Warren Bonifacio would rather not dwell on a near title finish two seasons ago that slipped from the grasp of the Mapua Cardinals.
Instead, he and the Cardinals attempt to erase the piercing memory of that championship defeat as they try to close out the San Beda Red Lions on Sunday in the NCAA Season 99 Finals at the Mall of Asia Arena.
“We came close to winning it, but it wasn’t meant to be. Now, we’ve learned our lesson,’’ said the 6-foot-5 power forward as they aim for a shot at redemption after losing in the Season 97 finale against Letran.
Last year was forgettable as the Cardinals missed the semifinal ride by a mile. They were able to regroup this season by infusing another vital piece to their roster—projected rookie-Most Valuable Player Clint Escamis.
“Since this is my last year, the hunger is there for us to win. Aside from trying to redeem ourselves from a ruined championship bid two seasons ago, our motivation is to end the 32 years that Mapua hasn’t won a title,’’ said Bonifacio.
Mapua coach Randy Alcantara formed part of that championship squad in 1991, interestingly against that same rival in San Beda.
Besides Escamis, whose late-game heroics in Game 1 bailed them out to gain headway in the best-of-three series, Alcantara has put his trust on veteran swingmen Paolo Hernandez and big men Jopet Soriano, the burly JC Recto and Bonifacio.
He’s likewise expecting Ryle Rosillo to again limit Jacob Cortez’s touches. Against Rosillo, the hot-shooting San Beda guard finished with 12 points but was held scoreless in the first half.
“We expect them (Red Lions) to make key adjustments. They will not back down. This game will be more difficult than the first match,’’ said Alcantara.
Not only did the Cardinals stymie the explosive Cortez, they were efficient in covering the perimeter, specifically the three-point arc where the Red Lions are known to corner their prey.
“We will find a way to extend the series. We’ll focus on ourselves in getting the job done,’’ said San Beda coach Yuri Escueta.
The Red Lions nearly pulled off a huge turnaround from 16 points down in the second half but a couple of misfired open shots near the end eventually brought them to their knees after stitching the gap to 66-63 in the closing seconds.
Wingmen James Payosing, Nygel Gonzales and forward Jomel Puno could help generate offense as well as guards Oliver Tagle and Peter Alfaro.
With outside shooting the most potent in their arsenal, the Lions should coax their front line of Clifford Hopia, Yukien Andrada and Damie Cuntapay to add the much-needed threat from around the rim.
“I think the key for us is to keep our composure, be patient and execute our plays properly,’’ said Escamis, who will receive his rookie-MVP award before game time.
Escamis, a multi-dimensional playmaker with a varied skill set, is the first freshman MVP since Mapua’s Allwell Oraeme in 2015.