By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
22 years in the making.
Two decades of heartbreak.
Finally, the Colegio de San Juan de Letran Squires are once again kings of the NCAA high school boys’ basketball tournament after sweeping the La Salle Green Hills (LSGH) Greenies, 77-61, in Game 2 of Season 98’s championship game last March 16, 2023.
It was a career-defining moment for the boys of Intramuros after displaying one of the most selfless team basketball performances against the taller and bigger LSGH squad.
Despite being undersized, the Squires showed heart and were the hungrier team in the best-of-three duel led by no other than Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) recipient Andy Gemao.
The 16-year-old former Batang Gilas guard was electric from the get-go and immediately pumped the Letran crowd with his series of acrobatic layups that pushed their lead to double-digits heading into the second half, 38-28.
It was a wire-to-wire victory for the Squires as they quickly put their imprints on the game as early as the first quarter.
Aside from Gemao’s athletic drives to the cup, the consistent Syrux Silorio continued his sweet-shooting from the perimeter that became a matchup nightmare for LSGH’s superstar center Seven Gagate.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
With Silorio getting the better of Gagate during isolations in the perimeter that kept him away from the paint, Letran ran that play at will that sustained their firepower for four grueling quarters.
Despite a rejuvenated Luis Pablo who was crowned as the Season MVP an hour before the championship game, Letran continued their onslaught and dominated the last two quarters with their unselfish team plays.
Jovel Baliling was eager to close out the series for Letran and played a game of a lifetime after dropping 19 points on an impressive 7/11 shooting from the field.
When Gemao and Silorio cooled off, it was Baliling who waxed hot and schooled every LSGH defender thrown at him.
“Basically, prior to that, ‘yang mga bata na ‘yan ginawa ko munang sundalo for the past two weeks. Sabi ko kailangan niyong ma-overcome ‘yung mga ganitong kahirap na ensayo para pagdating ng ganitong sitwasyon, maitawid niyo ‘yung pressure na nararamdaman niyo,” said Letran’s chief tactician Allen Ricardo.
Meanwhile, Pablo paced the Greenies with another double-double performance of 20 points and 14 rebounds while frontcourt-mate Gagate added 11 points and 18 boards in the losing effort.