San Juan escapes Davao Occidental for MPBL crown
Roy Luarca (Philstar.com) - April 26, 2019 - 9:29am

DAVAO CITY — The San Juan Knights played with grit and attrition to squeak past the Davao Occidental Tigers, 87-86, Thursday night and snatch the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Datu Cup national title at the people-packed Rizal Memorial Colleges Gymnasium here.

High-flyer Jhonard Clarito soared for a layup with eight seconds left as the Knights recovered from the horrors of losing a 15-point lead and completed a fightback from seven points down in the last two minutes to steal the series, 3-2, at the Tigers’ lair.

Another skywalker, Ryan Ayonayon presided over the Knights’ shocker, pouring in 33 points, including 20 in the first half.

The 6-foot-2 Clarito scored San Juan’s last six points to earn co-best player honors with Ayonayon, who was named Finals MVP for his consistent showing in the series pitting the Knights, the North division champion, against the Tigers, the South division titlist.

The Cocolife-backed Tigers had a chance to reverse the outcome, but Emman Calo missed on a strong drive in the dying seconds, sending the local crowd in gloom.

Thought of to be goners after the Tigers stole Game 4 at FilOil Flying V Centre, 77-66, to draw level at 2-2, the Knights fought fiercely and broke away at 49-34, before Yee canned his second free throw with two seconds to go to make the count 49-35 at halftime.

The cliffhanger provided a fitting ending to a close series which saw the Knights stun the Tigers at home, 84-74, in the opener. The Tigers took Game 2, 67-60, but the Knights regained the edge with a 67-62 Game 3 victory.

Other major contributors for the Go for Gold-supported Knights were Larry Rodriguez with 15 points and 13 rebounds and Mac Cardona with 12 points.

While his players were jubilating in triumph, San Juan coach Randy Alcantara wept unabashedly, as he dedicated the game to his mother, who passed away last year.

Alcantara, who was also part of another San Juan team which ruled the 2000 edition of the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association, precursor of the MPBL, praised his players.

“They played their hearts out. They didn’t give up,” said Alcantara, referring to the moment when they were staring at a 77-84 deficit.

“I just told them to go on playing as long as the final buzzer has not sounded,” added Alcantara. “We played the right defense and have the proper players at crunch time.”

The loss was very stingy for Bonbon Custodio and Yee who poured in 15 points and 11, respectively, in the third quarter as the Tigers wrested the lead, 68-63.

Custodio wound up with 19 points, trailing Yee with 27. Arnold Adormeo chipped in 12 points off the bench while Leo Najorda came through with 10.

MPBL founder Sen. Manny Pacquiao awarded the P10-million champion trophy to the Knights, led by co-owners Jeremy Go and former Sen. Jinggoy Estrada and the rest of the team.

Each player, the coaching staff and key team officials also got a ring, worth P100,000, from Pacquiao, who was joined by MPBL commissioner Kenneth Duremdes.

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