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Balanza carries infectious energy to Letran finals upset over San Beda

MANILA, Philippines – Against all odds, the Letran Knights achieved the unthinkable in the NCAA Season 95 finals and stunned the three-time defending champions San Beda Red Lions, 65-64, on Tuesday, November 12.

The historical upset marked the first time the Red Lions experienced defeat in nearly 15 months as they saw their 32-game winning streak snapped at the worst possible time.

Although Letran's victory over their archrivals surely came out of nowhere, one man believed it would happen probably more than anyone else: team captain Jerrick Balanza.

"Talagang feel na namin. Kagabi pa lang," he said after the cardiac win. "Talagang positive kami kasi buo kami. Hanggang kanina ang ingay ko na sa dorm. Sabi, 'Bat ang ingay mo?' Sabi ko, 'Pare, mananalo tayo ngayon! Mananalo tayo!'"

(We really felt it as early as last night. We're just positive because we're united. Even a while ago, I was already noisy in the dorm. They said, 'Why are you so noisy?' and I just said, 'We'll win today! We'll win!')

The 23-year-old even admitted that his early morning outbursts were out of character.

"Eto nga si Fran [Yu], natutulog pa siya kanina, nasa ilalim ko siya. Sabi niya 'Ang ingay mo naman!' Sabi ko, 'Mananalo tayo! Excited na ako!' Nainis din sakin eh, nagpapahinga pa siya."

(Fran was still sleeping earlier. He said, "You're so noisy," and I said, "We'll win! I'm excited!" He got irritated at me because he was still resting.)

Sure enough, Balanza's overflowing energy translated well into their San Beda match, as he sank a clutch go-ahead triple that put Letran up 62-60 with 3:46 left in regulation.

The Red Lions never led since that point as the Knights charged ahead with the win.

Being someone who sat out last season's playoff match due to an untimely brain surgery, Balanza is surely making the most of his impressive resurgence at the helm of the Knights' run to the championship.

"Sinasabi ko, 'di ko mapipigilan 'yan. Sa ensayo pa lang, lalabas ko na talaga eh," he said regarding his desire to continue competing. "Pero sinabi sakin ni Coach Bonnie [Tan], 'di pa tapos. 'Di tayo puwedeng mag-enjoy. Siyempre, may isa pa. Kailangan naming mag-trabaho. Magsasaya kami ngayon pero bukas, focus na. Bugbugan na ulit."

(I said I wouldn't be able to control myself and I'll let it out during practice. But Coach Bonnie told me that it's not yet over. We can't enjoy this because there's one more. We need to work. We can enjoy tonight but we'll focus again tomorrow. Time to grind.) 

With San Beda now down a game, Balanza is very much aware of the storm coming their way on Friday, November 15.

"Alam naman namin na 'di ibibigay ng San Beda nang madali 'yun. Baka galing lang sila sa bakasyon. Pero samin 'to ngayon. Sa amin 'to kasi 'yung sacrifices namin bawat isa, mula coaches hanggang rookies."

(We know that San Beda won't give in that easily. Maybe they just came off a long break. But this is ours today. This is ours because of the sacrifices of everyone, from the coaches to the rookies.)

Letran now has a chance to complete an improbable sweep over San Beda in Game 2 on Friday, still at the Mall of Asia Arena. – Rappler.com