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Ex-Blazer recalls Cinderella run

A former College of Saint Benilde star is keeping his fingers crossed, hoping and praying for the success of the new breed of Blazers in their finals showdown against reigning champion Letran College in Season 98 National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament.

In an interview with Daily Tribune, Jondan Salvador recalls their triumphant title run in 2000 in which they downed all the heavyweights in the country’s oldest collegiate league.

Salvador, an undersized forward who went on to have a stellar career in the Philippine Basketball Association, said they didn’t expect to win the title, especially after being ranged against a powerhouse University of Perpetual Help System Dalta squad in the Final Four.

With the late Dong Vergeire as mentor, the Blazers had a solid cast of competitors in Salvador, Sunday Salvacion, Ron Capati, Al Magpayo and Mark Magsumbol.

But the Altas’ roster was very impressive with the troika of Philippine Basketball League superstars Chester Manalo, Gilbert Malabanan and Jojo Manalo at the helm.

“We didn’t expect to win the championship because we were up against more formidable teams, including Perpetual Help,” said Salvador, recalling their Cinderella run as if it was just yesterday.

“They were composed of players from the Philippine Basketball League who are already ripe and bound for the PBA.”

But the Blazers did the unthinkable, beating the Altas off a Salvacion trey in the dying seconds to eke out a 73-70 victory.

They duplicated the feat three days later as they pulled off an 86-73 victory over the Altas to punch a ticket to the best-of-three finals against San Sebastian College, which shocked topseed Jose Rizal University, 60-53 and 97-79.

Powered by Leo Najorda, Mark Macapagal and Christian Coronel with Filipino-American bruiser Pep Moore manning the lanes, the Stags trailed for the first three quarters until gaining control, 64-61.
But Magpayo nailed a three-pointer in the final 30 seconds before issuing a beautiful inbound pass to the cutting Magsumbol to seal the victory, 66-64.

With the Stags greatly demoralized, the Blazers took advantage in Game 2, erecting a 16-point cushion in the third quarter, 54-38, en route to winning their first men’s basketball title since joining the league in 1998.

Salvador said it was camaraderie that keyed their title conquest.

“When we got past Perpetual, we knew we had a chance of winning the championship,” Salvador, who is now based in the United States, said.

“It was like threading the needle. It was the chemistry of the squad, the camaraderie, that keyed our success.”

“It was truly a Cinderella run. We started 0-4, if I’m not mistaken. Then we had a good run. The following year, I was chosen as the league’s best center.”

The Blazers advanced to the title match two years later, but they fell prey to the Stags.

Now, they are two victories away from duplicating the feat and rewriting history by giving the school its first title in the past 22 years.

And Salvador is keeping the faith, hoping and praying for the Blazers’ success.

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