By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
AFTER overcoming the first hurdle in the step-ladder semifinals of Season 95 of the National Collegiate Athletic Association last time around, the third-seeded Letran Knights look to continue rolling when they meet the number two team Lyceum Pirates in another knockout match today set at the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City.
Defeated fourth-seeded San Sebastian Golden Stags, 85-80, in the opening phase of the step-ladder semifinals on Nov. 5, the Muralla-based Knights now channel their focus on toppling the Pirates in their scheduled 4 p.m. match and barging their way into the finals against the undefeated defending champions San Beda Red Lions, a place they have not been to since winning the NCAA title in Season 91.
Against the Stags in their last game, Letran banked on its steady offense early in the contest before stepping up its defense down the stretch to hold off a ferocious charge-back by San Sebastian.
As a team, Letran shot a solid 47.5% (29-of-61) from the field with graduating Jerrick Balanza leading the way with 15 points.
Bonbon Batiller had 14 points while Allen Mina, Larry Muyang, Ato Ular and Fran Yu all scored 10 points or more for the Knights.
Their balanced effort was enough to stave off defeat at the hands of the Stags, who got a career-high performance from RK Ilagan (36 points).
“The players just did not want to lose. They wanted our season to continue and they played their hearts out,” said Letran coach Bonnie Tan after their hard-earned win.
“After this win, we prepare next for Lyceum,” he added.
The Pirates, meanwhile, are out to book a third straight finals appearance with a victory in today’s game (Friday).
Lyceum is led by Jaycee Marcelino (18.2 points) and Mike Nzeusseu (15.8 ppg), and as a team it is the second-best in offense with an average of 81.6 points.
The Pirates sputtered at the end of the elimination round, losing two of their last three matches after winning six straight prior. It is something they hope to wiggle out from when they take on the Knights.
One thing going for Lyceum entering today’s match is that it has had the number of Letran this season, beating the latter in each of their two encounters in the elimination round.
The Pirates beat the Knights, 84-80, on opening day before doubling up on Letran in the second round, 97-90.
In each game, Marcelino led the way for Lyceum, averaging 24.5 points in the two games.
The Pirates made it to the finals in the last two NCAA seasons but were defeated by San Beda each time.