MANILA, February 9, 2004  (STAR) By Joey Villar - Pitted against a team teeming with talent, Fash Liquid Power leaned on its experience to score one of the stunning reversals in the Philippine Basketball League.

No, it was actually the second straight time that Fash had pulled off such a trick as it came from a similar 1-2 series deficit to turn back Viva Mineral Water and snatch the Sunkist-Unity Cup last year.

Too bad for Welcoat, it went the way Viva did. But too good for Fash, those victories could herald the emergence of a new dynasty in the country’s premier amateur league.

Fash coach Junel Baculi pointed to his wards’ experience as the factor that carried them to the win although by fighting back from 0-1 and 1-2 deficits, the team also showed its resiliency and determination.

The Liquid Power, of course, likewise played with sheer guts and a big fighting heart, particularly in Games Four and Five. But for Baculi, the victory only proved that experience was the best offense for his team.

"Our experience spelled the difference at saka ang mga bata ko talagang determinadong manalo kaya kahit sa depensa grabe sila," said Baculi, moments after the title-clinching 61-55 victory in the PBL Platinum Cup finals at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig City last Saturday.

"If you can still remember in our finals series against Viva (Mineral Water), we were also down 1-2 but we managed to tie the series and force a rubber match," said Baculi, who now shares the honors with Sta. Lucia coach Alfrancis Chua as the winningest coach in the league with seven titles each.

"In the deciding game, the result was only decided in the final second when Gerard Jones missed a shot that could have won them the series. So we learned to fight until the end no matter what the score is because of that experience," he added.

Eugene Tan underscored Fash’s advantage in experience as the veteran cager, who had nine finals appearances, including six with a winning team, proved to be the galvanizing factor that kept the team together

Little did everybody know that the three games which Fash won in the series, Tan hardly churned out big offensive numbers, but made up for this by shackling the top guns of the other team.

"Basta ako laro lang ng laro, kung ano ang pinapagawa sa akin ginagawa ko," said the 26-year-old former University of Manila standout. "Pero ang role ko talaga sa team na ito ay bilang isang leader."

Tan’s shining moments came in Games 4 and 5 where he compiled 11 points, five rebounds, 12 assists, eight steals and a blocked shot typifying how he plays under pressure.

"Kabisado ko na iyang si Eugene, alam kong siya ang magdadala ng team dahil bukod sa beterano na, matapang at malakas pa ang loob. Kaya sa tingin ko siya ang susi sa panalo naming ito," Baculi said.

Fash’s defense was actually so unforgiving that Yap and Jojo Tangkay, Welcoat’s 1-2 punch, failed to deliver the goods when the Paint Masters needed them most.

Heroes actually abound in Fash roster as Larry Fonacier and Wesley Gonzales stepped up to backstop the team’s defensive stock.

Fash victory also turned out to be a fruitful one for Peter June Simon, who aside from winning the MVP plum over Tangkay and Yap, he also emerged as the series’ MVP owing to superb performances in Games 2 and 4.

Sure, the likes of Simon, Gonzales, Niño Gelig and Rich Alvarez will not be around in the next Fash campaign, but with Tan, Fonacier and Allan Salangsang around, the Liquid Power are in good hands — experience-wise.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved