Co-written by: Genrev Villamin
Photo by: Jempoy Pimentel
BULLSEYE! The De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Batters are UAAP champions once again after triumphing in the winner-take-all Game 3 of the Season 81 Baseball Finals against the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles, 11-9, on Friday, April 5, at the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium.
A do-or-die match erstwhile taken control of by the Green-and-White suddenly became anybody’s game. La Salle finally came to their senses and broke their prolonged silence by sending Boo Barandiaran home. The Green Batters then leaned on an Anton Acuña two-run single that pushed their lead to 9-5 at the top of the eighth inning.
Ateneo stayed at the backseat in the first seven innings, but it only took a short span of sequences for them to stage their own comeback. A pop-fly by Gino Altomonte sent Macasaet home, leaving the Lasallian crowd stunned and causing a ruckus in the Atenean side, as the Blue Eagles knotted it at 9-all. After everything that had happened, the game was headed to an instant classic.
The Green Batters made sure to strike at least one in what could be their last shot at the scoreboard. Instead, they found themselves on a dangerous two outs after Barandiaran’s and team captain Iggy Escaño’s full swings landed straight to the Katipunan. Diego Lozano was the lone bright spot at the first base.
All anxious, prayers were being lifted by both sides as to what would happen in the next set of events. With all eyes on him and the pressure intensifying, Kiko Gesmundo reconfirmed to everybody why he was the reigning and defending UAAP MVP. He fired a miraculous two-run homer that delivered him and Lozano back home, causing a complete pandemonium all over the stadium, and most importantly, giving them the go-ahead 11-9 lead.
To start the game, the Green Batters wasted no time in putting themselves up on the scoreboard. With Paolo Salud, Lozano, and Gesmundo loading all of La Salle’s bases at the top of the first inning, Tuwi Park got a walk to send Salud home. Anton Rosas then swung a sacrificial one far right to bring Lozano back home for a 2-0 lead as La Salle’s offense also ended.
La Salle’s first surprise came in after head coach Joseph Orillana fielded Gesmundo at the mound. Gesmundo’s pitching made quick work of Ateneo’s batters as the Blue Eagles ended their offense scoreless.
Lozano’s walk, which followed Season 80 ROY Angelo Tantuico and Salud’s singles filled La Salle’s bases once again. Barandiaran then capitalized by hitting it straight to the center field, which sent Tantuico home. On the defensive side, a pitcher-catcher miscue committed by Gesmundo and Rosas allowed Altomonte to race to the home plate.
A sacrifice bunt by Rosas inched Gesmundo one base away from home, while also bringing Park to the second base. Salud then returned the favor by sending Gesmundo home on a low swing to the left field. Come Ateneo’s offensive, La Salle forced three quick outs against the Blue Eagles to maintain a 4-1 distance after three innings.
The Taft-based squad continued their scoring spree at the top of the fourth inning. Back-to-back fumbles by the Katipunan-based defenders sent Barandiaran and team captain Iggy Escaño home in different plays. La Salle pushed their lead to 6-1, which they maintained after earning their first scoreless offensive in the fifth inning.
Things started to get interesting at the bottom of the same inning, where Ateneo’s aggressiveness began to heat up. The Blue Eagles pulled back to within three, 3-6, following a two-run batted in by Tan. On the other hand, the Green Batters seemed to have cooled off after laying down another egg at the top of the sixth inning.
Park missed a Mallari hit at the bottom of the sixth, allowing Bitong to sprint back to their bench. Macasaet then brought Mallari back as Ateneo pounded their way back into the game, suddenly trailing by only one point, 5-6.
Although they were able to defend and keep their lead, La Salle continued to shoot zeroes in the seventh inning. Both teams produced nothing in a prologue to what eventually turned out to be dramatic and heart-stopping eighth and ninth innings.
Barandiaran will leave the Green Batters with the Best Hitter award, while Gesmundo is the uncontested Finals MVP. Escaño bagged the Most RBIs Made award. Lastly, Lozano claimed the Best Slugger, Most Home Runs, and Season MVP awards.