Mt. Carmel School waited for seven long seasons to savor anew the sweet taste of victory.
The Knights ended the title drought in the boys high school division of the Coalition of Private Schools Sports Association on Saipan Basketball League last week following a 55-46 victory against dethroned champion Eucon International School. Mt. Carmel went on to finish the 2015 season with a flawless record in 10 games and got its first championship since 2008.
The Knights defeated perennial rival Grace Christian Academy in the 2008 finale, 64-54, but after that title conquest, they settled for bridesmaid finishes from 2010 to 2013, losing to the Eagles for four straight seasons. Saipan International School topped the 2009 tournament, while Eucon prevailed in 2014, foiling GCA’s bid for a fifth consecutive crown.
The Eagles beat the Knights in the semifinals last year, 57-50, extending Mt. Carmel’s miseries before the latter finally showed grit and determination this season to get back on top, according to coach Francis San Nicolas.
“We all can play, but the question is who wants it more. It’s about determination,” said San Nicolas when asked how he challenged his wards for their title bid this season.
The Knights responded to the test with an impressive 8-0 record in the regular season and although they swept the eliminations, majority of the victories were hard-earned ones, especially against the Allen Yu-led Eucon.
“Every game has its own story to tell so I was not really expecting them to win all,” the MCS mentor added.
San Nicolas also said every game, he reiterated to his boys how important it is to follow instructions, run the plays they worked on practice, and help each other.
The execution and teamwork San Nicolas wanted were evident in the Knights’ second half domination of Eucon in the finals.
The Knights turned a precarious 25-24 lead early in the third quarter to a 39-28 advantage and extended the lead to as much as 15 in the fourth with William Camacho and Markel Toves alternately anchoring the team’s offense. Mt. Carmel’s 1-2 punch scored most of their baskets off layups, as they drove Eucon’s tall defenders away from the paint and used their quickness to get easy shots. The rest of the Knights players provided screens for their scorers and on defense teamed up in neutralizing Yu. Yu still finished with 33 markers, but he had to bleed for his points as three and sometimes four MCS defenders ganged up on him.
Meanwhile, the title win is a fitting send-off gift to Camacho, Tony Son, A.J. Evangelista, Kenji Yamagata, and Min Su Kim, who are graduating this year.
With these five players gone for Mt. Carmel’s title defense next season, San Nicolas hopes he could find promising new recruits and improve the skills of the team’s holdovers.
“We will develop new players next season and see what happens,” he said.