After fruitless campaigns in the preceding two seasons, the Archers were determined to bounce back strong in the 2004 campaign. Featuring an intact line-up led by Mac Mac Cardona and Joseph Yeo, plus the addition of the lanky Rico Maeirhofer, big man Mike Galinato (now playing for Adamson) and the returning Cholo Villanueva, the team was raring to make a serious bid to regain its stature in the upper echelon of the league.
Unfortunately, the Archers started the tournament on the wrong foot, losing their initial assignment against the Blue Eagles thus ending the team’s long streak of opening day victories. This unusual setback seemed to fire up the Archers, as they easily thrashed their next two opponents , including defending champion FEU. The team split their last four games in the first round, narrowly winning their matches against lighter opponents to end the first round with 4-3 slate.
The Archers lost their first game in the 2nd round, thus endangering their chances of gaining a twice-to-beat edge in the final 4 especially since Ateneo were at that point still undefeated and FEU were not too far behind. With the way they played in recent games, one might even have doubted the team chances to even make the semis. That 4-win 4-loss record was something new for a team that was accustomed to being among the frontrunners.
Realizing that their season, particularly their goal of reaching the finals was at risk, the Archers finally lived up to their potential as they swept all their remaining elimination games. Their late surge in the tournament propelled the team to a second place tie with Ateneo, who faltered towards the end of the second round to yield the top rung to defending champion FEU. A playoff was required to break the tie, so the two rivals dueled in a virtual best of three showdown wherein the Archers literally massacred the Eagles to win in two games. Finally getting some payback for their losses to their blue rivals in the previous seasons, the Archers now focused their attention on reclaiming the crown against the top-seeded Tamaraws of FEU.
FEU boasted of its formidable frontline led by MVP Arwin Santos. They also had a potentially dominant force in the backcourt anchored by veteran Denok Miranda. Man-for-man, the Tamaraws had the edge and were the consensus favorites to repeat as champs. For the Archers though, they seemed to relish the role of “underdog” as seen in their performance when tagged as such.
True to form, La Salle’s relentless effort on both sides of the court enabled them to escape with a win in Game 1 of the title series. A win away from perhaps a remarkable upset, the Archers were sadly unable to sustain the same winning drive as they bowed to the rampaging Tamaraws in Game 2.
The deciding game went down the wire and it seemed that all was lost for the Archers as they trailed going in to the final minutes. Cardona and Yeo led the attack to tie the game with less than a minute to go. Down by two after an FEU basket, the Archers turned to an unlikely hero in the closing seconds of the game. Living up to his surname, sophomore JV Casio showed up at the right time and fired a clutch 3-pointer to bring La Salle the lead ahead and eventually the win.
We all know very well what happened after the 2004 season but nevertheless, the Archers’ sheer guts and determination to succeed that year was indeed something to remember.
Jun Jun Cabatu
Mac Mac Cardona