MANILA, Philippines – After back-to-back final 4 appearances, the Mapua Cardinals had a nightmarish campaign in the NCAA Season 93 men's basketball tournament, when they mustered only 3 wins and finished at the bottom of the league standings.
Their drop in form was understandable. Two-time NCAA Most Valuable Player Allwell Oraeme did not join the team for Season 93, and guard Darell Menina left as well. The injury bug also bit the team hard, as Kim Magboo, Andoy Estrella, and JP Nieles all missed games.
"It's not the season that we've been praying for," graduating guard Leo Gabo wryly noted after Mapua wrapped up its campaign with an 81-64 loss to Arellano University. "It's not what we've been hoping for."
Losing Oraeme was a massive blow to the team, as were the injuries to Magboo, Estrella, and Nieles. There were games wherein coach Atoy Co only had eight players at his disposal. The silver lining, perhaps, was that big man Christian Bunag had a breakout year, but ultimately the Cardinals simply did not have enough firepower to compete against the other NCAA squads.
"Lahat ng challenges, mentally at lalo na physically, siyempre emotionally, naranasan namin this season," said Gabo, who addressed the media on Tuesday afternoon beside a teary-eyed Estrella, who has been his teammate since they were in high school at Angelicum College.
Both players pointed out that even as they struggled with injuries and pain, they kept on fighting and kept on playing.
"Sabi nga nila, God gives his battles to his toughest soldiers," Gabo said. "Siguro, tingin ng Diyos, isa kami sa mga toughest soldiers niya."
They are proud of how they played and believe they proved critics wrong by barging into the win column not once, not twice, but 3 times this year.
"Before this season, walang naniniwala sa amin na mananalo kami ng kahit isang game," said Gabo. "Pero nakatatlo kami."
The Cardinals earned their first win against Letran in the first round, with Estrella drilling the game-winning 3-pointer in a 78-75 win. They would not win again until the second round, when they put together a brief two-game win streak against St. Benilde and Perpetual Help.
For Gabo and Estrella, however, they have nothing to be ashamed of.
"Sabi ko nga sa kanila, kung anuman ang marating natin this season, it's the journey – kung ano ang na-achieve namin magkakasama," said Gabo. "Even though natatalo kami, at the end of the day, sama-sama kami."
"One for all all for one. Battle cry namin this season, everything to gain nothing to lose," he added.
"Hindi namin ma-describe tong season na'to. Ginawa naman namin lahat para sa season na ito.Pero wala e, baka ito yung destined para sa amin," Gabo concluded.
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