Team Marianas takes SCLC caging title


Team Marianas players pose with coach Joe Diaz and officials of Saipan Centennial Lions Club and league organizers after winning the championship of the open division of the Inaugural SCLC Basketball League last Thursday at the Gillette Multi-Purpose Gymnasium in Gualo Rai. (MARK RABAGO)

Team Marianas smothered Lakay/Islander’s main scorers and used their motion offense to perfection to win the championship of the open division of the Inaugural SCLC Basketball League last Thursday at the Gillette Multi-Purpose Gymnasium in Gualo Rai.

After allowing Preston Basa to basically lift Lakay/Islander to a Game 1 victory, Team Marianas limited the 3-point sharpshooter to just 7 points in Game 3 as the national basketball pool followed up their Game 2 win with a masterful 91-66 victory in Game 3 to annex the title.

Team Marianas started like a house on fire and jumped to a 34-15 lead in the first quarter as Chioni Dela Cruz and Jack Aranda combined for a baker’s dozen points. It was all the same in the second period as coach Joe Diaz’s boys continued to lord it over Lakay/Islander until a late run to close the half allowed their opponents to trim their deficit to just 14 points, 48-34.

The third quarter was a Jeffrey Castro show as the cat-quick guard relieved his Game 2 heroics with another barrage from the land of plenty. His 3-pointer with time down to 4:46 in the period stretched Team Marianas’ lead to 20 points, 63-43, after Lakay/Islander whittled down their advantage to just 11 points.

Team Marianas’ Shane Deleon Guerrero goes up for a layup against Lakay/Islander in Game 3 of their best-of-three finals series in the open division of the Inaugural SCLC Basketball League last Thursday at the Gillette Multi-Purpose Gymnasium in Gualo Rai. (MARK RABAGO)

Team Marianas would enjoy their biggest lead at 70-43 when Dela Cruz was left all alone from rainbow territory, but Lakay/Islander had one last gasp left in them and a Zeric Gant triple to beat the third quarter buzzer capped a 7-0 run as Team Marianas saw its lead shaved to 18 points with a quarter to go in the contest.

Lakay/Islander last threatened when a R.J. Palacios’ 3 inside the last 9 minutes cut it to 72-57. But Team Marianas would answer that with a run of their own beginning with a Coby Santos triple that was followed by Castro layup, a Santos floater, and layup and a 3 by Shane Deleon Guerrero.

On the defensive side, Team Marianas sent wave after wave of double teams on Basa as the former national player struggled with his shooting all game long. Diaz also clogged the lane against Marvin Rabauliman to make sure the inside operator had no room to muscle his way toward the basket.

By the time Aranda swished a mid-range jumper, Team Marianas was ahead by a whopping a 23 points, 87-64, at the 2:29 mark and the only thing left was for organizers to bring out the championship trophy and vote on the finals MVP and best coach.

Castro was named finals MVP after firing 18 points in Game 3, while Deleon Guerrero and Dela Cruz added 12 points apiece. Gant went berserk in the loss with 31 points and was the only double-figure score for Lakay/Islander.

Diaz, who was adjudged best coach, credited his players’ mental fortitude in winning the championship especially after dropping the first game.

“Just the boys being prepared and having the mental toughness. I believe in our national players’ skills and we polished a lot of their skills for one year. This is basically just a tune-up league for us where they basically need to come together as a team and as a unit. Because if you don’t play as a team we wouldn’t go far [in the FIBA Micronesian Cup]. As you could see Jeff was scoring and his teammates didn’t care less and they were still helping each other. Everybody on the bench was supporting each other and believing in their teammates.”

He added that stopping Lakay/Islander’s Big 3 proved to be the key in beating their in two straight games.

“Part of the strategy was to stop Preston because he killed us in Game 1. We also focused in stopping Zeric and Marvin on the inside. We played half court man-to-man in the first and second quarters to get their first five tired and in the third quarter we put in the younger guys and make them more tired. We just had to utilize what we have and play smart basketball. We may not have the height but we developed the mentality of boxing out as a team because going off-island it’s going to be a different story.”

Team Marianas 91
– Castro 18, Deleon Guerrero 12, Dela Cruz 12, Flores 9, Aranda 9, Santos 8, Sablan 7, Augenbaugh 5, Brennan 5, Naraja 4, Aldan 2.
Lakay/Islander 66 – Gant 31, Jandoc 8, Basa 7, Rabauliman 6, Santos 4, Capalad 4, Quan 4, Palacios 3.
Scoring by quarters: 34-15, 48-34, 70-52, 91-66.

Mark Rabago | Associate Editor
Mark Rabago is the Associate Editor of Saipan Tribune. Contact him at

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