credit for this photo comes from Fabilioh.com
There's no other word to describe Kiefer Ravena and the Ateneo Blue Eagles for yesterday's tussle with the FEU Tamaraws despite clutch. Clutch. I can keep on repeating it but for your sake, I won't.
The boys almost lost this game. Down six 57-63 with a little over a minute left, the champions didn't roll over and die. Emman Monfort went for the steal, and left RR Garcia eating his dust scoring a fastbreak lay-up. Not to be outdone, Kiefer Ravena put his personal stamp when the moment to be distinguished from men amongst boys came. No, he did not shrink as time wound down. He commanded the ball, called his number, and drove home for not one, but two clutch lay-ups. Rookies aren't supposed to do that, are they? Well, haters, here's your fill. Calling him Phantom? Yeah, Phantom indeed... Phantom of Nightmares.
Defense once more did it again for the Eagles. I was practically squirming in my seat as RR pounded us in the first half relentlessly. But things changed after the half. The Hail Mary Squad once more limited FEU to 9 points in the 3rd, with RR seemingly stopped from scoring. Pin it on Romeo, this guy is a ballhog. Never the hero, always the goat, yet still playing hero. Note to Juliet-este-Romeo, you are not the star of this Tams squad, for crying out loud, you have the MVP of the league! Just give him the ball, let him figure it out and do your role of being a support player!
Luckily for Ateneo, the players not named Slaughter and Ravena stepped up big time. 2008 recruits Nico Salva and Justin Chua just made people, especially the 6th Man, remember what brought us the three-peat in the first place. The two were rock solid in the second half, most especially Chua who made a personal 7-2 run bridging the third and fourth while Greg was bidding his time on the bench. The Justin Chua of last season's yore finally showed up and gave me a reason to believe that yes, he is an able back-up who can put points on the board while that gangly 7-foot guy is glued to the bench. Salva's play reminded me of a statement from the Pillar of Ateneo's back-to-back titles in '08 and '09. He said Nico Salva will be greater than the Rocket. He will surpass the Rocket for his play at the 3 spot. And now, I'm seeing what Noy saw in the kid. Draining face-up jumpers all day long, driving on the mismatch and continously punishing any Tamaraw big that Bert Flores put in his way, he brought us this W. And that fade-away jumpshot on Carl Cruz? Is it just me or was that a Kobe Bryant-pambabastos-move?
The other seniors didn't disappoint. Long have I wondered that with the exception of his impressive defense, why is Bacon playing? He's not the Bacon I was used to seeing when we went up against his section during intramurals. And then there was Zags. He was an undersized center-turned-guard in the seniors, and no, he did not put up threes when we were in high school, he operated underneath. I lamented those two great Eaglets then I saw the value in them yesterday, with finality. For a guy his size, Bacon can bring the ball down, relieving Kiefer and Emman, and at times Kirk, and he is at his best when he is punishing his man under the basket, for a guard. Tonino hit timely shots in the first half to keep us abreast then played great defense along the way. Great job, guys.
Of course, our defense would not ignore the player who really made it possible in the dying seconds. Greg was not a "Meralco post." (something I read from nonoyforpresident.blogspot.com. Heck, free advertising guys :P) It was a sight to see him snarling after that complete erasure of RR Garcia's lay-up attempt and that of Carl Bryan Cruz (that guy who planted two forearms on his back and did not get a whistle) in the dying seconds. He then went on to power his way in overtime, scoring that crucial putback. I can't say enough for this half of our rookie tandem, they were just amazing they left me speechless for being clutch.
For FEU, maybe we'll see you in the Final Four, maybe not, who knows, but this I tell you, the Blue and the White, and the Eagle in flight, Ateneo will fight. Down to that last and final buzzer, they would not let us, the 6th Man, down.