After years of heartbreaks and runners-up finishes, the UAAP Baseball championship is back in Taft Avenue.
In a highly-emotional game that featured high drama, bizaare controversies, and excellent playmaking, the De La Salle University Green Batters ended the three year reign of the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles in an all-time classic, 11-9, to sweep the Finals series and win the school’s fourth baseball championship.
The Green Batters were able to pick their spots in the first three innings of the game for an early 3-0 lead. Against Ateneo starting pitcher Miguel Dumlao, La Salle was able to tag the third-year pitcher four times during that span that led to three runs. A catching error by left fielder Radito Banzon in the first inning led to a Paulo Salud run. Then in the second inning, Salud connected on a two-out double to bring home Josh Salinas.
Finally, in the third inning, rookie DH Ignacio Escano slammed a huge home run to left field that gave La Salle a 3-0 lead. Moreover, the homer forced the Ateneo coaching staff to retire Dumlao from the mound for ace pitcher Paulo Macasaet.
After connecting on three hits and leaving a four runners stranded in the first three innings, the defending champions finally broke through in a huge fourth inning rally. A single by Renzo Ramos opened the inning while an overthrow by second baseman Kiko Gesmundo gave Dio Remollo base. After a force out of Ramos at third base that gave Remollo and Ryon Tionloc the corners, two consecutive passed balls gave Ateneo their first run of the game.
A walk of next batter Javi Macasaet and was followed by a single to center field by Marquis Alindogan to bring home pinch runner Johnny Altomonte. The Ateneo rally continued with a triple by lead-off batter Rapho Balagtas drove in Macasaet and Alindogan to put the Blue Eagles up 4-3. The La Salle coaching staff then went on to relieve Lozano of pitching duties for rookie Arvin Herrera. In his first pitch though, Marco Mallari slammed a huge triple to bring in Balagtas. The rally was capped with a single by Kai Farusawa that brought in Mallari that gave Ateneo a 6-3 lead.
The Ateneo momentum continued to carry over to the fifth and sixth innings even against La Salle’s third pitcher of the game Boo Barandiaran. An error by La Salle’s first baseman in the fifth inning led to Remollo’s second run of the game while a sacrifice fly to center field by Remollo in the sixh inning brought home Gino Tantuico to extend their lead to five runs.
Needing to put up runs in a hurry, the Green Batters were able to punch in two runs at the bottom of the sixth inning. Shortstop Franco Hashimoto connected on a flyball that was missed by Ateneo shortstop Tantuico that brought Jonathan Park and Gesmundo home.
The Blue Eagles were able to get a run back at the top of the seventh inning when Mallari singled to right field to drive in Alindogan. However, the Ateneo bullpen had a meltdown in a gamebreaking seventh inning.
Macasaet had a fairly successful outing in the first three innings he pitched. His pitches though went rogue at the start of the bottom end of the seventh inning. A single by Cholo Dominguez opened the inning while a double by Escano and a walk of Carlos Munoz loaded the bases for the Green and White. A stray pitch by the sophomore pitcher hit Park square on the shoulders to bring home Dominguez. A passed ball later on scored Escano and moved the two other runners to prime scoring positions with no outs.
Due to the on going La Salle rally, coach Randy Dizer and the Ateneo coaching staff pulled Macasaet out of the game and, in a surprise, brought shortstop Gino Tantuico to the mound. The former UAAP Juniors Baseball MVP used to pitch for the De La Salle University-Zobel baseball team back in his secondary school days.
Tantuico though had no idea what hit him in the ensuing plays. Gesmundo connected with a grounder for a double that brought in Munoz and Park. Then with one out and the bases loaded, Salud connected with a grounder to left field to bring home Gesmundo and Salinas to cap the rally. An accidental hit by pitch by Tantuico against Dominguez proved to be the last straw as Tantuico returned to the shortstop position while Nacho Lozano was set to close out the game for the Blue Eagles. The inning would mercifully end for the Blue Eagles after a highlight double play that knocked off Hashimoto at home plate and a throw to first base forced out Escano. La Salle held an 11-6 lead after the six-run inning.
With their backs against the wall, the Blue Eagles tried to rally back in the pivotal eighth inning. After a flyout to left field by Tantuico to open the inning, a long double by Ramos followed. Disaster struck though as during that play Munoz tried to get the fly out but fell to a bad landing. The King Archer, the supposed closer of the game for the Green Batters, was stretchered out of the game.
The bases then loaded for the Blue Eagles later on in the inning. The younger Macasaet, Javi, connected on a grounder that landed exactly to Barandiaran. The sophomore pitcher made a play at home base to knock off Ramos and a throw to first baseman Jonathan Park seemed good for the double play. However, the umpire deemed that Macasaet was safe that drew the ire of assistant coach Fongs Rances. Rances then took the camera of Tiebreaker Times chief photographer Joaqui Flores to show to the umpire. A slight delay ensued with the Blue Eagles staff questioning the commotion. Cooler heads prevailed afterwards while Barandiaran calmly struckout Alindogan for the third out.
Nacho Lozano and the Ateneo fielders were able to hold the Green Batters to a scoreless eighth inning to give his team a fighting shot at the top of the ninth inning. Barandiaran though coldly fanned out Balagtas and Mallari for two quick outs. A single by Dino Altomonte tried to keep his team alive but a high grounder by Tantuico was caught by third baseman Gesmundo and was thrown to second baseman Salinas for the championship ouster.
“Ang sarap finally nakuha na namin ito,” La Salle head coach Joseph Orillana, a member of the 2003 Green Batters squad that last one the championship for La Salle, said. “Mas mahirap manalo as a coach kaysa as a player kasi dito hindi ko na hawak yung laro.”
Rookie pitcher Diego Lozano and last season’s best pitcher Boo Barandiaran were declared as the Co-Finals MVP for the series. Barandiaran was able to strikeout eight batters in the game while allowing just three runs, two coming from earned runs.
On the offensive end, Salud, the most consistent Green Batter throughout the season, went 2 for 4 at-bat. He had four RBIs in the game and was able to punch in a run. Escano complemented the offense in going 3 for 5 to score two runs and bring in an RBI.
On the other end, King Eagle Dio Remollo, playing in his final collegiate game, fought his heart out in going 3 for 4 at-bat for two runs and an RBI. Marco Mallari and Rapho Balagtas both had two RBIs as well.
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