Air Force One emerged as back-to-back champions of the La Salle Athletic League (LSAL), after defeating the Yongconatics, 71-66, last Wednesday at the Enrique Razon Sports Complex. It was a tight ball game, with neither team gaining the edge, until former Green Archer forward Oda Tampus performed down the stretch with clutch bucket after clutch bucket. Coming into the game as defending champions, Air Force One emerged victorious as Tampus and Alec Saubier led the charge with 31 and 28 points, respectively.
Back-and-forth first half
Scoring was low during the first half of the game as defense became the number one priority for both teams. Lopez and Ralph Cu opened the game by trading early buckets but both teams were unable to score until the five-minute mark. The game was physical as both played man to man defense all throughout the quarter.
After calling a timeout, Saubier stepped up to counter the Yongconatics’ frenetic pace on offense. Saubier hit back-to-back buckets and hit a pair of free throws, as the defending champions went on a 6-2 run. However, the Yongconatics kept themselves within striking distance as Tan and Ong made baskets ending the first quarter behind, 11-10.
Tampus opened the second quarter with a jump shot followed by a Jolo Liwag basket. With plenty of time remaining, Renzel Yongco and Kevin Kok proved to be the spark plugs for the team, making consecutive three-pointers for the Yongconatics.
It was 18-all at the 4:56 mark of the second quarter after See split free throws to give Yongconatics their first lead of the game, but Ralph Cu immediately got the lead back with a three-pointer. With Air Force one looking once again to run away with the lead, the Yongconatics had other plans and kept themselves close. With 20 seconds left to play in the first half, Kok hit a tough buzzer beating 3 to end the second quarter, 33-31, in favor of Air Force One.
Physical second half
After an extended half time break, Yongconatics went back to their run and gun style of play as the third quarter ensued. Crowd favorite Kok got the lead back with a triple that started a run for his team. Lopez and See made a basket and a three-pointer, respectively, to give Yongconatics a six-point lead.
Tampus, however, was sent to the line to make two crucial free throws to stop the opponent’s run. Ian Lipio made a triple to cut the trim the lead down but Yongco went right back at him with an coast to coast layup.
Deciding to slow the game down, Lipio made the most out of two big possessions for his team. After Yongco’s bucket, he made two free throws and was able to convert a steal into more points. With the score 45-47 with 3:46 left in the third period, Air Force One was closing in, looking to take back the lead. Liwag and Tampus did that, scoring to give a one-point cushion back to Air Force One. In the dying minutes of the quarter, Ong and Yongco had the chance to get the advantage back but they missed four free throws.
With fatigue kicking in, the fourth quarter was about who wanted it more. Saubier and Tampus opened the fourth quarter with consecutive baskets as Air Force One started gaining momentum. See and Lopez would answer back but Cu and Tampus continued to make baskets maintaining the lead further down the stretch. At the 5:36 mark, Tampus made two free throws and a basket, giving Air Force One a 65-56 lead.
After a few buckets by both teams, See was able to hit a crucial layup to trim the Air Force One lead down to just three with 1:52 left to go. After defensive stops by both teams, with 36 seconds left to play, Yongconatics had a chance to tie the game. Settling for a mid range jumper, Yongco could not make the basket. Tampus was immediately fouled and sent to the line. Surprisingly, Tampus missed the first free throw, giving life to Yongonatics. While he missed the second free throw as well, Ralph Cu got the rebound and split his free throws. The game ended with Air Force One on top, 71-66.
Both teams were evenly matched offensively and defensively. The victor was decided by who had less unforced errors throughout the game and who could capitalize on opportunities, whether on offense or defense. The Yongconatics were a sharp shooting team but they could not make crucial free throws. Yongconatics were playing against a bigger team so they had to make good decisions when taking shots. Rebounding was the key for Air Force One since most of their baskets, especially in the first half, relied on cleaning up missed shots.
During the halftime break, award were given out. Jameel Laigo, Alec Saubier, Jacob Magpoc, Jb Lapena, and Renzel Yongco were awarded with Mythical Five honors, with Jameel Laigo earning Most Valuable Player. This was his second straight MVP award.