MANILA - After agonizingly missing a shot that could have won them the NCAA championship in Game 2, Letran's Bonbon Batiller was determined to bounce back in the final game of their title series against the San Beda Red Lions.
For him, his performance in Game 3 was not just about making up for his blunder in Game 2 -- it was also his way of expressing his gratitude to a school that had welcomed him with open arms after his inglorious exit from his previous university.
"Isa lang masasabi ko," Batiller said after Game 3, when the last of the confetti had fallen in the wake of their 81-79 win over San Beda in Game 3 of the NCAA Season 95 Finals. "Hindi na nadulas 'yung bola."
Batiller can laugh about it now, but he was in tears last Friday after he fumbled a layup with some five seconds left in Game 2 while the Knights were trailing, 77-76. The Red Lions went on to win, 79-76, to force a do-or-die game for the crown.
He did his best to make up for that miss in Game 3. Batiller put up 19 points on 6-of-13 shooting, along with 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. He left it all on the court, as well, as he had to be helped to the bench after cramping up with 11 seconds left.
An emotional Batiller later expressed his gratitude for the Letran basketball program -- particularly for former coach Jeff Napa who recruited him after he was cut from the University of the East Red Warriors.
"Tinanggal ako sa UE (noong) 2017," Batiller recounted. "Basura ako."
"Pinulot ako ni Coach Jeff. Kumbaga, pinaliguan, ganoon, inalagaan. Ngayon, champion na," he added.
Batiller also brought with him another crucial piece to Letran's championship puzzle. Fran Yu was also his former teammate in UE, but left to play in Thailand. Upon Napa's encouragement, he placed a call to the point guard.
"Kinontak ko si Fran, 'Bata, gusto mo bang mag-Letran? Andito ako ngayon.' Sabi ni Fran, 'Sige, uwi ako diyan. Diyan tayo maglaro sa Letran'," said Batiller.
Having gotten a second chance in Letran, Batiller was determined to make the most of it and encouraged Yu to do so as well.
"Isa lang sinabi ko kay Fran, 'Fran, kailangan natin magpakita dito, kailangan natin patunayan, nag-ano sa atin, mga nag-doubt sa atin, mga 'di naniwala sa atin'," he said.
"Ayun, nakuha namin ni Fran 'yung championship. Laking pasasalamat ko kay Coach Jeff," Batiller added.
The coach who steered the Knights to the crown, Bonnie Tan, commended Batiller for his performance, especially after a slow start to the season. Batiller had struggled to find his form in the first round, as he was still recovering from offseason surgery to repair his shoulder.
"Maraming hindi nagtiwala diyan," Tan noted. "Pero we trusted him. Alam namin 'yung experience na mabibigay niya sa team."