The Redeem Team: Here Come The Eaglets!

September 06, 2013
Enzo Flojo; Photos by Gil Valmocina Salandanan

The Redeem Team: Here Come the Eaglets!
The Ateneo de Manila High School Blue Eaglets are gunning to give the NU Bullpups their first taste of defeat in the juniors division of the Season 76.  As of this writing, the Bullpups remain the only unbeaten team after twelve games, while the Eaglets are assured of solo second place, winning 10 of their own 12 outings.  The pivotal battle is going to happen next Friday, September 13, 2013 (Friday the 13th, how ominous!) at the hallowed hardwood of the Blue Eagle Gym. Before that, however, the Eaglets take on a dangerous UE Junior Warriors team tomorrow, Saturday, September 7, 2013. This is the same UE five that handed the Eaglets their only loss in their championship-clinching 2013 Freego-FCBL campaign this past summer.  Should the Ateneans hurdle both UE and NU, then they will have gathered enough momentum to really do well in the Final Four and, hopefully, bring back the crown to Loyola Heights.
What follows are brief recaps of the Eaglets’ last three conquests. After starting the season losing two of their first three games, the Ateneans are now on a roll, winning all of their last nine matches.
Jme Escaler picked a good game to get hot. The fourth-year forward-center who hails from Bowditch Middle School shot 4/8 from the field and finished with a dozen points to lead Ateneo past also-ran Adamson, which is mired at the foot of the team standings.
Escaler, who hopes to move on to the seniors next season, also collared 4 rebounds and had 2 steals in the rout. He was backstopped by Thirdy Ravena’s sublime production. Ravena, who leads the Season 76 MVP race, scored 10 points on top of 12 rebounds and 3 assists. He is a sure-fire blue chipper and has already attracted a lot of collegiate attention from both the UAAP and NCAA.
Also doing well here was sophomore guard Jolo Mendoza, who netted 10 markers but also hauled down 7 boards and dished out 3 dimes in just 15 minutes of play. Mendoza, who was the Ateneo Grade School’s Milo SBP star a few of years ago, should take on an even bigger role for the Eaglets in the next two seasons. Should Mendoza’s form hold true, he should also be another blue chip recruit prior to Season 79.
The Baby Falcons, who have won just one game so far this season, were led by big man Reinier Quinga, who scored 11 points and grabbed 14 rebounds while also blocking 3 shots. He got little help, though, as the rest of his teammates shot just 24% from the floor.
As an interesting sidenote, my former student and first-time UAAP player, Jolo Riego De Dios (4K), scored his first basket in this game! If you’ve watched the Eaglets this season, you might have seen a lanky 6’4 guy who hardly plays. That’s Jolo! He’s reportedly a real hardworker in practice, and he finally got to reap the benefits in this game! Kudos to you, Jolo!
AHS 71 – Escaler 12, Ravena 10, Mendoza J 10, Nieto Mi 7, Nieto Ma 7, Ramos 6, Black 6, Salandanan 3, Mendoza M 3, Riego De Dios 2, Joson E 2, Jose 2, Joson T 1, Mamuyac 0, Magpoc 0, Calilung 0

AdU 45 – Quinga 11, Agbong 8, Camacho 5, Madriaga 4, De Guzman 4, Solomon 3, Nemenzo 3, Morelos 3, Jamias 2, Mocorro 1, Beltran 1, Villos 0, Navarro 0, Munsayac 0, Magkalas 0, Casino 0

