‘Victory sweeter second time around’

Posted on Oct 14 2011

Victory is indeed sweeter the second time around for MAFEA/Ali’i Konflikt.

“We took our second championship at the time when no one expected us to win it so that made this championship more special than our first one,” Ali’i Konflikt coach Norman Del Rosario.

Despite claiming the 2010 title against 2009 champion MDX/Chow Queen, when Ali’i Konflikt returned this season to defend the crown, it was not among the top favored squads in the Bud Cup. Namfrel/Proa, Bayani/Mobil, Cabalen/Noni, and VisMinda/Satbahi were.

Namfrel was heavily picked to make it all the way to the finals, boasting of the core of the CNMI National Men’s Team. Bayani/Mobil was also on the list with the ever-reliable Jun Estolas on the squad. Cabalen and VisMinda were also selected after beefing up their rosters, while midway in the regular season, UPAA/Docomo Hoopaholics emerged as one of the contenders with the Dave Sablan-led squad winning six straight games.

MAFEA/Ali’i Konflikt was in the middle of the pack in the regular season as it had a roller-coaster ride in the elimination round. It dropped its first two games (against VisMinda, 74-87, and Proa, 73-83) before ending up with an even 4-4 record. Ali’i Konflikt was tied with Mobil and VisMinda for fourth to sixth place in the team standings and won the tiebreak, taking the No. 4 seeding.

“We really struggled in the regular season, as we missed three key players—Edsel Mendoza, Bruce Berline, and Darwin Barbo. We were left with a very small lineup with only Jawn Joyner capable of manning the center spot. Our players had to play out of position to fill those missing spots and it was very difficult for them,” Del Rosario said.

After surviving the regular season, Ali’i Konflikt soldiered on in the controversial playoff round where every member of the team stepped up.

J.R. Barrios, a new recruit of the squad, was one of them, as he nailed the game-winning layup in the last .5 second in Ali’i Konflikt’s 79-77 victory over VisMinda/Satbahi.

“Many said luck was on our side in the win against VisMinda. We took that as a challenge and played better in the last two games to show the people we worked hard to get these wins,” Del Rosario added.

Next up for Ali’i Konflikt was the resurgent and Freddie Pelisamen-bannered Cavite/Andok’s, which pulled off an upset over the second-seeded Hoops. Ali’i Konflikt went on to dominate Cavite in the semis, 108-88, to advance to finals.

In the winner-take-all finale, Ali’i Konflikt was pitted against the toughest team in the field—Proa, which was unbeaten in the regular season and eliminated Estolas and Mobil in a classic semis match, 110-105.

“Obviously, Proa was heavily favored to win with its talent-laden lineup. When he had a meeting one night before the finals, players knew we were the underdogs so we really have to play our hearts out to give Proa a good fight. Elmer (Esdrelon) told his teammates not to back down in every play. If they committed mistakes, they had to return on defense and make up for that error,” Del Rosario said.

Come game time in the finals, Ali’i Konflikt players did what they were told, picking up those loose balls, making extra passes, having good shot selections, stopping Proa’s gunners, and settling down against Namfrel’s pressure defense midway in the second quarter. Ali’i Konflikt went on to post a 94-80 victory, pulling off one of the most surprising championship wins in the history of UFO caging.

Tonight, Ali’i Konflikt will get the championship trophy, which several months ago seemed to be out of its grasp.

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