Balanza proves to be Letran’s lucky charm in unlikely win
MANILA, Philippines – All the Letran Knights knew heading into their Friday, October 5 showdown with the Lyceum Pirates was that it would be a tough grind from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
Little did they know that a surprise was just waiting for them around the corner to lift their spirits.
Clad in white and wearing a hat with “Keep the faith” sewn into it, Knights forward Jerrick Balanza sat behind the Letran bench to watch a live game for the first time since he had successful brain surgery last September 8.
No one from the team knew he was coming to watch, not even head coach Jeff Napa.
With Balanza cheering his teammates on, the Knights squeezed out an 80-79 victory and dealt the mighty Pirates only their second loss in the NCAA Season 94.
The game was supposed to go to overtime but a controversial review made by the referees after the final buzzer ruled that Jaycee Marcelino’s tying triple at the 40-second mark of the 4th was only a two-pointer, thus giving the Knights the one-point victory.
Regardless of the botched endgame call, it wouldn’t have arrived at that point had Bong Quinto not shown once again why he was the team captain and a former NCAA champion.
After sitting out a majority of the 2nd half due to foul trouble, the do-it-all forward exploded for 10 fourth-quarter points and outscored the entire Pirates side, 10-6, in the stretch until Marcelino drained his controversial shot.
When the dust settled and the verdict was given, Quinto finished with 20 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. According to him, it all boiled down to his morale booster who wasn’t even supposed to be there.
“Sobra yung frustration ko kasi nakaupo ako sa bench, wala akong matulong,” he recounted in the post-game presser with Balanza sitting next to him. “Tapos may narinig akong boses na 'Bong!' Tapos pagtingin ko si Jerrick [pala]. Parang nag-iba yung pakiramdam [dahil sa] teammate mong matagal mo nang di nakakasama.”
(I was really frustrated because I was stuck at the bench and unable to help. Then I heard a voice calling me and it was Jerrick. Then my mood suddenly changed because I saw my teammate whom I haven’t been with in a long time.)
Then Quinto stopped midway through his story and started to tear up. Napa and Larry Muyang, who were there with him, couldn’t help but tear up as well.
Muyang, who had an even better game with a monster double-double of 23 points and 16 rebounds with 4 blocks on an 11-of-12 (92%) shooting, also credited Balanza for his near-perfect game.
“Noong una, di ko napansin si Jerrick tapos bigla rin niya akong tinawag kanina,” he said. “Tapos parang biglang nabuhayan ako ng dugo kasi sabi nga ni Bong, yung kapatid namin nanonood.”
(At first, I didn’t even notice Jerrick was there until he called me too earlier. Then it’s like I suddenly felt livelier because like what Bong said, our brother was watching us.)
Balanza was just happy that he was still able to help his team in a limited capacity.
“Siyempre sobrang saya ko talaga. Talagang walang nakakaalam na pupunta ako,” he said. “'Di na talaga ako mapakali sa bahay namin. Feel ko talaga okay na ako last week pa.”
(Of course, I’m really happy. No one really knew I was coming. Besides, I was growing restless at home. I felt I was okay since last week.)
So Balanza approached his doctor and pleaded for clearance so he can watch his brothers play, which was granted on the condition that he would not strain himself too much. He then got his ticket and got ready for the surprise.
His teammates repaid him in kind with a huge win.
“Gusto mo pa grand entourage ah,” joked Napa. (You wanted a grand entourage.)
Thankfully, Balanza is doing well post-surgery, although he noticeably lost weight and much of his muscle mass.
“Okay naman ako, wala naman akong nararamdaman [na masama]. Feeling ko okay na ako,” he said. (I’m okay. I don’t feel anything off. I feel I’m okay now.)
With Letran just 3 more wins away from a shot at the coveted twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four, maybe this won’t be the last time we see the Knights’ lucky charm at the sidelines this season. – Rappler.com