San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez took full responsibility in the Red Lions' runner-up finish in NCAA Season 95.
After sweeping the elimination round with a spotless 18-0 record, the Red Lions faltered in the championship round and lost to the Letran Knights after three hard-fought games. Fernandez tried to hasten the growth process of his young team throughout the season but they were simply outplayed in the end.
"It was really a surprise we had an 18-0 because of the youth that I had," Fernandez said moments after the Knights clinched the title last Tuesday. "They're really kids. Maybe the pressure was there. I'll take all the blame for this loss. I really take this blame because I really had to guide them, they're still young.
"I told them to take this loss in the finals to help you improve and be mature enough so that next year we'll be better and we'll be a strong team. I told them not to think about what happened. If anyone asks you, just tell them it's your coach's fault. It's my fault."
San Beda's youth and inexperience were exposed against the upset-seeking Knights. Letran's Jerrick Balanza, Fran Yu, Bonbon Batiller, and Larry Muyang outperformed the Red Lions' stars. Although Fernandez's team boasted experience and championship pedigree of their own having won the last three titles, its young core had to learn the hard way to excel in the finals.
San Beda had three Season 95 Mythical Team members - MVP Calvin Oftana, James Canlas, and Evan Nelle - but all three of them were not the main guys in the Red Lions' previous title runs. The trio all flourished in the regular season after stars Javee Mocon and Robert Bolick graduated but they weren't able to bring their A-game against the Knights. Learning how to win in the biggest stage is something that sophomores Canlas and Nelle and senior Oftana will have to go through. It also didn't help that veterans AC Soberano and Clint Doliguez had an up-and-down final year. As for foreign student-athlete Donald Tankoua, he did his best but struggled against Letran's towering frontline.
"I'll take this opportunity to thank and congratulate Letran for the job well done. It was really a battle and Letran won in the end. Again, my hats off to them," said Fernandez.
Despite the loss, Fernandez tried to find the silver lining and put into perspective a team whose 18 straight victories turned out to be all for naught. The wins made the Red Lions seemingly invincible as they earned an outright finals berth while the other teams had to fight each other in the stepladder semifinals. However, the 26-day layoff proved detrimental to their cause, allowing rust to cast a shadow against them while the Knights peaked at the right time.
"I want to thank my players. It was a really good run," Fernandez said. "We had an 18-0 run but we never finished it off. That has always been my words on them.
"If you look at it (26-day break), it's bad right? But for me, we won 18 straight. We went straight to the finals, the only negative there was we rested for 26 days but you cannot really buy that finals seat right away. That's the sacrifice that we had to get. You can't have everything. We'll take that 26 days. We did a good job of preparing the team. It's just a matter of how we finished. That's it. We couldn't put the icing on the cake."
Just as San Beda's young stars will learn from the heartbreaking defeat, so will their coach.
"In my coaching career, I learn from all of my experiences. It hurts a lot," Fernandez said. "Come to think of it, it also hurts for me because I have so much connection with the San Beda community that losing is really hard for us. But it will really help us to be stronger next time and hopefully learn from the situation that happened this year. Probably we'll better in the future."
As much as there was pain in defeat, Fernandez wasted no time in preparing for next season. He and his coaching staff are already planning their offseason training right after their Game 3 loss.
"It's a matter of learning from the mistakes that we had in the finals. We'll just look forward to next season," Fernandez said.