by Neal Tieng
The Green Archers flirted with disaster before mounting a decisive comeback to overhaul a six-point Adamson Soaring Falcons lead in the final five minutes to steal their fifth win at 61-58 last April 9, 2022, at the Mall of Asia Arena. MIsfiring on offense, the green-and-white uncorked a 14-5 tear to shut the door on the upset-seeking Falcons.
Up by just a hairline with the game clock ticking down to the final 16 seconds and the shot clock expiring, Evan Nelle faked an entry pass and pulled up for his biggest triple this season to push La Salle to a two-possession lead 59-55. With just a handful of seconds left, the 4-point lead looked safe.
But the Falcons was not ready to concede, and rode on Keith Zaldivar’s corner three to cut the lead to one, 59-58 with 10 seconds to go. However, La Salle maintained their composure down the stretch with Joaqui Manuel sinking two free throws and Balti Baltazar sending Zaldivar’s triple try back to San Marcelino to complete the comeback win to seal the first round with a 5-2 card.
And it was not an easy final quarter comeback with La Salle’s offense sputtering after losing a 10-point third quarter lead that practically surrendered all the momentum to the Adamson side.
The Falcons were getting easy shots off quick ball movements while La Salle shot blanks for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter. With their offense humming and defense clamping down the Archers, the Falcons were smelling blood in the water after holding a 53-47 lead with five minutes to go.
But like the Green Archers of old, the men in green refused to yield and responded defensively and offensively at the height of the crisis.
Michael Phillips sparked the comeback run with four straight points off two free throws and one basket off a lucky loose ball recovery to snap the five-minute scoring drought to cut the lead to four, 53-49, with 3:25 to play.
Then “veteran” Schonny Winston barreled through the Adamson defense in the ensuing play, and banked home a three-point play to slice the lead to one, 53-52 with 2:35 left.
All this offense by La Salle was happening while slamming the brakes on the Adamson scoring parade by doubling up on Adamson shooter Jerome Lastimosa. The blanket coverage on Lastimosa forced the Falcons to use up precious seconds trying to free up Lastimosa, but in so doing, they instead committed multiple 24-second shot clock violations and had to resort to under-time-pressure Hail Mary heaves for the rest of the game.
Balti Baltazar came out big despite his limited six point production by leading his green army in the clutch with two key defensive stops on Zaldivar and Ahmad Hanapi, and capped his offensive night with his patented post-up push shot to keep La Salle within winning distance.
Joaqui Manuel played his breakout game this season and top scored with 14 points while grabbing 6 boards. Considered as a sure benchwarmer after losing his spot in Coach Derrick Pumaren’s rotation for the past two games, Manuel came ready when he was called on. And deliver, he did. He was also a +9 in the plus-minus stat category at the end of the game.
This game saw the team’s progress as they were able to overcome the lapses in their game to snatch the win from Adamson.