ALL the signs were there that San Miguel Beer’s stranglehold on the PBA Philippine Cup championship has loosened.
Pride and the indomitable heart of a champion kept the Beermen going, but simply put, they were not enough.
Meralco ended SMB’s aspirations for a sixth straight All-Filipino title by scoring an emphatic 90-68 victory last Sunday to wrap up their quarterfinals duel at the Smart 5G-powered AUF Sports Arena in Angeles City.
The win, the fifth-ranked Bolts’ second straight in the match-up, sent them to their first semifinals appearance in the tourney since acquiring the old Sta. Lucia Realty franchise in 2010.
That explains why coach Norman Black feels he’s on top of the world.
“I’m just happy for the players, I’m happy for the management, I’m happy for the company that we finally got to the semifinals in the PBA All-Filipino conference,” he said.
It was a feeling SMB coach Leo Austria had experienced since the Beermen’s title run started in the 2014-15 season. The team had wanted to extend the streak under these extraordinary times of playing in a bubble due to the pandemic but it was never meant to be.
“Our players tried their best, but it’s hard because in order for us to win games like this it needs a lot of preparation and it’s hard for us to prepare because of the injuries to our players,” Austria said moments after the bitter loss.
“We wanted to win. But the problem is, how can we win with the kind of situation we’re experiencing?” he added, referring to the injuries nursed by Mo Tautuaa (knee), Chris Ross (hamstring), Marcio Lassiter (groin) and Alex Cabagnot (hamstring), which were all by-products of having to play almost every other day and sometimes even two straight days.
All those went on top of SMB playing minus June Mar Fajardo (leg fracture) and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser (opt out) before losing Terrence Romeo to a dislocated shoulder right in the Beermen’s second game inside the bubble.
“Nag-pile up ng husto,” rued Austria.
Still, the Beermen plodded on, even going on a four-game winning streak at one point en route to the No. 4 spot and the last twice-to-beat incentive in the quarterfinals.
But SMB’s struggles have become apparent to anybody with a keen eye and Meralco readily pounced, scoring a 78-71 victory in the series opener last Friday.