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Destiny fulfilled as Quezon pulls away late from Nueva Ecija to win PSL title

Just one year into its existence, the Quezon Huskers/Titans franchise now has a championship. Ivan Saldajeno
By Ivan Saldajeno

LUCENA—When his team formally received the PSL championship right after their Thursday night Game 4 win, Quezon team manager Donn Kapunan shouted, "Para sa Quezon ito!"

The title is indeed for the province.

The jam-packed Quezon Convention Center became a party place after the Titans clinched their first silverware in all competitions by trouncing the Nueva Ecija Capitals, 77-64.

For Kapunan, it was a fulfillment of a mission after previous tries from Quezon's two teams in the NBL, the province's contingent in the WNBL, and even his club's campaign last year in the MPBL as the Huskers fell short.

"This is the first time that a Quezon basketball team has ever won a national championship in any league, so nakita natin kung gaano kauhaw ang mga tao dito," Kapunan told Dugout Philippines.

Unexpected breakthrough in Quezon's journey

At first, the home fans thought the Titans had the championship in the bag as early as the first quarter.

Sparked by a 10-0 run in the first three and a half minutes of the game, Quezon was on track for a demolition job at home as it took a 22-10 lead at the end of the opening period.

However, Nueva Ecija, looking to send the best-of-five series back to Palayan for the deciding Game 5, slowly crawled back and eventually took a 47-37 lead with five and a half minutes left in the third quarter.

A four-point play from Judel Fuentes, though, sparked the game-deciding 21-3 run to put the Titans up again, 58-50, late in the third.

They then sealed their chip with a solid defensive stand in the fourth quarter where they held the Capitals to only 10 points once again.

"Destiny na po yan ni Lord. Nakita ko na kahit papaano, at the heat of the moment, nag-step up yung mga players. Pag ganyan, hindi na yan sa coaching. Desire na ng players and ng team yan," coach Eric Gonzales told Dugout Philippines in a separate interview.

He then admitted that Quezon was just thinking about winning it all in the MPBL this year and the PSL pennant was unexpected.

"Journey siya. Hindi namin ine-expect na pupunta kami sa [PSL] championship dahil ang unang bilin ay gagamitin yung opportunity in preparation for the MPBL. Pero we are grateful na nailatag sa amin yung opportunity, so we're always trying to move forward and capitalize what we have," Gonzales said.

Fuentes sealed his Finals MVP-worthy performance with 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting from three-point range, three rebounds, one assist, and two steals to lead Quezon, which won three straight games after losing the series opener at the Nueva Ecija Coliseum.

Jason Opiso shone in the title clincher as well with 12 points, six rebounds, one assist, one block, and one steal off the bench.

"Credit goes to all these hardworking men—the team, coaches, and our owners Gov. Helen Tan and Cong. Mike Tan. They're supportive of this program," Kapunan continued, adding that it was the legislator's vision that led to the founding of the Titans/Huskers franchise.

It was some sort of an underdog story for the Titans as they entered the PSL playoffs as the fourth seed and had to face the top-seeded Binan Tatak Gel in the semifinals.

Quezon, though, made a shocker by sweeping Binan out of the semifinals before beating third-seeded Nueva Ecija in the championship round.

Quezon quickly marches on to MPBL

However, the Titans' celebration had to be cut short as they will quickly swing into action in the MPBL on Saturday night against the Valenzuela Classic.

Interestingly enough, the game will be played at the Nueva Ecija Coliseum, but Gonzales is not expecting hostility from some members of the Palayan crowd who will be there already by 6 p.m. Saturday way ahead of the Capitals/Rice Vanguards franchise's MPBL debut against Quezon City two hours later.

"Mabait sila. Mga competitor yung mga taga-Nueva Ecija, pero we are friends to them," Gonzales continued.

Based on the schedule, Quezon's next home stand will be a May 25 MPBL match-up against Batangas City.

However, Kapunan said that Quezon's May 6 clash against Zamboanga, a rematch of their South Division first-round series last year, will be played at the Quezon Convention Center too, although it is currently listed as a prelude to Bataan's home stand against Davao Occidental at the Bataan People's Center in Balanga.

Dugout Philippines has sought the MPBL for clarification and is waiting for a response. 

Regardless of when the Titans/Huskers franchise's next home game is, Gonzales is expecting a festive mood when that time comes as the fans here are likely still on PSL championship high.

Follow him on X: @IvanSaldajeno

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