By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
APART from the Lyceum Pirates sweeping their way to a spot in the finals, the biggest news coming out of Season 93 of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) of late is the resurgence of the San Sebastian Stags as they try to buck the odds and book a place in the championship.
Forced to start down low in the stepladder playoffs, the Stags have been handling themselves quite well, overcoming their first two hurdles and looking steady heading into an all-important knockout game against rivals San Beda Red Lions next week for the right to play in the best-of-three finals against Lyceum.
Egay Macaraya-coached San Sebastian, despite being undersized and playing sans any import, is now one win away from barging into the finals after beating the Letran Knights, 74-69, in the knockout for the last semifinal spot, and getting the better of the higher-seeded Jose Rizal University (JRU) Heavy Bombers, 85-73, after in the first rung of the stepladder Final Four for this season of the country’s longest-standing collegiate league.
Including their last two games in the elimination round, the Stags have now won four straight, a product they said of them being “Stags.”
“The kids are showing tremendous energy during this stretch. We are really riding it because compared to the other teams we are not that big. We are making up for it through hustle, determination and hard work because we are Stags. And that’s what is doing it for us,” said Mr. Macaraya after their win over JRU last Friday.
One of the players leading the way for the Stags as they make a push for what many thought to be a long-shot finals appearance is veteran forward Michael Calisaan, who has been on a tear lately, including scoring a career-high 36 points against Letran in their KO match.
The Pampanga native said they are just making the most of the opportunity given to them and now that they are in a position to go deeper in the tournament than what many thought, the team is going for it.
“We’re very excited with what is happening because we’re just one win away from going to the finals which is our goal, really. Thank God we are in this position but we know we still have our work cut out for us. Next game is San Beda and we all know they are no ordinary team. We have not beaten them this season,” said Calisaan.
Interestingly, Calisaan drew the attention of San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez for what the latter deemed to be “dirty” plays by the player, leaving their encounter on Tuesday, Nov. 7, with another interesting subplot.
In their two encounters in the elimination round, San Beda had the number of San Sebastian, winning 76-67 in the first round and taking the next as well, 76-65.
But despite the defeats they had against the Lions this season, Mr. Macaraya remains undeterred, saying if they continue their strong play of late, they can spring up a surprise.
“It will be the same thing for us against San Beda. Everybody needs to step up because we cannot beat them with limited contribution especially on defense. They are a champion team that is very capable on both ends of the court and they have imports who also play well,” said Mr. Macaraya.
“We’ll just do our best. What is important is we’re here and we have a chance. No matter what happens I think we have done well this season considering we are undersized. What more if we make it to the finals,” he added.
The San Beda-San Sebastian clash starts at 3:30 p.m. at the Mall of Asia Arena.