QS: 18-5, 37-16, 54-32, 71-45

Notable Performers:
Jme Escaler (AHS) – 12 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals
Thirdy Ravena (AHS) – 10 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists
Reinier Quinga (AdU) – 11 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks
In the past few seasons, the UPIS Junior Maroons played doormats to the rest of the juniors division. This season, however, they’ve taken on a different persona. Bannered by the twin-tower combo of Freddie Pajarillaga and Raymart Sablan, as well as spitfire playmaker Diego Dario, the Junior Maroons have made waves. Though they are all but eliminated from the Final Four picture, the wards of coach Allan Gregorio remain a dangerous bunch. Majority of their losses have been by single digits, pushing strong teams to the brink. They even beat FEU-FERN in round two!
In this game, in fact, they almost had Ateneo’s number.
The Eaglets, on paper, shouldn’t have encountered much trouble against UPIS, and, up until the third period, it seemed like they would be on cruise-control. Ateneo built multiple 10-point leads in this game, with the last one at the 5:47 mark of the third stanza. Though it was clear Ateneo wouldn’t be able to blast the Junior Maroons out of the water, at least one thing seemed certain – this win was in the books.
Or so most people might have thought.
Behind Jozhua General, Sablan, and Josiah Chua, the Junior Maroons stormed back with an 11-1 run that knotted the count at 47-all late in the quarter. Ateneo eventually took a 55-51 lead into the start of the fourth frame, but, once again, UPIS erased it and tied the score, 55-all, with 9:26 to go.
Suddenly, the win was in peril.
Coach Gregorio rode the hot shooting his top players, Sablan and Dario, all the way till the end, and, though Ateneo ultimately survived, 73-69, the Junior Maroons showed that they were made of stern stuff. They could hang with the Ateneans.
Coach Joe Silva of Ateneo probably heaved a sigh of relief when the final buzzer sounded. Everything seemed to be in order when his boys held a 7-point advantage, 70-63, with less than two minutes left, but Sablan and Dario cut that gap to a solitary point, 70-69, with about 30 ticks remaining. It was a good thing Aaron Black and Thirdy Ravena hit three insurance free throws to peg the final tally. If not for their efforts, the Eaglets might have been staring at the wrong end of an upset.
Ravena led Ateneo with another spectacular stat-line – 24 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals, while Black backed him up with his own double-double – 15 points, 12 boards, and 3 dimes. Dario and General led UPIS with 25 and 10 points respectively.
For Ateneo, this was a grim reminder that they should not take any foe lightly, especially the ones lined up next – the dangerous UST Tiger Cubs.
AHS 73 – Ravena 24, Black 15, Nieto Ma 9, Salandanan 6, Joson E 6, Ramos 4, Nieto Mi 4, Mendoza J 3, Jose 2, Mamuyac 0, Magpoc 0, Joson T 0, Calilung 0

UPIS 69 – Dario 25, General 10, Sablan 9, Gregorio 7, Pajarillaga 6, Chua 6, Lopez 3, Gomez De Llano 3, Vergeire 0, Santiago 0, Ragos 0, Labao 0

QS: 19-16, 37-29, 55-51, 73-69

Notable Performers:

Thirdy Ravena (AHS) – 24 points, 14 rebounds, 2 steals
Aaron Black (AHS) – 15 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists
Diego Dario (UPIS) – 25 points, 4 rebounds
In Ateneo’s first round encounter with UST, the Eaglets had a tough time, winning a close one, 75-69. Aaron Black stepped up in that game to lead the Blues, but he was limited in the final period as UST mounted a big rally.
Black continued to do well against the Tiger Cub defense in their second round meeting. He drilled in 12 points on top of 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Slowly but surely, Aaron is coming into his own as a mainstay of the Eaglets. I remember seeing him two years ago as a sophomore thrust into the main roster. I remember him, along with Thirdy Ravena, struggling to play alongside the older set. Both Aaron and Thirdy were a few inches shorter then, and they played mostly in the backcourt. This year, both guys are stretch-forwards. They are tall enough to play the PF position at this level, but also versatile enough to play swingman.
Another guy who stepped up here was Mike Nieto, he of the undersized big man type. Nieto has struggled somewhat in the second round, but he produced well in this one, scoring a dozen points and grabbing 8 rebounds. Man, if Mike just had Enrico Villanueva’s height…
By far the most impressive performance, however, belonged, not surprisingly, to Thirdy. Ravena netted an awesome triple-double here, tossing in 16 markers to go along with SEVENTEEN REBOUNDS and 10 assists. He actually nearly made it a strange quadruple-double had he turned the ball over two more times, but those miscues didn’t really matter as the Ateneans beat UST a bit more comfortably this time around, 79-63.
Coach Silva’s wards were +20 in rebounds, +12 in assists, and limited UST to just under 33% FG shooting. The Cubs also struggled from the stripe, making just 14 of their 33 FT attempts.
This win put Ateneo right behind the Bullpups, and, should the Loyola quintet prevail over UE tomorrow, the Blues will have a good shot at derailing NU’s dreams of an elims sweep.
Go Ateneo! One BIG Fight! J
Oh, and, once again, Jolo Riego De Dios scored! Woohoo! Go Jolo! Aside from him, sophomore swingman Gian Mamuyac, whose game reminds me a lot of the way Von Pessumal played before, also nailed a bucket for the first time in the second round! Good job, Gian!
AHS 79 – Ravena 16, Nieto Mi 12, Black 12, Nieto Ma 9, Escaler 7, Joson T 6, Ramos 4, Jose 4, Salandanan 3, Riego De Dios 2, Mamuyac 2, Mendoza M 1, Calilung 1, Magpoc 0, Joson E 0

UST 63 – Dandan 18, Corre 14, Reyes 9, Mayor 6, Borje 6, Berdijo 6, Syyap 4, Santos 0, Salinas 0, Riano 0, Ramirez 0, Marcelo 0, Laman 0

QS: 20-14, 45-27, 63-39, 79-63

Notable Performers:
Thirdy Ravena (AHS) – 16 points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists, 1 steal
Aaron Black (AHS) – 12 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists
Ice Dandan (UST) – 18 points, 5 rebounds