Net Rippers tops U18 3×3 tourney


The Net Rippers’ Leo Naraja, right, maneuvers away from the defense of K2 Ballerz’s Gerald Pangelinan, center, while the former’s teammate Frankie Satur tries to provide a screen during their title match in the boys U18 division of the NMIBF Three vs Three Hoop Fest Tournament last Saturday at the Gillette Multipurpose Gymnasium of the TSL Sports Complex. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)

Leo Naraja powered the Net Rippers to a 17-15 win against K2 Ballerz in the boys U18 finals of the NMIBF Three vs Three Hoop Fest Tournament held over the weekend at the Gillette Multipurpose Gymnasium of the TSL Sports Complex.

The Mt. Carmel School student scored 11 points in Game 1 of the finale, including the Net Rippers’ last 8 markers for a sweep in the double-elimination tournament. Naraja engaged the K2 Ballerz’s JayArt Palmes in a shootout in the closing minutes of the title match with the former prevailing in the end to hand the Net Rippers the division championship.

Naraja and Palmes each knocked in three shots from the 3-point area (2-point field goal) in the exchange with the latter hitting his last with less than 40 seconds remaining in the game for the K2 Ballerz’s  14-13 lead. Naraja countered with a short jumper to knot the count and then followed it up with his fourth triple in the match to put the Net Rippers back in the lead, 16-14. 

An inside basket from Garrett Mariano kept the K2 Ballerz in the game, 15-16, but Naraja again delivered for the Net Rippers with his baseline drive, down to the last 12 seconds of the game. With the clock winding down and the Net Rippers anticipating the K2 Ballerz to go for a trey to tie the match, Naraja’s teammate, Kyu Aldan, stayed close on defense against Palmes, forcing Mariano to take the triple. The big man’s attempt was too strong, but the K2 Ballers then had another chance to force the deadlock when Kaipo Dikito got the final possession off a long rebound from the miss. However, Dikito’s off-balance heave from the sideline near their bench fell short as time expired, giving the Net Rippers the title victory right after Game 1.

It was the Net Rippers’ second win over the K2 Ballers in the closing stage of the tournament last Saturday. The eventual finalists first squared off in the semifinals of the winner’s bracket with the Net Rippers escaping with a 15-14 win to reach the finals first and earn a twice-to-beat advantage. Aldan led the semis win after scoring 5 of the Net Rippers’ last 7 markers.

After falling to the Net Rippers, the K2 Ballers dropped to the loser’s bracket and had to face Chinatown for the second and last finals ticket. Chinatown remained in contention for a finals berth after eliminating the 05 Babies in a rubber match, 16-14. However, Chinatown’s bid for a finals stint ended in the next game when the K2 Ballers prevailed in their make-or-break duel, 14-13.

Coming off the loser’s bracket, the K2 Ballers had to win twice against the Net Rippers to steal the division title, but Naraja and company stood their ground and ended the finale early with the Game 1 victory. Mike Mercado was also a part of the Net Rippers’ roster, but missed the finals due to an injury.

Meanwhile, with the boys U18 competition done, the organizing Northern Mariana Islands Basketball Federation will conclude the series of 3×3 tournament this weekend by holding games in the men’s open division. The last category will feature 12 teams, while the boys U18 division had 10 squads, including the Trollers, Younginz, Ringers, Madflex, Boys KCC, and the Ol’Aces.

The NMIBF Three vs Three Hoop Fest Tournament is supported by the Tan Siu Lin Foundation, Michelob Ultra, and Pokka.

Net Rippers 17 – Naraja 11, Satur 3, Aldan 3.
K2 Ballers 15 – Palmes 12, Mariano 3.

Roselyn Monroyo | Reporter
Roselyn Monroyo is the sports reporter of Saipan Tribune. She has been covering sports competitions for more than two decades. She is a basketball fan and learned to write baseball and football stories when she came to Saipan in 2005.
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