Photo by: Jempoy Pimentel
Team captain Iggy Escaño and the De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Batters moved to within a win away from clinching the UAAP Season 81 Baseball title after pulling out an impressive victory against their archrivals Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles in Game 1 of the Finals last Friday, March 29, at the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium.
‘A tough battle as expected’
Those who watched the first game live at the venue and on livestreams were presented with a low-scoring ballgame in the first five innings, before things spiced up in the next four. La Salle and Ateneo engaged in a highly defensive match as neither wanted to give up a crucial Game 1 victory to the other.
Escaño described the finals-opener as “a tough battle as we expected it to be.” Although they were coming into it with a six-game winning streak, the captain of the Green Batters reminded his team to come ready and really wanting to win.
Clearly, with no less than the championship on the offering, who would not come ready and really wanting to win? So, Escaño told the team “that we just had to want it more.”
And that hunger translated after the Green Batters hung on to win it in a suspense ending. “I think we really showed that in the end even when they were trying to make a comeback. We didn’t let up and kept fighting to get that win,” Escaño shared.
Next man up
La Salle and Ateneo not only had to wrestle in a Baseball match, but also had to play it under the burning heat of the sun…for just around four hours.
It was not only a battle of strength and speed among others, but also a battle of endurance. “The conditions were really tough with the extreme heat, and a lot of were badly cramping up,” said Escaño, whose team saw three pitchers, Luis Miñana, Boo Barandiaran, and Diego Lozano one by one cramp up late in the game.
He added, “I liked how people in the team stepped up when we needed to, especially the pitchers. When one by one they started going down with cramps, the next guy was always ready to get the job done.”
It was a testament to how La Salle wanted to claim Game 1 more, and that alone was made Escaño a proud leader. “I’m proud of my team for fighting through it and giving everything they had to get that win.”
Barandiaran replaced Miñana at the top of the seventh inning after the rookie pitcher suffered from cramps. In an instant, however, the Blue Eagles were quick to adjust to Barandiaran’s pitches as they finally put themselves up in the scoreboard with two runs. On the other hand, the Green Batters were silenced at the bottom of the same inning.
Regardless, Barandiaran was able to make his adjustments as the Taft-based squad returned the favor to Katipunan with four runs in the eighth inning, including a Superman-unleashing homerun by Escaño. “Our offense woke up a little bit late though in that game, and I feel like we can do a better job of scoring more runs earlier in the game.
Later in the game, Barandiaran was replaced by Lozano, who was eventually also replaced by Arvin Herrera. “Our pitching and defense were really good through the most part of the game.”
Who wants it more?
Now that everything in Game 1 is done, the Green Batters set their eyes on what could be their last and sweetest game in the UAAP Season 81—the series closer and the championship clincher.
An improved hitting team and four hours of play under a more intense heat of the sun are just some of the things that they can expect in Game 2. And for Escaño, “Now knowing the conditions we’re going to play in, we’re all coming in more prepared.”
He added, “I feel like our bodies will definitely be ready for whatever Game 2 may bring.”
Escaño was least surprised when Ateneo held their final stand at the top of the ninth inning, pulling to within two after being down by seven. “I can’t say that I was surprised by their rally because I knew a team like Ateneo wasn’t going to go down without a fight, especially with stakes this high.”
They did it in the first six innings of the game. “We were able to hold them scoreless, and that’s tough to do with a hitting team such as Ateneo,” Escaño said. Now, the focus is how they can keep their defense as sharp as that.
But just as he would always say, “I knew my team was ready for that and I had full confidence and trust in my teammates at that moment that we could come out with the win even during that rally.”
La Salle may have taken Game 1, but it is not over until it is over, and now is definitely not the time to relax. The Green Batters expect Ateneo to go into Game 2 wanting to force a winner-takes-all match on Friday.
He would always remind his teammates to come in with a greater desire to win, but Escaño simply believes that they have already prepared well and it will just be a matter of who wants it more.
“That’s what it’s really all about. As I said before, I know this team has what it takes to bring that championship home and tomorrow, I’m confident that we’re going to prove that to everybody.”