|Posted on February 10, 2011 at 6:18 PM|
TAKE YOUR PICK: A HISTORIC "FOUR-PEAT" FOR XAVIER SCHOOL OR A CINDERELLA-LIKE FINISH BY HOPE CHRISTIAN?
By Henry Liao
Three-time defending champion Xavier School and upset-conscious Hope Christian High School battle each other in the Juniors Division Finals of the 41st Metro Manila Tiong Lian Basketball Association tournament.
Game One of the best-of-three titular showdown will be played on Tuesday, February 15 (6:00 p.m.), at the Chiang Kai Shek College Gym in Tondo, Manila.
The second game will be on Friday, Feb. 18 (6:00 p.m.). If needed, Game Three will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 22 (6:00 p.m.).
During the knockout semifinals, No. 1 seed Xavier School raised its record in the seven-school, three-month competitions to 13-0 with a hard-earned 89-71 decision over No. 4 seed St.Jude Catholic School (6-7), which was the losing finalist in the two previous seasons.
In the other semifinal series, Hope Christian HS(10-3),the No. 2 seed, needed a pair of five-minute extensions before subduing No. 3 seed Chiang Kai Shek
College (8-5), 91-86.
Xavier School swept its two-game series with Hope Christian High School during the elimination round, winning both in single digits.
The Finals, though, could have a different ending.
Xavier School will be appearing in the Finals of the Juniors Division Finals for a league record-tying 11th straight year, duplicating the feat originally registered by Chiang Kai Shek College from 1985 to 1995 for the most consecutive Finals trips in Tiong Lian history.
For Hope Christian, it will be its first championship-series appearance since 1993 when the Stevenson Tiu-coached school beat Chiang Kai Shek College for its most recent crown.
Significantly, this marks the first time that the two schools will be facing each other in the Finals.
It must be noted that Xavier School took a leave of absence from the Tiong Lian in 1974 (after earning the first of its nine titles in 1972; there were no games in 1973 or several months after the declaration of martial law) and rejoined the league only in 1993.
Overall, the Golden Stallions have racked up nine championships - second only to Chiang Kai Shek College's 14.
Entering the Finals against Hope Christian HS, Xavier School owns a 32-game winning streak, having not lost since Game Two of the 2008 Finals versus CKSC.
During the span, the San Juan City-based school also went 9-0 in 2009 and 2010 and romped away with three straight titles.
Current XS coach Jonathan (Budds) Reyes piloted the team to the mountain top last season. Before that, it was former University of the Philippines bench boss Lito Vergara who won rings in 2008 and 2009 behind Gabriel Banal and Jeric Teng, who are now with De La Salle and University of
Santo Tomas, respectively, in the University Athletic Association of the Philippines.
A fourth consecutive Juniors Division championship for XS this year will be a first in Tiong Lian
In the past, only CKSC and Xavier School have earned back-to-back-to-back crowns. The CKSC Blue Dragons accomplished the feat twice - from 1978 to 1980 and from 1990 to 1992. The XS Golden Stallions, on the other hand, turned in the same trick from 2001 to 2003 and from 2008 to 2010.
For Hope Christian HS, it has been 18 long years since its last Finals trip.
While it had won three championships in the past (1981,1983 and 1993), Hope Christian HS went through rough times - really hard times - during those 18 years.
As late as the 2009 season, when cat-quick guard Janrey Garrido donned the team's navy blue colors for the first time, HCHS struggled with a 22-game losing skein over four seasons.
It surrendered its final four games in 2006, nosedived into a pitiful 0-7 in both the 2007 and 2008 seasons, and was on the shorter end of the score in its first four assignments in 2009.
The horrendous 22-game losing streak was only shattered on January 24, 2009 when Hope Christian HS defeated St. Jude Catholic School, 62-50, at the Jacinto Tiu Court inside the Xavier School campus.
It's said that in every cloud, there is a silver lining. That ray of hope (pun intended) came in 2010 with
HCHS's acquisition of its Three Kings - Errol Villar, Jessiery Pedrosa and the real King, King Benemerito.
That Triple Towers combination propelled the school to a strong third-place finish in the Tiong Lian competitions last season, having forced St. Jude Catholic School to a rubber match in the semifinal playoffs before bowing out of contention.
If ever, this year could be the year that Hope Christian's rags-to-riches story reaches its grand apex - a
Tiong Lian crown to add to the three championship jewels it earlier collected in the Filipino-Chinese Amateur Athletic Federation, Metropolitan Amateur Sports Association and Fr. Martin Cup during a fruitful 2010-11 campaign.
Unlike others before them, Xavier School is looking at a dangerous Finals opponent that could give Coach Reyes some fits.
Reyes has a legitimate superstar in PH Youth Under 16 and Under-18 member Jeron Teng and prolific outside snipers like Donal Ong and Chase Tan in his fold.
But Hope Christian can easily counter with three-point artists such as Garrido, Raymond Tan and team skipper Joshua Go and parade three-headed bigs in Villar, Benemerito and Pedrosa that Reyes might find hard to keep in check all at the same time due to the lack of mobile big men at his own disposal.
Through the years, Xavier School's passport to greatness has been its pressure defense and running game.
Now, that time-tested formula will again be challenged.
In Tiu, Hope Christian HS has a head coach who has "been there, and done that" - Tiong Lian titles with the team in 1981 as a player and in 1983 and 1993 as a head coach. He also owns an able coaching staff in assistants Egay Macaraya and Luis Nolasco Jr..
Will Hope Christian upset the charts and defeat Xavier School in this year's Tiong Lian Juniors Division Finals?
We will soon find out.