Tinian Junior Senior High School outlasted Mt. Carmel School Varsity in a thrilling championship duel in the 2019-2020 Public School System Interscholastic Boys High School Basketball League last Saturday at the Marianas High School Gymnasium.
The Stallions clinched the crown after escaping with a 38-36 victory in Game 2 of the finals.
The visiting team did not secure the championship until the last buzzer, as the Knights, despite falling behind by as much as 11 points in the first half (15-4) and losing key players due to fatigue, refused to give up and threatened to complete the come-from-behind win.
Tinian seemed headed to close the rubber as it led, 38-34, down to the last 21 seconds, after Sir Dela Cruz went over Steve King’s back for the offensive rebound and a putback off Leo Epity’s missed shot from the right baseline.
However, Mt. Carmel countered with a deuce off a second serving, as Anthony Lajara got the ball after Chioni Dela Cruz faltered on his drive from the left wing, cutting Tinian’s lead to 2, 36-38.
Tinian sued for time after Lajara’s crucial basket with 14 seconds remaining in the game. When the match resumed, Mt. Carmel opted to give up fouls to stop the clock and send the Stallions to the free throw line. The Knights were called for three quick fouls and another one would have given Tinian a trip to the free throw area. However, Mt. Carmel got a break in the ensuing play, as after nearly forcing its foe to a 5-second inbound violation, Tinian’s Malinao Palacios was slapped with a traveling infraction after he received the pass.
The Knights were handed the possession down to the last 7 seconds and coach Francis San Nicolas called his last timeout to map out a make-or-break play for his team.
It turned out to be a heartbreaker for Mt. Carmel. Chioni Dela Cruz’s heave from the 3-point area hit nothing but air and although Matthew Richardson picked up the ball, he was not aware of the clock, as he dribbled away from the paint instead of going for the putback that would have sent the game in overtime.
Despite the sorry loss, the Knights are one proud soldier, as they put up a gallant fight against Tinian. Mt. Carmel played five do-or-die matches in just one day, including Game 1 of the finals which it won, 29-23.
The Knights had to play in a series of rubber games after losing to Tinian, 21-30, last Friday in the second round of the winners bracket. Tinian debuted in the double-elimination tournament with a victory over Saipan International School, while Mt. Carmel prevailed against Kagman High School Varsity.
Up next for Tinian was Agape Christian School, which advanced to the winners bracket semis after outclassing KHS 3 and Saipan Southern High School. The Stallions went on to beat Agape in the battle for the first finals ticket, 21-13, and also took the twice-to-beat edge in the championship round.
Tinian had a long break before it returned to the court for its title showdown against the Knights, who had to eliminate MHS Varsity and SSHS to square off against Agape for the second and last berth to the finals. Mt. Carmel, which swept the 11 games in the regular season, ended up beating Agape, 32-27, to get a second crack at Tinian.
In Game 1 of the finals, a well-rested Tinian crew capitalized on the winded Mt. Carmel players, as the Knights were held to one field goal in the first 10 minutes of the 12-minute opening half, allowing the Stallions to take a 10-4 lead.
Dela Cruz scored 7 points for Tinian, while Ricky Cruz made the team’s first basket off a triple. Markus Toves delivered the lone field goal for Mt. Carmel plus a pair of free throws, while Richardson, who nearly played without relief in all of the squad’s first three rubber matches, added one charity.
A triple from King in the closing minutes of the first half gave the Knights only their second goal, but that sparked the comeback, as Mt. Carmel began hitting its mark in the second half. King made another trey to start the second frame, while Richardson took over to turn the tables on Tinian.
The Knights quarterback scored 12 points in the second half, including back-to-back jumpers in the closing minutes of the game to help Mt. Carmel withstand Tinian’s rally. Tinian moved within 1, 20-21, when Richarson knocked in the two baskets to seal it for the Knights and send the finale to a deciding Game 2.
In the rubber, fatigue finally took its toll on Mt. Carmel, as King and Jeremiah Diaz spent most of the first half on the bench due to cramps, while Richardson joined them later.
Up against a depleted crew, Tinian tried to go for the kill early and went up, 15-4, behind the 10 points of Sir Dela Cruz. Lajara stepped up in absence of Richardson and company to keep the Knights afloat, while Sir Dela Cruz was still on target and finished the half with 15 markers to lift Tinian to 25-19 lead.
Sir Dela Cruz then slowed down a bit in the second half, while Lajara found an ally in Chioni Dela Cruz to help the Knights remain in title contention. However, Sir Dela Cruz delivered the dagger in the end when he collared the offensive board against King and hit the putback that gave Tinian enough cushion.
“It was the kind of close game that we prepared and practiced for back home and I know our boys will come out on top. I never doubted our players so even though we lost Game 1, I was confident they will bounce back and win it,” Tinian head coach Keith Nabors said.
Tinian 38—Dela Cruz 17, Palacios 12, Epity 4, Cruz 3, Santos 2.
MCS 36—Lajara 18, Dela Cruz 8, King 4, Richardson 2, Toves 2, Ong 2.
Scoring by halves: 25-19, 38-36.
MCS 29—Richardson 13, King 10, Toves 4, Dela Cruz 2.
Tinian 23—Dela Cruz 9, Epity 6, Cruz 5, Palacios 2, Santos 1.
Scoring by halves: 8-12, 29-23.