After being down by as many as 20 points, Air Force One clawed its way back to defeat Baroney, 92-89, and clinch the La Salle Athletic League (LSAL) Basketball title last April 17 at the 9th floor of the Enrique Razon Sports Complex. Both teams gave the crowd a thrilling game as it lasted beyond regulation and produced two overtime periods.
Ian Lipio paced the eventual champions with 29 points, four rebounds, and nine assists. His teammate, Finals MVP (Most Valuable Player) and Mythical Five member Raphael Cu, produced a double-double with 24 points and 10 rebounds. For the runners-up, only Alec Saubier and Aaron Manguera reached double digits as they finished with 26 and 10 points, respectively.
“It was a team effort, that’s all,” Cu shared after the game.
Dominating first half for Baroney
Baroney, which was bannered mostly by former De La Salle-Zobel Junior Archers, started off the game with a 9-2 lead early on. Air Force One were in shambles as they turned the ball over and had difficulty in knocking down baskets. Baroney continued to shoot the ball well as it led after the first quarter, 29-16.
The deficit continued to balloon for Air Force One as Baroney was able to establish a 20-point advantage in the second quarter, the biggest lead of the game. It seemed like the latter was going to cruise to the title, but the tide slowly turned in the favor of Air Force One when they called a timeout right after Saubier made a jumpshot to take a 41-21 lead. It was a well-timed decision for the eventual champions as their move halted the momentum of their opponents. Lipio, Joaquin Anareta, and Cu unleashed a 12-2 scoring run thus reducing the deficit to 10 points at the end of the first half, 43-33.
Inspired performance for Air Force One
Saubier got loose and made a layup at the start of the third quarter but was quickly answered by Cu, who knocked down a three-pointer on the other end of the court. It was a foreshadowing of what would happen in the second half as both teams traded baskets. Five minutes after the third quarter opened, Baroney continued to lead, 54-42, but did not make a single field-goal in the quarter afterwards.
Air Force One went on another run as it closed the gap to three points, the closest since the opening minutes of the first quarter. It was Baroney’s turn to call a timeout, but it did not solve its struggles from the field. Its dry spell continued until Adrian Partosa and Saubier each knocked down a free throw. Manman Isaac of Air Force One then went to the line and made two free throws to trim the deficit back to three points. Jolo Liwag was able to sneak in for a layup 20 seconds later to further cut down the Baroney lead to a single point at the end of the third quarter, 56-55.
Baroney was able to hold off Air Force One and continued to lead until the last two minutes and 20 seconds of regulation time. Lipio made two crucial free throws to give the lead to Air Force One for the first time in the game, 66-64. Saubier then knocked down a free throw to make the score 66-65, but Isaac’s floater pushed the lead back to three points.
Partosa of Baroney tied the game at 68-all when he made a three-pointer at the right elbow which was assisted by Saubier. Saubier continued his stellar play when he got past a number of defenders with his spin move, thus leading to a shooting foul. He made two vital free throws as Baroney made another defensive stop. This time, it was Partosa who was fouled with eight seconds left on the game clock in regulation.
Partosa failed to convert the two free throws and Air Force One quickly went the other way to at least level the scoreline. Cu saw the opportunity to win the game when he launched a three pointer from the right wing but was fouled by Saubier right before the fourth quarter buzzer. Cu missed his first free throw, but knocked down the next two pressure-packed free throws to tie the game at 70-all and send the game to overtime.
“When I missed the first, I just said, whatever. I was already there, I had no choice, so I just shot it,” Cu shared his thoughts on the free throws at the end of regulation.
Electrifying overtime periods
Saubier looked to make amends for his foul at the end of regulation by scoring Baroney’s first four points in the overtime. Isaac and Lipio again came up big as they kept the score close. Saubier and Liwag exchanged baskets in the next couple of minutes, but Jummy Andaya was able to give Baroney a cushion after he made two free throws, thus giving Baroney an 81-78 lead in the dying stages of the overtime period.
Air Force One called a timeout and was able to come up with a game-tying basket. Cu faked a hand-off and turned around for a massive three pointer to tie the game, 81-81. It was Baroney’s turn to call a timeout, but its pick-and-roll play did not yield a basket as Andaya’s midrange jumpshot at the left side of the floor court missed.
Cu said his team did not plan the play during the timeout, but elaborated, “We needed a three, I knew they were gonna switch, so I faked the hand-off.”
The lead swung back and forth in the early stages of the second overtime after Gian Abanilla of Baroney made a three-pointer. Baroney’s Joel Dimayuga tied the game at 89-all after his free throws, but the deadlock was soon broken by Cu. He fearlessly released a three-pointer to give Air Force One a 92-89 lead with 33 seconds left in the game. His sixth three-pointer of the game proved to be the difference as Air Force One overcame missed free throws and a last-gasp effort from Baroney, which proved to be unsuccessful.
“I was confident to shoot it because if I miss it, it was gonna go to overtime again anyway,” Cu explained on the last field goal of the game.