MANILA - Encho Serrano had the chance to be the hero that La Salle needed on Sunday, when the Green Archers were in the closing stretch of a must-win game against the University of the Philippines.
La Salle was down 70-68 to UP with under a minute to go, in a game that they needed to win in order to stay in the race for a Final 4 spot in UAAP Season 82. Kobe Paras had given the Maroons the lead off a one-handed slam dunk with 54 seconds left.
But the Green Archers got a stop in their next possession, only for Aljun Melecio to slip upon getting the rebound. The ball bounced fortuitously to Serrano, who raced down the other end of the court. He attacked the rim with his usual ferocity, but his shot was too wild: the ball hit the glass and was controlled by Bright Akhuetie.
UP went on to win, 71-68, ousting La Salle from the Final 4 race for the second straight year.
"Hindi ko siya nabitawan eh, pero napalakas 'yung tira ko eh," a rueful Serrano said after the game. "eh. Hindi ko siya masyadong na-control kasi kinross 'yung daan ko ni Ricci (Rivero), kaya yun, napalakas yung tira ko."
Serrano had earlier given La Salle a 68-66 lead, completing the Green Archers comeback from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter. But they had no answer for Manzo in the clutch, as the veteran point guard orchestrated buckets for Bright Akhuetie and then Paras to give UP back the advantage.
The sophomore guard ended up with 8 points on 4-of-13 shooting, along with 5 rebounds and 2 assists. He did it all despite playing on a badly injured ankle, having had to be helped off the floor in the first half.
"Ako, na-injure pa ako, nag-doble effort ako kasi gusto ko talaga tulungan yung mga teammates ko kahit na sobrang sakit ng paa ko," said Serrano.
"Pinainom nila ako after the game, ang dami kong sinuka," he revealed.
Serrano is taking comfort in the effort that they put up, even as is disappointed to have missed out on the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
"Siyempre masakit, kasi ginawa namin 'yung best namin para sa team namin. 'Yun lang, siguro 'yung para sa akin lang, hindi naman siya masakit kasi ginawa namin yung best namin," he said.
"'Yung effort namin andyan naman, kaya kahit na talo kami, at least binigay namin yung best namin," he added.
The Green Archers have one more game left -- a date with Adamson University on Wednesday. Still, as early as now Serrano is already thinking of what he needs to do for next year, to ensure that La Salle will return to the Final 4.
"'Yung process lang, kailangan lang na siguro every day, sisimulan na namin yan agad-agad. Kasi masakit yung nangyari sa amin na hindi na dapat mangyari ulit. Kasi alam na namin kung ano yung feeling ng matalo eh," he said.
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