The San Beda Red Cubs are the traditional favorites in the junior basketball wars of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
This year is no exception, even with the Arellano University Braves emerging as a new threat last season.
On the other hand, new squads are becoming competitive, and are also becoming forces to reckon with.
(McLaude Guadaña (16) and teammate Generoso Cecilio jr. (17) plays defense against Karl Belgica (15)).
Unlike last year, the Braves are not alone in their quest for greatness, and a share of glory with the Red Cubs this season.
In the race for the Final Four, one of the new threats are the Lyceum Junior Pirate.
— The emergence of the Junior Pirates as possible Final Four contenders this season
The Junior Pirates needed players who can be heroes at crucial moments during a game.
(Chester Jungco (13) grabs possession in a rebound battle with LSGH player Benedict Cruz (16)).
Most of the time, it’s Generoso Cecilio Jr. who usually bails them out of trouble.
But, on July 21, Thursday, it was 15 year old McLaude Guadaña’s turn to shine.
Guadaña, a ninth grader, topscored for 16 points with Chester Jungco when the Junior Pirates prevailed over the La Salle Greenhills Greenies, 82-77.
(Vincent Cunanan in a screen with LSGH player Haribon Espinosa).
This allowed the Junior Pirates to post their third win in six games in the 92nd NCAA Junior Basketball Tournament at the FilOil-Flying Sports Center in San Juan.
–Guadaña’s play in the last period
He is playing his third year with the Junior Pirates since McLaude was accepted into the team while still in Grade 7.
In the fourth period, the Greenies were catching up with the Junior Pirates after trailing by eight off Lee Ian Salazar’s three, 73-65, with 7:33 left.
(Team captain Teodoro Cecilio Jr. (17) leads his teammates in singing the school anthem. Also in photo are Jeff Figueroa (11), Lee Ian Salazar (14), Carly Ortiz(7), Guadaña and Jeric Dumon (8)).
A pair of free throws from Troy Mallilin, followed by Haribon Espinosa’s three-point play in the final 4:59, allowed LSGH to move to within three, 70-73.
Guadaña’s trey in the final 4:42 was able to send LPU ahead ahead, 76-70.
But LSGH kept coming back.
(Makki Santos (10) prepares to assist teammate Lee Ian Salazar(14) in his defense agains Joel Cagulangan).
Back-to-back hits from Haribon Espinosa and Benedict Cruz in the last 4:18 kept them within range, 74-76.
In the next instance, Guadaña was there again.
(Coach LA Mumar with members of the LPU Junior Pirates coaching staff, and players Francis Ruiz (9) and Makki Santos (10)).
His four charities in the last 23 seconds provided the Junior Pirates the right answers to LSGH shooter Joel Cagulangan’s attacks.
A charity and a drive in the last 38 seconds from Cagulangan saw the Greenies threatening, 77-78.
His last two freebies gave LPU some space, 80-77.
On the other hand, Cecilio’s gift shots at the buzzers finalized matters in the Junior Pirates’ favor.
Coach LA Mumar said this is a win that they were looking forward to.
“We really wanted this win. We wanted to get to the top 4. That’s the goal,” expressed Mumar.
— Standings ans scenarios
Because of third triumph in six games, the Junior Pirates moved up to fourth place, joining the Letran Squires and the University of Perpetual Help Junior Altas with the same win-loss record.
This put the Junior Pirates in contention for a Final Four seat (when was last time).
The Arellano University Braves are in the solo lead after posting their sixth straight win last July 18 at the expense of the Mapua/Malayan Red Robins, 83-74.
Guilmer de la Torre led with 15 points and 13 rebounds in that game.
The defending San Beda Red Cubs, with Sam Abu Hijle firing 18 points, have a 5-0 slate at no. 2 following their 97-72 smashing of the Greenies.
The Red Robins are at no. 3 with their 5-1 card.
In their game with Junior Pirates, Mallinlin emerged as their best player with 24 points and 10 rebounds.
Joel Cagulangan and Haribon Espinosa played supporting roles with 13 points each.
“Maganda naman ang laro namin. Pero kailangan pang mas maging maayos,” said the 15-year old Guadaña, who lives in Tagaytay City, and loves to jog there because of the cool air from the nearby Taal Lake area.
Junior Pirates coach LA Mumar said the team is playing its best so far.
This is the first that they are playing as a complete, after some players like suffered injuries during practice.
“We really need this win para makahabol sa top 4,” remarked Mumar.