ST. Clare College-Caloocan moved one step closer to its second title in five years, beating top seed Our Lady of Fatima, 72-67, in Game 1 of the best-of-three title showdown in the 16th NAASCU men’s basketball tournament at the Makati Coliseum.
The Saints established as much as an 18-point lead, 64-46, early in the fourth period but needed the big plays of Aris Dionisio and Steve Fongue in the stretch to finish off the hard-fighting Phoenix.
The Caloocan City-based Saints of NAASCU chairman Dr. Ernesto Jay Adalem and coach Jinino Manansala will go for the title at 4 p.m. today also at Makati Coliseum.
Game 3, if necessary, will be played on Saturday.
Dionisio and Fongue scored 14 of St. Clare’s 18 points in the fourth quarter in a brilliant 1-2 punch that helped the Saints overcome Phoenix’s one-man wrecking crew, Joseph Marquez.
Dionisio finished with 13 points for the Saints, including a critical three-point play inside the final two minutes to cut short a 12-0 run by the Phoenix that saw them come to within 58-64.
Dionisio, who was named as ‘Best Player of the Game’, added 22 rebounds and seven big blocks.
Jordan Rios topscored for St. Clare with 15 pounts, Michael De Leon added 12, Junkoe Hallare had 10 and Fongue had nine points.
Marquez almost singlehandedly carried the fight for Fatima with 36 points, more than half of the team’s total output. The high-scoring Fatima team captain had 15 fourth-quarter points in a gallant effort to turn the game around.
Jerome Juanico was the only other double-digit scorer for the Ralph Emerson Rivera-mentored Phoenix with 11 markers.
St. Clare bagged the title in 2012 and finished runner-up to Centro Escolar University in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Fatima is making its first finals appearance in eight years in the league.
Also scheduled today are Fames 2 in the junior and women’s division with AMA University and Enderun Colleges gunning for the title-clinching victories over St. Clare and Rizal Technological University, respectively.
PBA legend Fritz Gaston is the commissioner.
St. Clare (72) -- Rios 15, Dionisio 13. De Leon 12, Hallare 10, Fongue 9, Rebugio 4, Santos 4, Palencia 2, Puspus 2. Managuenod 1.
Fatima (67) -- Marquez 36, Juanico 11, Cabrera 6. Bargola 4, Japzon 3, Pedrosa 3, Datu 2, Perea 2, Albano 0, Gozum 0, Essomba 0, Penanel 0.
Quarterscores: 16-16, 33-27, 54-42, 72-67. A. Andaya