A little over two months ago, the Green Archers stepped on the court for their first game of the season against the same FEU Tamaraws squad from Morayta. And now, for the last game of a season that had not panned out as they expected, they were up against the same team.
Forty minutes later, both teams faced their respective crowds as FEU’s alma mater hymn blared through the speakers, with their yellow-clad students who filled the upper-tier sections of the Smart-Araneta Coliseum singing in unison. On the hardwood, Tamaraw RR Garcia beamed as he answered questions from their courtside reporter while being interviewed on camera.
Over at the other side of the court, the Green Archers wore varying expressions. Some of them hung their heads low, while others wore pained expressions. There were two Archers, however, who could not keep themselves from shedding tears, not only because they had suffered another stinging setback, their ninth for the season, but also because it was their last game donning the fabled Green-and-White jersey: Team captain Simon Atkins and Maui Villanueva.
Hugs and words were exchanged between the Archers and their coaching staff as they prepared to sing the alma mater hymn. Atkins shared a long embrace with La Salle Head Coach Dindo Pumaren. People from the stands hoisted banners which bore messages of praise and thanks for Atkins, whose team-high 16 points were not enough to prevent the Archers from falling into the sixth place, the second time in three years that they have wound up at that spot. Another bigger banner that was being held by fans was about the celebration of the school’s centennial year, although the mood that prevailed over the team was anything but festive.
Still, despite the trying campaign which saw the team suffer a four-game losing streak after a promising first round, there were numerous fans of the Taft-based squad who turned out for the game, shouting and banging their clappers like their team was on the cusp of a championship.
And for the first three quarters, it did look like the Archers, who are only playing for pride after crashing out of the race for the last Final Four slot after being clobbered by the also-ran NU Bulldogs last Thursday, would carve an upset that would shake up the pairings for the semis and allow them to salvage something positive as the team heads into a long off-season.
But after three hard-fought quarters, the Tamaraws would finally seize control of the game for good in the final canto, as the triumvirate of Garcia, Aldrech Ramos, and Terrence Romeo combined to score 30 of their team’s 37 second-half points to propel them to a 66-57 victory over the Green Archers. The victory allowed the Tamaraws to set up a semis date with the Adamson Falcons, while relegating the UST Tigers to figure in a semis duel with the defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles.
After a back and forth scoring, the Tamaraws broke the game open after a bucket by Romeo to hike their lead to 11 points, 64-53, with over two minutes remaining to force La Salle mentor Dindo Pumaren to sue for time. From that point on, the Archers would get no closer than nine points.
But unlike in their previous games, the Archers started their tussle with the Tamaraws on a high note, and after ending the first quarter down by three points, 14-11, the team unloaded a blistering 10-0 run in the second period anchored by Joshua Webb that allowed them to wrest their first lead of the contest, 21-18, a lead which they would not relinquish until the waning moments of the third period. Despite back-to-back triples by Garcia, La Salle was still able to head into the break with a 33-27 lead.
In the third, however, Ramos unloaded seven straight points to cut the Archers’ lead to a solitary point, 35-34, although Atkins and Van Opstal would still be able to prevent the lead from completely slipping from their grasp with their baskets. In the fourth, however, the Tamaraws launched triple after triple, and the Archers could only muster 10 fourth quarter points, while also yielding a huge rebounding disadvantage to the Tamaraws to compound their woes.
Atkins, who had played for La Salle since highschool, finished with 16 points, including a 4-for-8 showing from three-point country, while also adding three rebounds and three dimes. Webb followed with 11 markers, three assists and two rebounds, while Van Opstal also added 11 along with two swats.
Also backstopping the squad is Mendoza, who wound up with eleven points while adding six caroms across his name. Aside from them, no other Archer finished with more than two points. Villanueva, for his part, was scoreless but hauled down two boards and dished two assists.
After the alma mater hymn was sung, Simon and Maui, flushed with emotions and with tears still welling from their eyes, moved at the center court and towards the Lasallian faithful. They raised their hands as they rounded out their final tour of duty as Archers, and the fans acknowledged them by offering a warm round of applause.
The Archers then formed a neat line and filed silently towards the dug-out, as they head into a long season of uncertainty.
FEU-66-Garcia-19, Ramos-18, Romeo-17, Escoto-5, Cruz-4, Bringas-2, Pogoy-1, Tolomia-0, Knuttel-0, Exciminiano-0
La Salle-57-Atkins-16, Van Opstal-11, Webb-11, Mendoza-11, Revilla-2, Vosotros-2, Paredes-2, Marata-2, Tampus-0, Dela Paz-0, Villanueva-0
Quarterscores: 14-11, 27-33, 48-47, 66-57