From zero to hero
Under the bright lights of the UAAP Finals and the heat of the scorching summer sun, sophomore Gino Tantuico became the hero that the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles needed to reclaim the baseball throne, Friday afternoon.
But it would not have happened if it had not been for the trust given to him by Ateneo Baseball program director Randy Dizer.
Prior to the 12th inning of Game Two, the 20-year-old infielder had been just 0-for-6 at bat, grounding out in two of his last three at bats, while striking out in his first two.
“Di ko siya tinatanggal kahit pinag-uusapan na ng coaching staff na tanggalin siya. Ang akin lang naniniwala ako na lalabas din yung laro niya,” Dizer shared.
“Ang sabi ko lang sa kanya, ‘Believe in yourself.’ He already experienced this at naging leader din siya [in Zobel]. Isa siya sa pinaka magaling ko last year.”
“That pushed me even more. I already heard my coaches of bringing me out. That pushed me more and I wanted to prove them wrong,” Tantuico added.
The trust Dizer has in Tantuico had started to develop a season ago.
Just a rookie, the UAAP Season 77 Juniors MVP was plugged in as a reliever in Game Two of the Season 78 Finals after having played shortstop for the entire game. Tantuico had not thrown a single pitch during the regular season.
In the 1/3 inning he pitched, he allowed two hits in the pivotal seventh inning, giving up the go-ahead run.
“Last year, I was more nervous because we were already down a game already. Since I didn’t perform, we lost,” Tantuico reflected.
Fast forward to a year later, Tantuico has been given a chance to overcome the ghost of last season.
“Throughout the game, I tried to be composed and play to my abilities,” Tantuico added.
“I knew that if I emotionally broke down, it would bring down the team. I [constantly] told myself to keep my calm.”
The game itself had already reached the five-hour mark, while Tantuico was facing two-outs with two runners on base.
Unlike last year, Tantuico was able to overcome, connecting with a huge double to bring home the two runners to lift the Blue Eagles to the driver’s seat.
“This time, I was trying to make bawi,” Tantuico said.
“I just remembered all the hard work we put in and I just wanted to finish it already. I knew that it was our game, that UST didn’t score for a reason.
“This year, I was still nervous but still being put in that situation — I was actually put in that position twice and I really wanted to make bawi for myself. I just pushed. I wanted to win it for my captains and my team. I just wanted to win,” he confessed.
All throughout the season, the main narrative for Ateneo has been redemption.
After exactly one year, Tantuico and the Blue Eagles were able to find it.