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Oracion answers prayers as Ateneo squeaks past La Salle in shootout thriller

By Kevin Estrada

MANILA-- Ateneo are in desperate search for answers in the second semifinal, and that they resorted to prayers as the match entered the dreaded shootout from 12 yards.

Enter JP Oracion.

The junior netminder became coach JP Merida's unlikely answer as the Blue Booters squeaks past archrivals La Salle, 5-4 on penalties (1-1 AET) in Final Four edition of the Clasico on Thursday night at the Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Oracion, who substituted freshman Kenn James on goal two minutes before full time, became Ateneo's surprise hero for the night as he stopped Jose Montelibano's penalty in the fifth round to set up a Katipunan Derby final with UP next week.

Carlo Liay and Gelo Diamante struck for their respective schools in normal time, yet they can't break into the net into extra time setting the stage for the shootout.

In a physical and even encounter, in which five yellow cards are issued by the referee, both schools showed why they make up the most heated rivalry in the history of Philippine sports, as they never gave each other any space due to their suffocating defence.

Both the backline of Ateneo and La Salle held firm in the opening salvo of this match and their offence was giving fits to their respective defences.

However, Ateneo found the breakthrough eight minutes before halftime, as senior winger Mikko Mabanag sprints past sophomore holding midfielder Nikko Villacin, and duly delivered a left wing cross to Liay who smashes it home past Paeng De Guzman for his first goal of the season.

It could have been 2-0 Ateneo before half-time three minutes later, but freshman Jarvey Gayoso was betrayed by the bad bounce of the ball.

Both schools intensified the attacks in the second half, knowing that a goal would change the complexion of this match.

And it was La Salle who fired back with a goal to level the match with fifteen minutes left, as the senior striker knocked the volley into the top right corner from inside the penalty arc past James, in which Montelibano was the architect of the equalizer.

Diamante could have sent La Salle to the final four minutes from full time, but he muffed his shot in front of the empty net from close range after he already beaten James on a 1-on-1 opportunity, sending the match to extra time

Both teams continued their proverbial dogfight in extra session, with cramps and fatigue already took their toll to their mental resolve and composure. Even James was not spared when he hit his foot onto the post after saving Jed Diamante's free kick, that prompted Oracion's entry to the semifinal.

In the end, it was Ateneo who prevailed in the ensuing shootout, as the newly inserted netminder denied Montelibano's shot to send them to their first final since they last won the UAAP crown in 2013.

Follow him on Twitter: @KevinLEstrada