First-year team Cignal HD Hawkeyes recently became just the third team in Philippine Basketball Asso-ciation (PBA) D-League history after NLEX and Phoenix Petroleum to win back-to-back titles after an imposing sweep of the Centro Escolar University (CEU) Scorpions in the best-of-three finals of the Foundation Cup. The Hawkeyes also bagged the Aspirants Cup just months ago.
Led by the multi-titled Boyet Fernandez, the winningest coach in the D-League with eight champion-ships, Cignal coasted to twelve straight victories in the Foundation Cup en route to bagging the crown, after dropping two games in the elims. The Hawkeyes were so dominant in the playoffs, winning by 14.5 points average in the semis and finals combined. They avenged an elimination round loss to new-comer Marinerong Pilipino in the semis, besting the Koy Banal-led squad, 86-67 in Game 1, and 87-64 in Game 2. Cignal used a stifling defense that kept the Marineros at bay. In the finals, the Hawkeyes braced for a tough contest against an upset-conscious CEU squad that earlier on surprised the erst-while-unbeaten Flying V Thunder in the semis by prevailing in both Games 2 and 3.
In Game 1 of the finals, the Hawkeyes shut the doors on CEU’s outside gunners and displayed exem-plary ball movement to hack out the 78-56 win. CEU’s all-around center Rod Ebondo scattered 27 points but got little help from his usually reliable teammates. Only Rich Guinitaran scored with double digits from among the locals, tallying ten markers. Cignal started like a house on fire, breaking out of a close 10-8 advantage with a 14-0 run to erect an early 18-point lead, at 24-6. It was almost autopilot from then on even as the Scorpions tried multiple defensive schemes to stymie the Hawkeyes’ crack-erjack offense. Cignal’s 20 assists were proof of its superior scoring that day. Skipper Pamboy Ray-mundo dished out seven dimes. Former Jose Rizal U hotshot Byron Villarias topscored with 17 points, on top of seven boards, while ex-pro Mark Bringas posted a double double of 13 markers and ten re-bounds. Prospective first round PBA Draft pick Jason Perkins had 16 points.
Game 2 saw a more determined CEU side, this time with more support from the bench. Coach Yong Garcia used a 1-2-2 zone that caught the Hawkeyes off guard in the early goings. But the superb ball movement and patience still worked wonders for Cignal, as the offense got its rhythm in the second period to post a 45-30 halftime edge. In the second half, the Scorpions repeatedly tried to claw back in the game, but to no avail. The Hawkeyes closed out the season with a 79-69 win in Game 2. Oping Sumalinog and Harold Arboleda had 13 markers each for Cignal. But it was the team’s 25 assists that mattered the most.
With its second straight D-League plum, Cignal declares itself as the new boss in town. Kudos to the rest of the team – Alfred Batino, Andreas Cahilig, Monbert Arong, Dan Sara, Jaypee Belencion, Jona-than Uyloan, Jeckster Apinan, Jeremy Bartolo, and conference MVP Raymar Jose. Jose missed the fi-nals as he was part of the triumphant Gilas crew that took the gold in the Kuala Lumpur Southeast Asian Games. Congrats also to the coaching staff, and team management led by NLEX head Rod Fran-co, Board rep Ronald Dulatre and Team Manager Borgie Hermida, and Cignal executives Jane Basas, Sienna Olaso, Migs Vea, Rafi Silerio and James Velasquez.
By the way, Cignal entered the Foundation Cup with half of its original roster gone. Back in the Aspir-ants Cup, the Hawkeyes paraded seven core players from the defending NCAA champs San Beda Red Lions, including Robert Bolick, who was named MVP last conference.The Bedans couldn’t suit up for Cignal this conference because of the on-going NCAA season. But the team still found worthy re-placements.
Great job also to Gilas Pilipinas for solidifying its hold of basketball supremacy in Southeast Asia after an emphatic 94-55 conquest of Indonesia in the gold medal match. The Nationals saved their best game for last, unleashing a sterling firepower that included nine treys, and a scorching 46% shooting clip. The erstwhile-undefeated Indonesians struggled to contain the Pinoys’ offensive onslaught from the second canto onwards.