MANILA, Philippines – As the fifth seed in the 2020 Chooks-to-Go/MPBL Lakan playoffs, Zamboanga-Family's Brand Sardines was not supposed to have homecourt advantage in the first round.
Yet Zamboanga felt right at home on Monday afternoon, when they played Batangas-Tanduay at the Rizal Memorial Colleges Gym in Davao City.
An hour ahead of tip-off – and four hours before the home team, Davao Occidental-Cocolife, was set to play – the gym was already packed.
The reason? Davao native Alvin Pasaol was set to take the floor for Zamboanga.
"Alam naman natin si Alvin maraming umiidolo sa kanya sa Davao," said Zamboanga head coach Britt Reroma.
The Davao fans extended their support to Pasaol's teammates, and treated the Zamboanga squad as if it were their own. And with the crowd firmly behind them, Zamboanga raced to a strong start, with Pasaol leading the charge.
When things got close late, Zamboanga fed off the crowd in holding back Batangas, 78-74, for a 1-0 lead in their best-of-3 quarterfinals series.
For Pasaol, the support of the Davao crowd was crucial.
"Ang sarap ng feeling na kahit wala kaming homecourt [advantage] sa series na ito, naramdaman namin ito dito sa hometown ko," said the former University of the East star, who had 17 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals in the win.
"Laking pasasalamat ko sa mga kababayan ko rito dahil kung wala sila, siguro hindi namin nakuha ito," he added.
"It really helped us a lot. The fans were really a huge boost to us," said Reroma.
On Friday, however, Pasaol and Zamboanga will head to hostile territory when they play Batangas in their home floor, the Batangas City Coliseum.
Pasaol said he is ready for what the Batangueños have in store for them.
"Dapat maging ready kami sa kahit anong ibabato nila sa amin. Alam namin na passionate yung fans nila," said Pasaol. "At least dahil sa laro na ito, nagkapuhanan kami heading into that game."
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website).