It's not everyday that you chance upon a real-life situation where the underdog overwhelms a formidable foe. A modern-day David slaying Goliath scene. A seemingly feeble hero prevailing over a glaringly superior oppressor. San Beda top patron Manny V. Pangilinan thought about the strong stance displayed by 300 Spartans in the onslaught of tens of thousands of Persians in the film "300."
Such was the atmosphere felt in last Sunday's Herculean upset win by San Beda's six gallant cagers, five of whom were first-timers in NCAA's senior basketball division, over a bewildered Arellano side. It was six versus fifteen in a 40-minute basketball game. The truth is that it's not as uncommon as one may think. In fact, it happens all the time, especially in the now prevalent alumni leagues, where several teams are attended by less than half of their rosters. A team with just 6 or 7 players frequently defeats the opposing squad with more than 12 members. It's the classic case of quality versus quantity.
The now famous Super Six of the Red Lions — sophomore Dave Moralde and rookies Yvan Ludovice, Richie Villaruz, Jun Bonsubre, Francis Abarcar and Arthur Dela Cruz — have become instant celebrities, especially among San Beda alumni and students after their amazing 81-71 conquest of the Arellano Chiefs on June 24. These players were usually third stringers in the powerhouse San Beda team, the champions in four of the last five NCAA seasons. Moralde normally checks in to relieve SBC gunners Melo Lim, Ryusei Koga and Rome Dela Rosa. Ludovice is the third point guard in the rotation after veteran Anjo Caram and the highly touted Baser Amer. Dela Cruz is back-up for Jake Pascual, while Villaruz, Abarcar and Bonsubre are fresh out of high school, and are last in the pecking order. These six Red Lions were not expected to see too much action this season. But in a bizarre twist of fate, there was no other choice but to play them the whole game after eight regular Lions were slapped a one-game suspension that was carried out in San Beda's very first appearance this 88th Season. Baser, Dela Rosa, Jake and Kyle Pascual, Caram, Koga, Lim and Jaypee Mendoza were suspended for their involvement in an ugly brawl during an NCAA volleyball game late last year that was held in the San Beda gym. The same incident resulted in a four-game suspension on another Bedan rookie Olaide Adeogun, and a two-year ban on former coach Frankie Lim. Lim resigned early this year. Ronnie Magsanoc took over the coaching chores of the Red Lions.
During the pre-season tournament Fil-Oil Cup, Dela Cruz got the most playing time among the Super Six, with 12.8 minutes per game, followed by Ludovice with just 5.6 minutes. The other four got less than four.
If we look closely however, we will find that all six of them have been winners since their high school days. Ludovice, Dela Cruz and Moralde were all part of the 2009 NCAA Juniors champions San Beda Red Cubs. Dela Cruz was also with Ateneo in 2010, when the Blue Eagles won a third straight UAAP crown, before he went back to Mendiola. Abarcar and Bonsubre were key players in the San Beda junior team that scored a three-peat in the NCAA last season, while Villaruz was the top scorer in the championship series for runner-up La Salle Greenhills. So compared to the Chiefs' line-up, which also has several rookies, the Super Six were the more competitive ones. And they were used to winning against all odds.
The Super Six all stated that they were confident of winning even before the game. "The night before the game, I was already telling everyone in campus that it will be 1-0 for San Beda," said Ludovice, who played in the entire game. "Then during the game, we drew strength from the crowd. Grabe talaga yung suportang binigay nila sa amin," added this Lucban, Quezon native. A sizeable Bedan crowd came to cheer the undermanned team and was already boisterous even during the warm-up. Ludovice was recruited by San Beda from the Banahaw View Academy. He suited up for the National University Bulldogs in the UAAP in 2010 but decided to return to San Beda. "I was really at home in San Beda. I missed the community so I decided to come back."
Moralde, the most senior among the six, admitted he felt more pressured in the game than the others. "Ako na kasi yung pinaka-matagal sa team kaya parang ako yung mas na-pressure. But I took it as a challenge. When coach Ronnie said after the mass last Sunday na walang bibitaw, sabi namin lalaban talaga kami. Somehow, I knew we had a chance to win," explains Moralde, who was in the Red Lions' 2010 roster but was cut last year. In the middle of the fourth canto, he began to get cramps but was determined to carry on. "Para kaming nag-champion after nung game. Grabe yung saya namin."
Bonsubre was the only player who did not score in the game. The five others all scored in double-figures. But he was saddled with excessive fouls very early in the game. In fact, just a few minutes into the fourth period, this lanky center from Cagayan de Oro City fouled out of the game, leaving the Red Lions without any sub. "I felt my last foul should have been a let-go. Masyado manipis. Nung nag fourth foul ako, natakot talaga ako mag foul out kasi nga anim lang kami," stated Bonsubre, who played for the notable Sacred Heart School in CDO before moving to San Beda high school.
Meanwhile, Abarcar became so ecstatic after the game that he forgot to shake the hands of the Chiefs. "Sobrang saya ko nun, nalimutan ko tuloy kumamay sa kalaban. Ang sarap ng pakiramdam," said the 2011 NCAA Juniors Finals MVP, who scored all his 16 markers in the pay-off period. He was not even supposed to be included in the line-up this season. But one of the veterans had academic problems, which opened a slot in the Lions' line-up. "I felt na I needed to step-up sa fourth quarter kasi pagod na sina Yvan at Art," added the former San Beda Alabang star.
According to Villaruz, the Lions' preparation was the key to the victory. He said the coaching staff did a splendid job in getting them ready for the apparently impossible mission. He scored the very first field goal for San Beda in the game, with a triple from the corner. "Nabuo agad yung confidence ko after that shot. It gave me a lot of confidence the whole game," said Villaruz, who unleashed three more treys later on in the game, and collected a total of 17 points. This kid, who saw action for Ateneo de Iloilo before donning the green and white jersey of La Salle Greenhills, was cool as a cucumber even when the Chiefs made a strong rally in the final few minutes. "We just kept our composure and made defensive stops. I knew we had a good chance of winning."
But the Super Six were really never pushovers according to Dela Cruz. "In practices, our group often outplays the first and second groups. We knew we could match up with Arellano," said the son of former PBA player Art Dela Cruz. He added that the game plan was to allow the Chiefs to take the outside shots but tightly defend the interior. But the Chiefs unloaded six triples in the very first quarter, and four more in the second. Arellano led at halftime, 44-42. "Napilitan kami mag man-to-man kasi pumapasok yung three-point shots nila."
The Super Six will be joined by the nine other Lions when they face the Lyceum Pirates on July 2. Chances are they will take a backseat to their more experienced teammates. But the Super Six have already made history and are expected to draw much clamor from their newly-found admirers.
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.