Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

San Sebastian Stags on the brink

Stags on the brink
San Sebastian seemed to be coasting to another NCAA title. Now, the question is, can they even make it to the Finals. By Rick Olivares with Diana Moraleda's photos.

It’s a cosmic joke. It has to be.

Calvin Abueva. He of the amazing talent able to corral rebounds over the Sudan Daniels of this world in a single bound. He who can string up points in bunches like it was going out of style. He of the school of hard knocks whose elbow, shoulder, head(butt), knee, and butt should be classified as a deadly weapon.

The San Sebastian Stag has been known to push, shove, and clothesline foes over the landscape of college hardcourts drawing the ire of the opposing team’s supporters – well, mostly San Beda’s. But this year, he’s trying to be on his best behavior. And he’s been warned of his foes trying to provoke him.

But to no avail.

With a minute and thirty left in the game and the Stags down 60-67, the Knights’ Mark Cruz attempted a jumper from the left elbow. The shot was long and Abueva, by his lonesome underneath the basket, was ready to pluck down the brick. Only he never got to it.

Letran’s Junjun Alas put a hand on his back and slightly pushed him. But no whistle was forthcoming.

Alas corralled the loose ball and Letran went on to waste more precious seconds. Abueva shot the referee an incredulous look and spread his arms demanding justice but the game had continued.

Although Abueva induced Alas to commit his fifth and last foul on San Sebastian’s next offensive (he also got Ray Almazan and Jon Belorio to foul out), despite his two free throws, there wasn’t a whole lot time left.

The season started as one for the books. Now it bears some resemblance to the Boston Red Sox’ recent epic fail. The high-flying dunks are gone. The laughter, smiles, showboating, and superb play are close to a thing of the past. Just like the 15-game win streak that started the season. Reeling doesn’t begin to describe the Stags.

From the team that could win it all, they not only are teetering on the brink but rival San Beda booked the first Finals seat ahead of them.

Inside the Stag’s dugout at the San Juan Arena following the 70-62 loss to Letran in the first game of their Final Four series, there was first silence. Then tempered rage from team management. Boy, were there questions and statements. Bold ones that could elicit anger and maybe start a mutiny. But after four losses in their last five matches, the accusations were damning.

“You have no pride. You have no shame. There is no leadership.”

The game was typical of when the two meet. No quarter is given. Field goal percentage plummets lower than the stock market. And matters on and off the court escalate to a boil.

With under two minutes to play, the Stags’ Dexter Maiquez sneaked in a punch to Letran’s Kevin Alas. The Knight point guard’s father and coach Louie Alas pointed at Maiquez in a rage and hurled choice invectives at the Stag.

Seconds later, Abueva angrily warded off Letran’s Jam Cortes. San Sebastian head coach Topex Robinson yelled at Abueva, “What are you doing? Keep your head straight!” Abueva ignored him and Robinson turned back to his bench where management and the team patrons sat. “Did you see that?” he pleaded.

It’s been a tough week for the first year San Sebastian head coach. He absorbed back-to-back loses to San Beda stripping them of their cloak of invincibility. Although it was the Knights who first opened the dam that has since become a Pandora’s box of problems, San Sebastian figured their finals opponent all season long was San Beda. Now not only were they in their customary place in the finals but their confidence has increased manifold. In the meantime, Robinson’s Stags were floundering.

After Abueva went to the bench, Robinson angrily confronted his star player. Abueva ignored him and he angrily sat at the end of the bench mouthing off expletives.

Once the Knights went ahead with a Kevin Alas buzzer beater to close the first half, the Stags were almost undone. Not only did Letran overhaul an early deficit but they also bucked the pressure and took San Sebastian’s best shot. From there on, it was Robinson’s squad playing catch up.

Following two free throws by Ian Sangalang that notched the count for the sixth and last time, Letran began to methodically pull away.

The score stood at 53-46 in Letran’s favor when the Stags came close to forcing a 24-second violation. Knights forward-center Jonathan Belorio, the subject of so much verbal abuse from a San Sebastian assistant coach and scorer, found himself with the ball just outside the three-point arc with a second left. Belorio, who Louie Alas said at the pre-game was a factor in his squad beating the Stags, threw up a trey that found the bottom of the net.

Belorio’s trey made it 56-46 and his detractors took a seat behind the bench. Before he fouled out, he also blocked two Ronald Pascual shots that set the tone for a furious Letran finish.

With rookie point guard Mark Cruz shredding Anthony del Rio’s defense (eight points in the fourth period) and the Alas brothers combining for seven points, the Stags crashed.

Abueva was the lone Stag to put up a fight in the fourth as he repeatedly drove to the basket and fished a foul. He pulled down rebounds over his much taller Letran counterparts. But for all his prodigious talent, the player nicknamed “the Beast” couldn’t do it alone. Sangalang had only two points and Ronald Pascual three. Pascual’s production was limited for the second consecutive match.

Letran finished off their 70-62 masterpiece with Kevin Racal scoring a bucket. With the seconds slipping away, Abueva pulled Cruz hand and offered a friendly and respectful pat on the youngster’s head. He then trooped over to his side of the floor and pulled off the wraps from his hand.

Before the game, there was a feeling that they would be able to check their skid. But now… well, there are plenty of questions. The quick outburst of “no pride” rang in their ears. Robinson had chosen to remain silent in this time. Instead, he gathered his team around in prayer. This wasn’t the time for him to talk. Emotions were raw as was the wound from this loss. Robinson thought he’d let everyone sleep on it, that is, if they could get any sleep at all.

The no-tomorrow Game 2 match was less than 48 hours away.

If you think that there is bad blood between Calvin Abueva and the Letran Knights, think again. The Knights actually respect Abueva. Louie Alas is even an Abueva fan. This year, he has been more friendly with the Alas brothers and Mark Cruz.

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