Rookie team Cignal HD Hawkeyes—San Beda became the 12th champion of the Philippine Basketball Association Developmental League (PBA D-League) last Thursday by outlasting the Racal Ceramica Tile Masters, 81-78, in Game 3 of the best-of-three finals. With half of the roster composed of reigning NCAA champions San Beda Red Lions, and multi-titled D-League mentor Boyet Fernandez as chief tactician, the Hawkeyes completed an amazing stint in their maiden season after surviving a grueling championship series with the equally talented Tile Masters.
It’s actually Fernandez’ seventh league title after he led former D-League powerhouse NLEX to six championships, the last one in 2014, before the team made the jump to the PBA the following year. The only other coach with more than one D-League title is Eric Gonzales, after back-to-back plums with Phoenix in 2016. This is also the fourth D-League crown for San Beda College as a partner school after two titles with NLEX, also with Fernandez as coach, and one with Hapee Toothpaste in 2014 under coach Ronnie Magsanoc. The only other schools with a D-League diadem are Far Eastern University (Phoenix Petroluem) with two, and Centro Escolar University (Café France) with one.
Cignal actually debuted with a loss to the Jeron Teng-powered AMA Online Education, 85-93. But since then, the Hawkeyes went on a tear with eight straight victories to end up No. 1 after the elimination phase. But the young team was tested by the Tanduay Rhum Masters in Game 1 of the semis, as coach Lawrence Chongson’s band put the clamps down on Cignal’s offense to draw first blood. With a twice–to-beat edge, the Hawkeyes came back with a vengeance to score two straight wins and book a seat at the finals.
In the finals, Cignal used a rousing start to take Game 1 against Racal of coach Jerry Codinera. But mid-way in the third canto, the Hawkeyes squandered a 21-point lead as NCAA top gunner Rey Nambatac of Letran, Arellano U’s cat-quick guard Kent Saladoand do-it-all forward Jackson Corpuz orchestrated a blitzing attack to slice their deficit down to just five. The Hawkeyes got their composure late in the payoff period to escape with the W. In Game 2 however, Racal used its Game 1 late-rally momentum to level the series, 1-1. Codinera also made excellent offensive adjustments and drew superb games from La Salle spitfire Thomas Torres, Ateneo forward Gwayne Capacio, and former Lyceum post specialist Joseph Gabayni.
Game 3, as expected, was a dogfight, which saw nine lead changes and eight deadlocks. The Tile Masters led by as many as 13 markers in the second quarter but the Hawkeyes made some innovative adjustments in the third period to finally gain the upper-hand with less than eight minutes left in the match.By the strength of eight triples and 25 turnover points, Cignal turned things around and forced a nip-and-tuck game in the fourth. In crunch time, both squads gamely traded baskets for an exciting finish. But the Hawkeyes made the crucial stops and got the pivotal rebound to annex the victory and the crown.
San Beda ace forward Javee Mocon collected 14 of his game-high 25 points in the fourth quarter, as he was unstoppable in the post. La Salle slotman Jason Perkins, San Beda combo guard Robert Bolick, who was named Aspirants Cup MVP, and skipper Pamboy Raymundo added a combined 48 markers to help Cignal’s cause.
The other members of the victorious squad are Harold Arboleda, Byron Villarias, Ryan Batino, Mark Bringas, Monbert Arong, Andreas Cahilig, and Red Lions Davon Potts, Ranbill Tongco, Calvin Oftana, Benedict Adamos, JB Bahio and Jose Presbitero, with reserves Jeremy Bartolo, AC Soberano, Jun Bonsubre, Jeramer Cabanag, and JJ Pavia. Former Red Lion Borgie Hermida is the team manager. Fernandez is assisted by Gino Manuel, and members of the Red Lions’ coaching staff – JB Sison, Mike Sunga, Cholo Martin, Joey Mendoza, Joph Cleopas, Jeric Estrada and yours truly, with Joey De Jesus, Tien Dela Cruz, Jerry Dela Rosa, Ana Morelos, Rolly Arguelles, Roland Felisilda, Benjie Berro, Eugene Tantuan, Deomides Salonga, and Jeomar Santiago as support crew.
The Hawkeyes have arrived and are looking to soar even higher.