Header Ads Widget

Despite falling short in finals, Ralph Rivera still happy for Fatima squad

By Ivan Saldajeno

MAKATI—Fatima was just a Joseph Marquez trey away from taking the NAASCU crown from St. Clare on Friday.

But for Coach Ralph Rivera, he is still happy on how far the Phoenix went in their comeback season after taking the previous year off.

“[It was] very disappointing, pero [we have] nothing to be ashamed of. I’m still proud of the boys. Actually, we’re not thinking of the finals during the start of the season. Masaya kami na umabot kami ng finals,” Rivera told Dugout Philippines.

Regarding the said final play, the former MBA star insisted, “That’s for Marquez. It’s his shot, but it didn’t go in.”

Playing in what would be his farewell game in NAASCU, Marquez, known as “Balong” to his friends, launched a wide-open triple from the left wing at the final buzzer, but he overshot it, letting St. Clare escape with a hard-fought 64-62 Game 3 win to clinch the NAASCU title at the Makati Coliseum.

“Last year niya. Para sa kanya yung taon na ito, so kailangan kunin niya talaga yun,” Rivera further explained his decision to let Marquez decide the outcome of the game.

Marquez would still impress in his swan song, tallying 12 points, seven rebounds, two assists, and two assists. He would also make the Mythical Five, the only player from the Valenzuela-based school that made the selection.

[Related Story: Dionisio takes NAASCU MVP plum, leads Mythical 5]

However, Rivera rued another key reason behind Fatima’s Cinderella story that fell short of a happy ending.

“Actually di pinaglaro si Emil Japzon. Malaking factor sa amin yung di niya paglaro,” Rivera said about the key absence.

But with only Marquez leaving for next year and Japzon returning, the Phoenix are expected to be among those who will deprive the Saints of back-to-back titles.

Rivera said, “Intact pa rin kami. Si Balong lang ang mawawala. Malaki pa rin ang chance namin next year. Meron din kaming mga recruits na papasok. Hopefully next year, babalik kami na stronger, wiser, and more prepared.”

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno