MANILA, Philippines – After winning the UAAP baseball crown last year, Ateneo de Manila University prepares to defend their title against arch rivals De La Salle University in a race-to-two series to determine the champion of season 76.
On paper, La Salle boasts better numbers. They were poised to sweep the elimination round but had to contend with a 9-1 win loss record giving up a game to National University on January 30.
Ateneo on the other hand dropped 3 games and struggled at the start of the tournament, but the team’s veterans are expected to use their experience as an advantage in the championship series.
The fact that it is an Ateneo-La Salle match up makes this final showdown more exciting for players and fans alike.
Interestingly though, these players practically grew up in their baseball life together. Most have played against each other, some have played as teammates in various youth teams prior to their UAAP stint. This championship quarrel has even divided families, as the Laurel and Ramos siblings (Matt and Carly, Kevin and Kenneth) will be playing on opposite sides.
“I think this series will be good,” said Ateneo third baseman Matt Laurel, the older of the two brothers. “Both teams have players who grew up playing with each other, so it will be a very physical yet clean game. I have never played against my brother in a championship game so I’m looking forward to it. We are both competitive but really supportive of each other so I think this would be very interesting.”
Being very familiar with each other is giving the coaching staff of both teams a challenge, particularly in planning for their batting lineups matched up against their opponent’s pitching rotation.
Randy Dizer, Ateneo team manager says, “Although we are defending champions but we are going into this series as the underdog. La Salle has a better record in the eliminations and a very strong pitching roster. However, our boys are tried and tested in championship situations having been in the finals for the past two years. We are pretty sure our bats will be ready come game time.”
The challenge to the Ateneo coaching staff of Emer Barandoc, Bocc Bernardo and Jose Jose is to find the most effective pitching rotation needed to hold the La Salle offense. They will be banking on veterans Andy Tan, Kevin Ramos and Ros Bernardo. On standby are their rookie pitchers Jaime Ignacio Cojuangco and Miguel Dumlao.
On the green side, the Archers Head Coach, Joseph Orillana seems quite confident. “Sobrang taas ng morale ng mga players ko kaya yung intensity ng game nila mataas din. Yung mga pitchers ko are (Carlos) Muñoz, (Miguel) Olmos, (Sebastian) Uichico, (Carly) Laurel, (Edward) Flores, (Pocholo) Dominguez at (Quito) Castro.”
(“Because their morale was very good, their game was also much more intense. My pitchers are Munoz, Olmos, Uichico, Laurel, Flores, Dominguez and Castro.”)
La Salle apparently has a deeper roster of pitchers. Orillana, a National Team Player and member of the 2003 DLSU UAAP champion team, was a pitcher himself and has prepared his hurlers well. He realizes though, that the championship experience advantage goes to the Blue Eagles.
Ably supporting Orillana is assistant coach Alex Estipular. Estipular, a many time national team member, throws in his support to the training program led by Orillana. He stands in silent confidence knowing how hard their boys have trained but is wary of Ateneo’s potential.
La Salle’s team manager Pepe Muñoz, when asked about his boys’ chances in this series, simply said, “The boys are ready!”
Consistency from the mound will be key for both teams. DLSU has an advantage in bench depth but the ability to perform under pressure in a series like this will determine the outcome. Both teams boast of good hitting potential.
Baseball supporters hope that this meeting between Ateneo and La Salle will spark a baseball resurgence in the country. Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium is expected to be at maximum capacity.
Game one is scheduled for Friday, February 14 with the second game following on February 18. If necessary, a third game is slated for Friday, February 21. – Rappler.com