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.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Another high school basketball story

This appears in the Monday, January 27, 2014 edition of the Business Mirror.

Another high school basketball story
by rick olivares

Last Saturday’s Seaoil Metro Manila Basketball League quarterfinals match between underdog Rich Golden Shower Montessori School and National University Team D was not only fun to watch but also a study in contrasts.

RGSMS is a small school in Barangay Dilag, Antipolo. Their student population is made up of those residents who live nearby. Its high school basketball team is made up of only those who bothered to try out. In last year’s Seaoil MMBL, the Spartans, as their team is known by, didn’t even go to the playoffs.

NU is a rising power in scholastic sports. Not only in college but also in high school. With the benefit of greater funding and even better recruiting, they have not only threatened the traditional high school powers like Ateneo and San Beda but also even bested them. Along with Hope Christian High School, they represent the modern realities of basketball or sports today.

NU has even four high school basketball teams today. Four. They even picked up former Colegio de San Benildo hotshot Jordan Sta. Ana who is currently playing for their Team B. He will no doubt star for their UAAP Juniors squad next year alongside guard Philip Manalang.

When you look at NU’s teams you have to go, ‘Whoa! They’re tall and darn good.” They have long since arrested their image of being sports perennial whipping boys. They are now doing the whipping as they are now working on fermenting their culture of winning and classiness.

The Chiang Kai Shek College gym is hardly Thermopylae but for the RGSMS Spartans, this was as close to a last stand as it will get.

It was the win-or-go-home quarterfinals of the Seaoil MMBL at the courts of the Tiong Lian school. The Spartans made the long three-hour drive from Antipolo deep into the heart of the traffic-choked streets of Manila to play the tough, tall and deep Bullpups Team D squad that was backed by a loud and boisterous crowd.

Minus eight of their teammates who were unable to make the trip, the Spartans battled back from two double-digit deficits in the first half to turn the tables on the Bullpups.

In the fourth period, they ratcheted up the defense and silenced the deeper and taller Bullpups to advance to the semifinals with a resounding 90-77 win.

NU, which entered the playoffs with a 5-1 record, looked to blow out RGSMS (6-1) early on as they raced to a 13-1 score in the first period. Matters looked even bleaker when RGSMS center Jericho Immaculata picked up two early fouls.

RGSMS found a spark in sixth man Keith Carreon who is more of small forward than a power forward. Carreon played great defense down the blocks and the Spartans came roaring back to come within a bucket, 35-33, with five to play in the second period.

The Bullpups’ Paul Manalang, younger brother of NU Juniors guard, Philip, scored five straight points to give NU some breathing room as they finished the first half strong for a 47-39 lead.

In the third period, the Spartans stopped the Bullpups on the defensive end while shooting the daylights on the offensive end. NU’s crowd raised their voices to cheer on their team and to work on RGSMS and the referees. If you have been watching basketball for as long as me, you’d wonder, “A NU crowd… heckling?”

After a Paul Ricafort trey that gave RGSMS their first lead of the game, 63-62, to start off the fourth period, Mark de los Santos drilled in another trey for a lead the Spartans wouldn’t surrender. All of a sudden, it was as if a lid had been placed atop NU’s basket while RGSMS’ hoop was as wide as an ocean.

The tide had turned and the Spartans had their inconceivable 90-77 win.

Miguel de la Cruz led RGSMS with 27 points while Ricafort and De los Santos added 22 and 19 points respectively. It was De Los Santos who also played the fireman’s role as he knocked in five triples in the second half including three in the fourth period to douse cold cold water on any NU rally.

NU was led by center Ryan Amsali with 15 points. Marlon Espiritu and Nestor Ramos chipped in 13 and 12 points respectively.

“Gusto lang talaga manalo ng mga bata,” beamed a happy Spartans coach Marc Ureta. “Pwede na sumuko pero lumaban sila.”

Some of the Spartans are more than thrilled for the win. They had also put on a demonstration for other schools that have come to scout them – San Beda and NU are some. Ureta has to constantly work on his team to get them to focus first on the tournament (the Spartans will face Jubilee Christian High School that dealt them their only loss in the tournament so far, 90-80) and their studies. “Syempre, sino ba may ayaw pumunta sa bigger program? Ganyan talaga.”

Ureta mentioned Sta. Ana, whose NU Team B had taken to the CKSC floor to play UST in a semis match up). Sta. Ana had become known in the Cainta-Antipolo area for his prodigious scoring exploits. Now, he’s with NU where next season he will have a chance to help their Juniors team win back-to-back UAAP titles.

The coach’s players watch Sta. Ana take to his warm ups. They’ve got their basketball dreams. But right now, Ureta reeled them back in. For one day, they got to be David to NU’s Goliath.

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