NU clouters end drought, edge Eagles
- Olmin Leyba () - March 2, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - National University ended a 45-year title drought with a dramatic 5-4 victory over Ateneo in baseball finale yesterday that not only shed the Bulldogs’ whipping boy tag but also hinted at an emerging power in the UAAP.

The Bulldogs lost a three-run lead as the Blue Eagles methodically came back into the match, bringing home the game-winning run on a crucial catching error by Ateneo’s cage star and secured the win behind MVP Aries Oruga’s tremendous pitching in the final inning.

Oruga pitched solidly for nine innings for the second straight game after missing the opener due to knee injury, giving up nine hits and four runs and worked through the mounting pressure as he smothered the last three Ateneo batters he faced.

Ateneo blue-chip guard Kirk Long, who has played out his eligibility in the basketball side of the league, flubbed what could’ve been an easy fly to centerfield by Marc Anthony Elic, enabling runner MJ Gante to score the winning run.

Thus the Bulldogs finally nailed a UAAP baseball title since 1966-67 after missing out on two finals where they lost to La Salle in men’s tennis and to Ateneo in men’s badminton. And its breakthrough in baseball showed the premier student league what to expect from the Bulldogs in the next season following an aggressive recruitment and an ambitious sports program under SM’s top honcho Hans Sy.

Led by Oruga, the Bulldogs held fort in Ateneo’s final stint at bat, foiling Cesar Paolo Juan Esguerra III (flyout to first) and brothers Bocboc (strike out) and Adriane Bernardo (flyout to second), as NU finally hit pay-dirt after runner-up finishes the last two years and title-less since 1966-67.

“That kid is the best, he is strong and can control the batters he’s facing,” Bacarisas said of Oruga.

“We were rated No. 5 only before the tournament, the darkhorse, so I told the team to prove we’re No. 1, not No. 5 and that motivated them,” said team manager Wopsy Zamora as supporters led by Sy and other school and team officials, members of the basketball team and students, whooped it up in celebration.

“Heart of a champion, that’s what I’ve been telling the boys,” NU mentor Isaac Bacarisas said in Filipino, pointing to the four-worded phrase printed on the Bulldogs’ shirts they prepared in anticipation of a championship.

He lauded his wards’ heart in overcoming adversity, especially during the playoffs. The top seed in the elims, NU lost a 2-4 heartbreaker to UST but prevailed in their rubber match, 7-2. The Bulldogs dropped the finals opener, 4-11, but bounced back with a 5-2 win to force the KO match.

“I told them even if we lost the first game against both UST and Ateneo, we can play well the next game and win via come-from-behind. This should be our time, I won’t settle for yet another bridesmaid finish,” Bacarisas said.

NU took an early 3-0 lead as they tagged Ateneo starter Andy Tan with three hits in the third frame. The Blue Batters patiently fought back, getting a run off three hits in the bottom third and scoring two more runs in the sixth to tie it at 3-3.

Alfredo Olivarez doubled to left, driving Mark Bryan Lumbres home in the seventh to put NU ahead, 4-3, but Ateneo brought it back to square one in the bottom seventh when Bernardo scored, pouncing on NU’s failure to grab Charles Catangui’s fly ball.

Then the Blue Eagles practically shot themselves in the foot in the ninth. 

After replacing Kevin Ramos who yielded a single to Gante, Bernardo ousted the next two NU batters only to make a throwing error to first base in an attempted pickoff, allowing Gante to stretch to third.  

Gante eventually reached home off Long’s catching error on Elic’s fly ball, dashing Ateneo’s bid for a maiden baseball title and Long’s quest for five personal UAAP crowns.

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