Blackwater's hopes of a storybook finish for the PBA's 43rd season came to a nightmarish end when the Elite bowed to the Magnolia Hotshots in their 2018 Governors' Cup quarterfinal duel on Tuesday night.
But if there's anything the Elite can be proud of, it's the fact that the team finished fifth in the season-ending conference, the highest placing in franchise history since Blackwater entered the league in the 2015 season.
The ball club owned by sportsman-businessman Dioceldo Sy registered a 13-20 win-loss record in its fourth season in the pro league, showing a steady improvement for the franchise after going 4-7-12 in win totals during its first three years.
Expectations were high by the start of the 207-18 season.
Blackwater had the young core of slotman John Paul Erram, Mike DiGregorio, Mac Belo, John Nard Pinto and veteran shooter Allein Maliksi to begin with.
Plus, the Elite were carrying with them the experience from the 2017 Governors' Cup playoffs that saw them push top seed Meralco Bolts to a knockout game in the quarterfinals.
Blackwater bowed to Meralco in the rubber match, but the experience in itself was good enough to prepare the team for the 2018 season grind.
Dioceldo Sy admitted early in the season that they were patiently building the team's core, and had in fact selected former Far Eastern University standout Raymar Jose from the 2017 rookie draft to add youth, size and scrappy rebounding for the Elite.
But then again, Blackwater's young all-Filipino crew showed inconsistencies at times during the Philippine Cup as it limped off to a 2-5 start.
Victories over defending champion San Miguel and KIA, though galvanized its playoff hopes.
Blackwater went on to close the Philippine Cup elimination round with a 5-6 record, forging a four-way tie for eighth spot with GlobalPort, TNT and Phoenix. The bad news was, Blackwater had an inferior quotient, falling out of playoff contention and into a 10th place finish in the season-opening conference.
Come the Commissioner's Cup, hopes were high the Elite will perform well after tapping balik-PBA import Jarrid Famous, along with the addition of former UE Red Warrior gunner Paul Zamar, who was coming off an impressive showing in the 2018 Asean Basketball League runner-up Mono Vampire.
Famous was a known solid defender and rebounder as he has showed during his first two PBA stints with Meralco (2012) and GlobalPort (2015).
But the positivity brought by the 30-year-old Famous' solid reputation as an import soon vanished after Blackwater opened the mid-season conference with three straight defeats by an average losing margin of over 17 points.
Blackwater management, in an effort to resuscitate the team's sagging campaign, let go of coach Leo Isaac, and appointing Bong Ramos as the Elite's new mentor last April.
The change, however, didn't bring any positive effect yet as the Elite lost three more games, prompting Ramos and the frontcourt office to bring back old, reliable Henry Walker to take the spot of Famous.
While the move was risky since the shorter Walker and Blackwater were up against teams fielding 6-9 imports, it was a decision that team was willing to make as it has its eyes set on redeeming itself in the Governors' Cup.
In the end, Blackwater wound up with just a solitary win in the conference, courtesy of their 86-84 decision against Magnolia on a game-winning dunk by Walker.
Days after the team's fruitless Commissioner's Cup campaign, Blackwater embarked on a two-week journey to Surabaya, Indonesia and Macau to participate in two international tournaments in preparation for the Governors' Cup.
The Elite scored a five-game sweep of the pocket tournament in Surabaya, then nearly qualified for a semis spot in the Summer Super 8 Basketball tournament in Macau.
The two international tournaments proved helpful as Blackwater got off to a franchise-best 5-0 start in the Governors' Cup.
Defending champion Ginebra, four-time champion San Miguel, TNT and back-to-back Governors' Cup runner-up Meralco all fell prey to Blackwater's strong start.
The Elite went 2-3 in their next five games, but still had a chance to snare the last of the four twice-to-beat incentives for the playoffs.
Too bad Blackwater failed to deliver when it mattered in its final elimination-round game, losing to Phoenix, 97-91, thus settling for the no. 5 seed in the playoffs.
The fifth seeding set Blackwater up for another collision course with Magnolia, the same team that hammered the Elite by 34 points during the elimination round.
The Pambansang Manok showed experience, grit and composure in the opening round of the playoffs to put an abrupt end to the Elite's championship hopes.
What they need
Considering that Blackwater placed 10th and 12th in the first two conferences, the four-year-old PBA franchise will have a shot at shoring up its young core with another blue-chip talent in the upcoming PBA Rookie Draft this December 16.
Expected to lead the rookie pool this year are Lyceum star CJ Perez, former UAAP MVP Bobby Ray Parks and San Beda's explosive guard Robert Bolick.
Considering the experience the Elite have gained the last two seasons, adding any of the three talented youngsters could upgrade the franchise's talent level even more.
And with the team showing it can mesh and work together under coach Bong Ramos, the Elite for sure, will no longer be pushovers heading to the 2019 PBA season.
Walker's locker-room leadership has no doubt, brought a winning mindset to Blackwater.
And that's something the Elite can build on as they continue their quest for a first-ever semifinal stint as a franchise. And who knows, in the not-so-distant future, a Finals appearance or even a maiden league championship.