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Mapua Roars to Victory, One Step Closer to NCAA Championship

One victory away from regaining the NCAA men’s basketball title they have chased for more than three decades, the Mapua Cardinals know the type of killer instinct they need to finish off the San Beda Lions.

“This is my final year, so we need to be hungry to win. Part of our motivation is to end the 32 years that Mapua played without winning a title,’’ skipper Warren Bonifacio said after a 68-63 trimming of the Lions on Wednesday. “Since there’s one more game (left to be won), we’re not satisfied yet.’’

The Cardinals ruffled the Lions’ offense right from the get-go by covering the perimeter with ruthlessness that forced San Beda to a five-for-35 clip from the three-point area, effectively taking the Lions’ main weapon out of the equation for first blood in the best-of-three series at Mall of Asia Arena.

Starring Jacob Cortez and a squadron of accurate marksmen, the Red Lions dealt the Lyceum Pirates the killer blow from that area in the semifinals.

But they were unable to wield that same efficiency against the Cardinals’ defense, and Bonifacio didn’t make it a secret later on that shutting them down from afar was the main defensive goal of Mapua.

Offensive weapons

“We know that San Beda is deadly with its threes, so we practiced hard on how we can close out on their shooters while protecting the paint and the result was good,’’ said Bonifacio.

Guards Clint Escamis and Paolo Hernandez, generated the offense Mapua needed Escamis, the projected rookie-MVP, fired 18 points, his free throws in the dying seconds securing the win for the Cardinals, whose last title came during the 1991 season.

Hernandez, whose backcourt partnership half a decade ago with Escamis produced a juniors’ championship win for the Red Robins, tossed in 16 and helped revitalize the team’s offense in the face of San Beda’s searing comeback.

“Our work isn’t done yet, the pressure is mounting, but these tough situations aren’t new to us. We’ve been here before,’’ added Bonifacio, who was part of the Mapua team that lost the title to the Letran Knights two seasons ago.

As the Mapua faithful cheered wildly, former Barangay Ginebra stalwart Benny Cheng was praying on the stands in a poignant sight. Also present to support the Cardinals was PBA legend and former Mapua coach Atoy Co.

Cheng was coach Randy Alcantara’s teammate on the last Mapua team that ruled the league in 1991, interestingly enough, also against the Lions.