With two consecutive trips to the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Incorporated (CeSAFI) finals that included a heart-breaking game five defeat against the Southwestern University Cobras, the Warriors made sure not to let it happen again and dethroned a 10-time CeSAFI champion this season. It is a clear message sent by the team that not only have they given birth to a new era of USC Basketball, but also the hard fact that they are no longer a laughing stock when it comes to talking hoops. The story goes way back in history, specifically in 1959, when USC won its last championship in a major basketball league, which was the Cebu Collegiate Athletic Association.
Heading into game five of the finals, UV was already eyeing for their 11th CeSAFI championship, while USC looked to make history by winning its first ever CeSAFI crown, 15 years after the league’s inauguration. Throughout the years, USC struggled to make an identity for themselves as a basketball team until the year 2007, when USC finally made it to the finals and took their opponent to the brink in a fifth and deciding match. The opponent? Coincidentally the UV Green Lancers.
After a tough loss that year, USC only managed to make it back to the finals in 2014 where they faced the SWU Cobras. That series went down to the wire in five games where Shooster Olago was shut down and was only limited to just four points in game five.
Since CeSAFI’s inaugural season in 2001-02, the Green Lancers had their way winning championships after championships until the UC Webmasters defeated them in the finals during the 2008-09 season, ending the Lancers’ 9-year reign as CeSAFI champions.
The Webmasters went on to win back-to-back titles from the 2008-09 to the 2009-10 season, led by CeSAFI legend and now Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Most Valuable Player, June Mar Fajardo.
The Warriors have taken their game a step higher, earning themselves another ticket to the finals. A handful of sports enthusiasts expressed that when USC already led the series 2-1, the Warriors had to beat UV in game 4 because if ever the Warriors allow the Lancers to extend the series to a fifth and deciding game, the experienced Lancers will defeat the Warriors.
True as those predictions were, the Lancers came out, looking like the 10-time champion of old as they started the game 6-0 and ended the quarter with a commanding 17-6 advantage.
With the Warriors’ aggressive offense, Lancer center and import, Steve Akomo, who stands a towering 6″10′ repertoire, committed his second personal foul at the 8:25 mark of the second quarter, allowing the Warriors to capitalize with their size advantage while Akomo was forced to be seated on the bench, trimming the Lancer’s lead to just five at the half, 30-25.
Coming out their half-time huddle, the Lancers’ robust zone defense came swarming each time the ball was tossed underneath to the Warriors’ big men, which allowed the Lancers to have their biggest lead of the game at 12.
The Warriors went back to their aggressive offense led by Ian Tagapan and Ian Ortega that eventually forced Akomo to commit his fourth foul with still eight minutes to go in the final quarter of the series.
The game was tied at 46 apiece until the play that changed the entire momentum of the game happened — a steal and a thunderous slam by Shooster Olago in the open court with Akomo trailing him, who could do nothing except to stare as he was restricted with his four fouls.
Olago, after being clouded by the Lancer defense in games three and four, allowing him to score only 10 and 12 points respectively, the Cameroonian import delivered a performance that will be remembered for a long time — he made it sure this time that his bitter memories of game five last season was a thing of the past, leading the Warriors by exploding for 10 straight points along with a couple of pesky second chance points and what better time could he deliver such performance than in a championship-or-bust deciding game against a proven Lancers team. At this point, the Warriors now took a 6-point lead, 54-48, over the Lancers with 6:30 left in the fourth.
USC coach Britt Reroma managed to establish an efficient defense-by-committee with his guards Kiefer Lim and Giovanni Laguyo, who pushed the quarter’s dying minutes in favor of USC’s phase. Mythical five member Charles Pepito, who averaged 11 rebounds per game, was all over the floor grabbing rebounds after rebound, tapping the ball to his teammates to earn another 24 seconds. All efforts mixed together formed one of the most amazing comebacks in CeSAFI finals history after being down the entire first three quarters of game five.
The Warriors continued to grind at both ends of the court making each of the Lancers’ run a little bit too late. The Lancers, at this moment, did not know what just hit them as they could not just seem to find a way to stop the bleeding caused by the Warriors. Nico Magat of the Warriors also hit the dagger trey to push the lead to double-digits in the dying minutes of the game.
Finally, when the final buzzer sounded with a final score of 64-53, the entire Warriors bench along with Carolinians hugged each other and exchanged hands on court, officially calling themselves champions. Players also gathered around coach Julian Macoy, who once scored 126 points and one of the seven surviving members of the USC team that won the crown in 1959. Most Valuable Player Shooster Olago, who once expressed his desire to go back home in Cameroon, will surely want to make it another run next season and defend the throne.
While the awarding ceremony was done at center court, Carolinian fans were simultaneously singing the USC hymn proudly raising their fists. This first ever championship will be carved in history.
This year, Warriors fans showed to Cebu that if such a divided nation manages to rally behind a single basketball team through Gilas, how much more in a university, whose seven colleges fervently cheer for their respective teams in its annual intramurals and that if the School of Engineering students manage to cheer their hearts out in the yearly pop jazz competitions, how much more all the seven schools cheering for one team.
This year, Carolinians have finally realized that if united, they sum up a total of over 20,000 strong, making them the strongest in numbers.
On behalf of the entire Carolinian community, thank you and congratulations to our USC Warriors for winning their first ever CeSAFI championship and for an unforgettable run this season! We will keep on running with you wherever you will lead us. Vamos!