Mapua rallies behind injured CJ Isit to beat San Sebastian

On the lookout for a much needed support for his top guns, Mapua coach Atoy Co got what he wanted against San Sebastian College, with Exequiel Biteng, Darell Menina and Justin Serrano taking turns in delivering the goods.

The Cardinals’ supporting cast came up big on Friday, compounding the woes of the struggling Golden Stags, 88-75, while quickly getting their 92nd NCAA seniors basketball title bid back on track at The Arena in San Juan City.

Smarting from a numbing 75-96 setback dealt by top title contender Arellano U last Tuesday, Mapua suffered an early blow when team skipper CJ Isit injured his right middle finger late in the first canto, forcing him to watch helplessly from the bench.

The Cardinals, however, rallied behind the fallen Isit, with Biteng initially taking up the cudgels before the likes of Menina and Serrano backed up Oraeme during their telling breakaway in the second half that left the Golden Stags in the cold.

“We really needed (to win) this game,” said Co as his charges chalked up their fifth win in six games ahead of their own killer stretch starting with host San Beda on July 28.

Good thing for him, Biteng made his presence felt, firing away 17 of his game-high 19 points in the first half, while three other locals, including Menina, added at least 12 markers that proved enough to help ease the load from the 6-foot-9 Oraeme, who also bounced back after a listless showing against the Chiefs when he fouled out late in the third frame.

“Si Allwell talaga ang heart and soul san gitna namin,” said Co of their prized Nigerian import who collected 13 points, 22 rebounds, five assists and as many blocks. “Importante talaga na andu’n siya. At pag wala si Allwell, dapat mag-step-up ‘yung lahat para ma-compensate.”

Menina, who played under the weather the last time out, certainly heeded Co’s call. “May lagnat ako last time at hindi ko talaga kaya lumaro. Kaya bumawi na lang ako. Nag-step up lang rin ako kasi wala si CJ. Buti buweana naman,” he said.

“He played very well today,” said Co of Menina, who knocked down three triples, the last giving Mapua an insurmountable 83-65 lead midway.

Biteng, who already drilled in five triples in the first half, was also pleased that they have gained a morale-booster, saying: “Masaya kami kasi last game down na down kami. Tambak kami, blowout ‘yung game.”

A share of credit should also be given to Serrano, who tallied all of his six points during the Cardinals’ strong closeout in the third, enabling them to turn a 56-51 lead into an 11-point buffer, paving the way for a cruising finish.

Justine Mercado tallied 18 markers and 11 rebounds while Regille Ilagan sustained his fiery form from beyond the arc, spiking his 17-point output with five triples, but the Golden Stags still suffered their fourth straight loss in five matches. – By Jerome Lagunzad

The scores:

MAPUA (88) – Biteng 19, Menina 15, Estrella 14, Oraeme 13, Eriobue 12, Isit 7, Serrano 6, Orquina 2, Aguirre 0, Bunag 0, Victoria 0

SAN SEBASTIAN (75) – Mercado 18, Ilagan 17, Calisaan 9, Quipse 7, Capobres 6, Valdez 6, Fabian 5, Johnson 5, Bulanadi 2, Baetiong 0, David 0, Calma 0

Quarterscores: 20-all; 51-42; 64-53; 88-75.