The CSB-LSGH Junior Blazers drew first blood in the NCAA Season 94 juniors finals, outlasting a gritty Mapua Red Robins squad, 74-69, Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Newly announced league MVP Joel Cagulangan poured in nine of 16 points in the fourth quarter to carve out the victory. His clutch baskets staved off a determined Mapua comeback. The gutsy point guard also collected 12 rebounds and four assists. Inand Fornilos contributed 15 points and 11 rebounds.
"We slugged it out. It could've gone either way but somehow, we were able to cope up with our mistakes," said head coach Marvin Bienvenida, who was also relieved that his team delivered despite losing to Mapua in the first two rounds as well as their preseason duels.
The Juniors Blazers had control for most of the contest but Clint Escamis and Paolo Hernandez led a furious Mapua rally. Hernandez was coming off a career-game in his last outing and continued his stellar play with 20 points, 10 in the fourth period alone. Mapua's top gunner Escamis meanwhile caught fire late and fired four 3-pointers in the final frame. Escamis finished with 14 points but had to miss the final three minutes of the ball game. His recurring left knee injury got the better of him and he was forced to sit on the bench as his team tried to get the win without him.
Down by seven points and time winding down, the Red Robins connected on back-to-back baskets courtesy of Hernandez and Jonnel Policarpio to make it 69-72 with 22.8 seconds remaining. But the Junior Blazers stood their ground defensively on the next possessions. Even as Mark Sangco missed both foul shots with seven ticks left on the clock, leaving the door open for Mapua, Joshua David came up with the biggest defensive play with a critical steal to clinch the win.
Bienvenida was particularly pleased with the late game heroics of Cagulangan but knows that he can still do more.
"He's Joel. He's ready to take charge, not necessarily in scoring the basket but leading that pack," shared the coach. "Although, I think coming from his performance today, he's not satisfied with his performance."
"But his presence of mind was there. We tried to cope up with our mistakes especially in the last part of the fourth quarter," he added.
The Junior Blazers only shot 32 percent from the field and didn't fare any better from the free throw line, shooting 17-of-31. But they won the rebounding battle, 59-51.
Game 2 between the Junior Blazers and Red Robins will take place next Monday, November 12, at the Mall of Asia Arena.
CSB-LSGH 74 -- Cagulangan 16, Fornilos 15, Sangco 10, Calimag 8, Morales 7, David 5, Palencia 5, Valenzuela 5, Lao 3, Mosqueda 0, Lepalam 0.
MAPUA 69 -- Hernandez 20, Policarpio 15, Escamis 14, Arches 9, Sarias 5, Mariano 4, Smith 2, Diaz 0, Dennison 0, Quimado 0.
Quarters: 17-18, 42-32, 53-42, 74-69.