Experience prevailed over youth in the finals of the 2012 DLX/Gualo Rai Invitational Basketball League, as Gualo Rai/Pacific Star outclassed Brgy. San Antonio, 79-76, last Friday night at the Gualo Rai Basketball Court.
The veteran crew of Gualo Rai showed poise in the homestretch, while the young guns of San Antonio were rattled, allowing the former to pull off an upset in the winner-take-all finale.
Jun Estolas made three free throws in the closing seconds, Zach Babauta added an insurance charity, and Zack Diaz made a big defensive stop and rebound to lift Gualo Rai to the title win. In contrast, the favored San Antonio committed a costly error, Jack Aranda missed two free throws, and Melvin Cadiang muffed two important shots.
Estolas was called for three turnovers in the last two minutes of the game, but redeemed himself when he went 3-for-6 from the foul line with his last one giving Gualo Rai a shaky 78-76 lead. Before Estolas' last charity, Aranda faltered on his two free throw attempts, failing to put San Antonio back in the lead. San Antonio entered the final two minutes of the game with a 76-75 lead after Bryl Alegre converted an undergoal stab.
Two more free throw misses from Estolas kept San Antonio's hopes alive, as Gualo still held the precarious 2-point lead with 28.3 seconds left on the clock. However, after Palacios collared the rebound, he rushed a pass to Mike Saturno, who had his back turn on the ball as he was heading to their frontcourt and when the latter tried to recover the loose ball, he was late, as the leather rolled out to the sideline.
Gualo Rai regained possession, but lost it too when two San Antonio defenders forced Estolas to a traveling violation after receiving the inbound play. San Antonio then went to Cadiang, who drove to the baseline, but was challenged by the burly Diaz, and the former's shot rattled off the rim. Diaz also grabbed the rebound and San Antonio fouled Babauta to stop the clock.
Babauta missed the first charity, but made the second one to give Gualo Rai more cushion, 79-76, and San Antonio was left with 4.3 seconds to pull up for a game-tying triple. The clock then went down to 3.4 seconds after Diaz tapped out San Antonio's inbound pass and in the latter's second offensive set, Cadiang managed to attempt for a triple from the right key, but the shot just bounced off the back of the rim as time expired.
The upset over San Antonio completed Gualo Rai's uphill climb in the 17-team field. The eventual champion dropped its first three games of the season before sweeping the last five in the elimination to advance to the playoffs. Gualo Rai then ousted Blue Haus in the first round of the playoffs and defeated Zhaila's in the semis to march into the finals.
Despite its winning run, Gualo Rai still came as the underdogs in the title game, but it out-strategized San Antonio in the finals, as the former played a slow-paced match, preventing the latter from orchestrating its potent running game.
JP Jose top-scored for Gualo Rai with 25 points, as his first half contributions helped the team keep pace with San Antonio. Jose was later named Finals MVP, while Nevin Salem took the regular season MVP honors.
Meanwhile, dethroned champion KFC settled for the third place trophy after beating Zhaila's All-Stars in the consolation game, 75-66.
Ralph Francisco led KFC with his 19 points and was later selected to the Mythical Team, joining Zhaila's Jason Bahillo, Cadiang, Palacios, and Diaz.
KFC/Taco Bell 75 - R. Francisco 19, Fernando 15, Factor 9, Maranan 7, Tinio 6, M. Francisco 5, Lee 2.
Zhaila's All-Starz 66 - Brian 20, Ja. Bahillo 16, Hernandez 10, Tudela 6, Mostales 4.
Scoring by quarters: 21-14, 43-34, 62-50, 75-66.
Gualo Rai/Pacific Star 79 - Jose 25, Estolas 24, Diaz 9, Lauron 9, Babauta 6, Galzote 2.
Brgy. San Antonio 76 - Ne. Salem 16, Aranda 13, Cadiang 12, De Guzman 8, Villanueva 8, Alegre 7, Palacios 4.
Scoring by quarters: 28-22, 42-43, 65-58, 79-76.