Head coach Joe Diaz has all the reasons to smile and relax after going through back-to-back tough games at the Gillette Multipurpose Gymnasium last Saturday, as the NMI Rollers is already assured of the boys U18 title in the 2019 TanHoldings Christmas Basketball Tournament.
Rollers 2 stunned the No. 1 seed and then unbeaten 670 Sonics, 47-45, while Rollers 1 duplicated the former’s feat in the second semis game after downing No. 2 seed Ol’Aces 1, 63-58, to arrange a family affair in the division finals. Rollers 1 and 2 disputed the championship last night, but results of the match were unavailable at press time.
“I think it will be the first time that both Rollers teams will battle for the championship,” Diaz said in an interview with Saipan Tribune yesterday afternoon before the 7pm finale.
“We were not expecting the two upsets, but we came more prepared for the semis, especially the mental part of the game. We lost to them in the elimination round, so we prepared how are we going to break their defense and capitalize on their weaknesses,” Diaz said.
Of the two semis games, the first one was the closest, as it was not decided until the last few seconds of the match.
A split from Merrick Toves broke the last deadlock, 45-44, 49.1 seconds left in the game. The Sonics then had two chances to regain the lead, but Christian Bravo muffed a point-blank shot on a fastbreak play and also missed his putback.
The Rollers 2 also faltered on the other end, giving the Sonics another opportunity to score. However, Khristian Itaas’ long pass to Jadiael Manalo was too strong and the ball went out of the baseline, returning possession to the Rollers 2, down to the last 17.3 seconds of the thrilling match.
With the Rollers 2 having the ball and the clock advantage, 670 Sonics gambled on giving up fouls and eventually sent JayArt Palmes to the 15-foot line. Palmes made his first charity, but missed the second, handing Rollers 2 a precarious 46-44 lead and leaving a room for the Sonics to knot the count with a deuce or grab the lead with a triple.
The 670 Sonics opted for a quick 2 with Bravo driving strong to the basket and drawing a foul from a Rollers 2 defenders. Bravo hit his first free and faltered on the second one and after the Rollers 2 got the ball, Freddie Pelisamen made a handoff to John Paul Cruz in the paint, but the latter’s short shot rimmed out. There was a battle for the rebound between Pelisamen and Bryan Bernardo and after a jumpball was called, possession arrow pointed to the Sonics.
The Sonics then sued for timeout to map out a make-or-break play with 8.9 seconds remaining on the clock
It turned out to be a heartbreaker for the top-ranked Sonics as when the game resumed, Carlos Elchico threw the inbound pass to no one near their bench. Bravo attempted to chase the ball, but Cruz beat him, and the former was slapped with a foul for undercutting the latter. Cruz, with 2 seconds left in the game, hit nothing but the bottom of the net for his first shot from the foul line before missing the second one. The opposing teams battled for the rebound and neither got clear possession as time expired, giving Rollers 2 the first finals berth in the division.
Rollers 1 then secured the other finals ticket after playing better in the second half and stunning the Ol’Aces 1.
Down at halftime, 26-29, Steve King, Roger Valencia, and Matthew Richardson made key baskets in the second half to bring Rollers 1 back into the game and complete the come-from-behind victory.
Valencia recorded all his 7 points in the second half, King added 6, while Richardson also had 7 markers and delivered five crucial free throws in the homestretch.
“Both games were tough wins and we need those kind of matches to help our players improve their level of play,” Diaz said.
Rollers 2 47—Mizutani 19, Toves 11, Palmes 5, Pelisamen 4, Cruz 3, Claridades 3, Pangelinan 2.
670 Sonics 45—Itaas 12, Elchico 6, Ferrari 5, Ordona 4, Rizo 4, Bernardo 4, Manalo 4, Francisco 2, Bravo 1.
Scoring by halves: 22-28, 47-45.
Rollers 1 63—Ricgardson 17, King 11, Lajara 11, Valencia 7, Atalig 5, Dela Cruz 4, Deleon Guerrero 4.
Ol’Aces 1 58—Laniyo 10, Omelau 10, Soriano 9, Ichihara 9, Atan 8, Laxa 2, Menchar 2.
Scoring by halves: 26-29, 63-58.