Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – With San Beda College dominating the NCAA ranks for 5-straight seasons, it seems to be a far-fetched dream for Mark Cruz and Kevin Racal to graduate with championship rings.
Cruz and Racal had a fitting end to their college career as they steered Colegio de San Juan de Letran to its 17th NCAA overall basketball championship against its long-time league rival, 85-82, in the winner-take-all Game 3 on Thursday, October 29 and spoiling San Beda's bid for a record-setting sixth-straight crown.
“It’s still surreal to me because we faced San Beda twice before and finally we defeated them in the Finals,” said Cruz, who also suited up for Letran in its unsuccessful 2012 and 2013 championship campaign versus San Beda.
Cruz, a 5-foot-5 court general who was picked up by Purefoods Star Hotshots in the fourth round of the 2015 PBA Draft, was hailed as the Finals MVP after averaging 17.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists in the best-of-3 championship duel.
In addition, he chipped in 14 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists in Letran’s 85-82 overtime victory over San Beda in the NCAA Season 91 title decider.
Playing under the moniker “Ant-Man” due to his miniature frame on the court, Cruz credited his teammates for keeping their focus and composure in the overtime as San Beda managed to force a 5-minute extension by sparking an 8-0 run within the last two minutes of the fourth quarter.
“We were pressured, but we remained steadfast. We focused what our coach instructed us to do,” he quipped.
Cruz stressed that winning the championship is a huge confidence booster for him as he joins other top-notch playmakers in the country’s professional league.
“It would definitely be a big addition to my confidence in the PBA,” Cruz stated as he is expected to strut his wares for the Hotshots on November 8.
On the other hand, Racal was instrumental in the Knight’s last hurrah to capture their first NCAA crown since 2005 as he drilled 23 points to go along with 5 rebounds and two assists.
Racal, who was drafted by the Alaska Aces, expressed exuberance to be part of the team, which ended Letran’s 10-year championship drought.
“I am very happy that we are able to give back to the Letran community. Personally, I am thankful for what they have given to me,” he said. – Rappler.com