the first No. 4 seed team to ever make the finals since the Final Four format was introduced in 1994. And now La Salle. Do I see a Cinderella finish here? Perhaps UST’s secret is, as ludicrous as it sounds, is PPP. Puso, Palaban Pride. Or is it the Tiger balm?
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