The tireless Francisco M. Sablan Middle School played three straight games for nearly two hours and won them all to rule the 2021-2022 IT&E Interscholastic Boys Middle School Basketball League.
The Napu Riders first defeated Dandan Middle School in the loser’s bracket semifinals game last Saturday at the Marianas High School Gymnasium, 35-24, and then overcame Hopwood Middle School-1’s twice-to-beat advantage in the finale, prevailing both in Games 1 and 2, 33-24 and 30-22, to reign supreme in the 12-team competition.
Christian Lucero lifted FMS in the stretch, as he scored in double figures in each of the three matches and totaled 59 points. He had 18 in their semis win over Dandan and then recorded 20 and 21 in Games 1 and 2 of the finals.
The Napu Riders had to beat Hopwood-1 twice in the championship round after dropping to the losers bracket last Saturday morning. FMS and Hopwood-1 squared off for the semis berth in the winners bracket after surviving the first two playoff matches last Thursday and Friday. The Hilitai went on to stun FMS, 19-16, to take the first finals seat.
It was a heartbreaker for the Napu Riders, who were undefeated in the regular season and were favored to ease their way to the championship round before Hopwood-1 caught them by surprise.
“They were so disappointed with the loss. However, we, coaches, asked them what they want to do next after the setback. Either they backdown or fight back,” said Ezekiel Macario, who co-coached the Napu Riders with Nadia Murphy and Angel San Nicolas.
“We still have a chance and that’s the opportunity for them to show the Napu Riders’ spirit of not giving up and showing resilience,” Murphy said.
After the pep talk with their coaches, FMS players prepared to face Dandan, which stayed in contention following a 22-17 win over Tinian in another losers bracket game. With their chances to advance to the finals on the line, Dandan and FMS engaged in a back-and-forth match, which the Napu Riders eventually won in the end after getting decisive baskets from Lucero. The eighth grader scored FMS’ last 7 points, including a triple to beat the buzzer.
Just a few minutes after winning over Dandan, FMS returned to the court to face a well-rested Hopwood-1 in Game 1 of the finals. The Hilitai then seemed headed for a win when they opened a 16-9 lead behind the strong outside shooting of Jeric Javier, Marc Tengco, and Tyler Omelau. FMS sued for time as Hopwood-1 was threatening to break away and when the game resumed, the Napu Riders closed out the final four minutes of the first half with a 9-0 blast to grab the lead, 18-16.
The Napu Riders never looked back after that and brought the momentum of their Game 1 victory to the deciding Game 2 to clinch the division championship. Lucero capped his long-game brilliance with another buzzer-beating trey and was mobbed by his teammates after the basket as the Napu Riders celebrated the title win.
FMS 33 – Lucero 20, Addy 7, Navarro 2, Basa 2, Defang 2.
HOP-1 24 – Javier 12, Tengco 5, Lizama 4, Omelau 3.
Scoring by halves: 18-16, 33-24
FMS 30 – Lucero 21, Addy 4, Navarro 3, Defang 2.
HOP-1 22 – Ruben 6, Saimu 4, Santos 4, Javier 2, Omelau 2.
Scoring by halves: 14-8, 30-22