Back-to-back for Tinian in boys HS hoops

Posted on Mar 08 2022


Tinian players and coaches pose with their medals and perpetual plaque after winning the 2021-2022 IT&E Interscholastic Boys High School Basketball Championships last Saturday at the Marianas High School Gymnasium. Also in photo are Public School System Athletic Program director Nick Gross, right, and Northern Mariana Islands Basketball Federation president James Lee, left. (MARK RABAGO)

Sir Dela Cruz scored 26 points, including the go-ahead triple, to lead a furious Tinian comeback against Saipan Southern High School to win the 2021-2022 IT&E Interscholastic Boys High School Basketball Championships, 32-31, last Saturday at the Marianas High School Gymnasium.

It was the second straight championship for the visitors and they did so even after trailing by 8 points, 27-19, in the early goings of the second half.

The Manta Rays dominated the first half and the start of the second as Ema n Feria dominated the inside and shooters Theron Factor and Andon Rasig dialed it up from 3-point country.

Dela Cruz tried his best to keep Tinian’s head above water, pouring in 17 points in the first 10 minutes of the contest, which saw SSHS take a 22-17 advantage at halftime. Due to COVID-19, the Public School System Athletics Program decided to cancel the league and replace it with a three-day weekend tournament and games where shortened to 10-minute halves.

The Manta Rays, which missed head coach Mike Mercado due to illness, padded their 5-point lead and were still ahead 27-19 when Dela Cruz took matters in his own hands. The Tinian combo guard fired back-to-back treys to put his team back in the ballgame, down by only a deuce, 27-25, with time down to 6:01.

Tinian head coach Keith Nabors shared a hug with Sir Dela Cruz after their spine-tingling win against Saipan Southern High School. (MARK RABAGO)

SSHS’ Elijah Garcia countered Dela Cruz’s triple with a shot from the land of plenty of his own to make it 30-25 and the Manta Rays extended their lead to 6 points on a free throw by Feria at the 5:45 mark of the ballgame.

Little did they know that was the last time they’d put points on the scoreboard, as Dela Cruz went amok. He first double-clutched an 8-footer to make it 31-27 with 3:01 left on the clock. Malinau Palacios then scored on a 12-foot jumper with 1:58 to go, pegging the score at 31-29.

That set up Dela Cruz’s high-arching 3-pointer 18 seconds later that proved to be the final score of the championship game. SSHS called timeout following the broadside triple by the Tinian gunner, but Feria’s inside foray rolled off the ring and the ensuing scramble for the ball and the Manta Rays’ final attempts at salvaging the win went for naught.

Dela Cruz went on to score 26 of the 32 total points of Tinian, while Palacios and David Mendiola added 4 and 2 points, respectively. SSHS was led by the 8 points of Feria and Factor in a losing cause.

The defeat spoiled the Manta Rays’ undefeated march to the finals as they topped the eliminations with a 4-0 mark. Tinian finished at 3-1 with their only loss courtesy of their victims in the winner-take-all championship. SSHS advanced to the finals following a 19-17 win over Mount Carmel School, while Tinian escaped MHS, 24-23, in their Final Four contest.

Asked what’s the secret of his clutch shooting in the finals, Dela Cruz said it’s just all about trusting yourself.

“You just have to have confidence in yourself, you know. The more confidence you have, the better chance your shot would go in. If you don’t have confidence in yourself, what’s the point? We won back-to-back championships. We deserve it. Hard work pays off!” he said.

The rest of the victorious Tinian team includes Isiah Aldan, Tano King, Frank Santos, Wade Santos, and Colin Dela Cruz.

Tinian head coach Keith Nabors said the team didn’t waver in trusting in themselves and that’s what led to them winning the championship.

“It’s a great feeling the kids bought into the system. Even though it was shortened and all the restrictions due to COVID-19, we got through it and we came out on top. We implemented the system we wanted to put in and a bunch of our younger kids really came through for us,” he said.

Nabors said even staring at SSHS’ lead, his players didn’t wink and just continued to work hard.

“We just told the kids to stay within the system and close out and make sure their area of responsibility and we closed out hard. Seems to me they lost their legs and maybe it’s the long game prior. Seems like they lost their legs and we just wanted to push the ball as much as possible.”

The longtime Tinian sports organizer also gave kudos to Sir Dela Cruz’s shot-making and even labeled him as the best high school players in the Commonwealth.

“Dela Cruz is probably the best high school basketball player in the CNMI, bar none. He’s been ballin’ since we last won the championship,” said Nabors, who was seen hugging his ward immediately following the final buzzer.

He also thanked the Tinian Legislative Delegation, especially Sen. Karl Nabors (R-Tinian) for always being a good supporter of Tinian sports. Ditto for the Public School System and the PSS Athletics Program for pushing through with interscholastic sports despite the ongoing pandemic. Lastly, he also extended his thanks to his players’ parents. “We wouldn’t have done this without the parents.”

Tinian 32 – Dela Cruz 26, Palacios 4, Mendiola 2.
SSHS 31 – Feria 8, Factor 8, Racuep 6, Rasig 4, Garcia 3, Claridades 2.
Scoring by halves: 17-22, 32-32.

Mark Rabago | Associate Editor
Mark Rabago is the Associate Editor of Saipan Tribune. Contact him at

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