PBA D-LEAGUE: EcoOil La Salle thwarted Go Torakku-St. Clare to book a spot in the Finals for the third-straight year

EcoOil La Salle dismantled Go Torakku-St. Clare College, 105-70, in Game Two of the best-of-three series in the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup yesterday, April 30, at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig. With this win, La Salle makes another appearance in the Finals for the third consecutive year and now awaits their opponent between Marinerong Pilipino-San Beda and CEU Scorpions.

Player of the Game Raven Cortez contributed 10 points and six rebounds for his team in the win, while Henry Agunanne anchored both the offense and defense for La Salle with a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds. Echoing his teammates’ performance was Matthew Rubico, who had an all-around game for EcoOil with 14 points, eight boards, three dimes, and two steals. Mike Phillips had a silent eight points, 14 rebounds, five assists, and two steals to clinch the semifinal series against St. Clare.

Despite the loss, Babacar Ndong had a monstrous stat line with 18 points and 16 rebounds for Go Torakku-St. Clare College. While Megan Galang added 15 points, it wasn’t enough to tie the series for St. Clare.

Flip the switch

It was a hot start for EcoOil La Salle, with Jcee Macalalag scoring the first five points of the game with a layup and corner three, 5-0. Suffocating defense by La Salle made scoring the basket for St. Clare difficult, which forced Coach Jinino Manansala to call an early timeout. Coming off the much-needed timeout, Go Torakku-St. Clare found their groove and made a mini 4-0 run, which forced EcoOil La Salle to regroup around four minutes into the quarter in the first quarter, 5-all. Both teams started trading baskets in the middle of the quarter, but La Salle got the best as they took the lead, with Agunanne draining a top-of-the-key three-pointer, 15-10. 

St. Clare did not let La Salle break the game wide open as they started knocking down basket after basket, with Ryan Sual draining a three to cut the lead to four, 17-13. Phillips grabbed the offensive rebound and scored a basket to create a seven-point advantage, 20-13. A mini-run for Go Torakku-St. Clare to close the quarter strong, started off Ndong’s hook shot, which trimmed EcoOil’s rampant cushion down to two, 20-18.

After a missed cue in their backcourt pressure for EcoOil, Aeron Decano scored a touchdown layup for Go Torakku to tie the game at the start of the second quarter, 20-all. A different EcoOil La Salle came out of the defensive error, making it harder for Go Torakku-St. Clare to inch closer. A defensive stop to transition basket for La Salle was their game plan, which gave Jonnel Policarpio the cue to score a layup in transition to give EcoOil a double-digit lead, 31-20. 

A series of missed shots by the Green Archers did not have any effect as their defense kept their lead going into the second half of the quarter, 37-24. CJ Austria kept attacking the interior defense of St. Clare and paved the way for them to score easily in the dying minutes, 45-28. La Salle built a comfortable 17-point lead going into the halftime break, with EJ Gollena cleaning the missed shot of Phillips, 47-29.

Business as usual

Holding a huge advantage going into the second half, the Green Archers found trouble widening the gap further as they saw their hot shooting cool down. With St. Clare attacking the paint to draw fouls, La Salle saw their lead cut to 11 three minutes into the half, giving up chances for the white shirts to score from the charity stripe. With Joshua David unable to orchestrate the offense due to foul trouble, the Green-and-White defaulted to feeding Agunanne the ball inside to draw fouls and turn the game into a free throw contest.

As they found a way to get their offense going, the Green Archers played their signature full-court press to limit St. Clare’s offense. However, it looked like St. Clare caught on to Agunanne’s inside presence, which brought out Policarpio, Austria, and Cortez’s offensive prowess from the inside to grab easy baskets, 65-46. The trio’s late scoring runs allowed La Salle to end the third quarter with a 23-point cushion despite a scare from St. Clare early on, 72-49.

Austria and Cortez carried their rhythm to the fourth quarter, scoring inside the paint to maintain La Salle’s lead three minutes in, 81-57. Despite St. Clare’s attempts to go on a run, the green shirts always found a way to counter to maintain the huge lead as the experienced Green Archers remained composed throughout the fourth.

Now holding a comfortable lead and heading into the last few minutes of the match, Coach Gian Nazario took the opportunity to give some new names some time to introduce themselves. Rubico, Ethan Alian, and Aaron Buensalida made themselves known on the hardwood floor as they grabbed multiple baskets to increase the DLSU advantage to 28 markers, 95-67. Despite an already dominant deficit, the Green Archers still respected their opposition and continued their attacks to run down the clock. And to put the exclamation point on the blowout game, EJ Abadam dunked off a fastbreak to end the game with a statement win, 105-70.

After the game, Coach Nazario shared that he did not want his team to downplay their opponent and that history has shown that they have what it takes to give La Salle a shocking result, “We really approached this game as…we wanted to respect St. Clare for a lot of reasons. Sabi ko nga sa team, we’ve played this team a lot of times in the preseason, and they always give us a good fight.” 

(We really approached this game as… we wanted to respect St. Clare for a lot of reasons. Like I said to the team, we’ve played this team a lot of times in the preseason, and they always give us a good fight.)

This convincing victory concludes EcoOil La Salle’s sweep of Go Torraku-St. Clare in their best-of-three semifinal series. The Taft-based squad now awaits the results on the other side of the bracket to determine who they will face in the Finals showdown.

The Scores:

DLSU 105 – Agunanne 17, Rubico 14, Austria 11, Abadam 11, Cortez 10, Policarpio 9, Phillips 8, Alian 6, David 5, Gollena 5, Macalalag 5, Buensalida 4, Romero 0 

St. Clare 70 – Ndong 18, Galang 15, De Guzman 5, Estacio 5, Russel 5, Burgos 4, Sual 4, Acosta 3, Decano 3, Cabauatan 3, Tapenio 3, Yu 2, Manzano 0

Quarter Scores: 20-18, 47-29, 72-49, 105-70

Daniel Quiroga

By Daniel Quiroga

Raphael Serrano

By Raphael Serrano

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