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Blazers hold heads high

College of Saint Benilde has nothing to be ashamed of despite losing the title to Letran College in Season 98 National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament late Sunday at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.

Blazers coach Charles Tiu said he remains proud of what they have accomplished despite falling short of ending a 22-year title drought in the country’s oldest collegiate league.

“Obviously, I am very disappointed with this game. To me, I really just wanted to win for these guys and the school because I see the work they put in and how good they are as players. I can’t ask for a better team,” said Tiu following their sorry 67-81 loss in Game 3 of their best-of-three title series.

“I’m proud of the team and how the team conducted themselves on and off the court. They gained a lot of respect there.”

Tiu said credit should go to the Knights, who played an inspired ballgame despite the absence of suspended team captain Fran Yu.

“Give credit to Letran. They played great,” he said.

“They showed why they were champions. They made the right adjustments. We just got beat, so I tip my hat off to them.”

After falling short of making the Final Four in Season 97, Tiu worked doubly hard to whip his players into fighting form.

Aside from seeing action in the Filoil EcoOil Preseason Cup last August, the Blazers also played a friendly match against visiting professional club Bay Area to get a feel of high level basketball.

They looked good to win the title and their bond was even solidified when Jose Rizal University forward John Amores went on a punching spree in the second round of eliminations.

The Blazers finished the preliminaries on top with a 14-4 record, gaining enough confidence to shock San Beda University, 62-61, that sent them to a finals showdown with reigning champion Letran.

The Knights took Game 1, 81-75, before the Blazers gained the equalizer, 76-71.

But in the end, the experience and the tough defense of the Knights were too much to handle, prompting the Blazers to surrender the crown in a thrilling Game 3 encounter.

Still, the Blazers are far from done.

With only JC Cullar and Jimboy Pasturan graduating, the Blazers can still make another run in Season 99 behind Most Valuable Player Will Gozum, Migs Oczon, Miggy Corteza, Prince Carlos and Robi Nayve.

Nayve leading the charge.

“I have a lot to improve on,” Gozum said.

“I just have to accept that and challenge myself next year.”

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