MANILA, June 21, 2004
By Joey Villar  -  The first time is always the sweetest.

Banking on clutch defensive plays down the stretch, Viva-FEU made sure it wouldn’t let the title slip away this time as it finished off Welcoat Paints, 60-55, in four games yesterday for its first PBL title — the Unity Cup — at the packed Pasig Sports Center.

After the final buzzer sounded, Viva players and their supporters whooped it up on the court to celebrate the victory, which, they hope, wouldn’t be their last. In the finals of the same conference last year, Viva absorbed a painful loss to Hapee Toothpaste.

"We’ve always believed that having a positive attitude produces positive results. We return all the glory to God," said Viva coach Koy Banal, who received the traditional victory ride and gave his players and fellow team officials a tearful hug.

It was the first title in five PBL conferences for Banal, now hoping that the victory carries on to the forthcoming 67th UAAP season where he will continue to call the shots for defending champion FEU. The core of the Viva team is made up of FEU players — past and present.

Warren Ybańez, the smallest man on the court, came up with some of the biggest plays. Despite scoring only two points, he finished with 10 rebounds, six assists and a steal to earn him the coveted Series MVP award as Viva won the best-of-five series, 3-1.

Cesar Catli, Dennis Miranda and rookie Neil Raneses also delivered the goods.

Catli was a cool assassin with his 13 points while Miranda, FEU’s starting pointguard, kept his steady form with 11 points, five rebounds and three assists. Raneses sizzled with 12 points, including five in a pivotal fourth-quarter run.

Conference MVP Arwind Santos, the 2002 top rookie in the UAAP, was limited to six points but shone on defense. The native of Lubao, Pampanga, had five shot blocks and made it very difficult for the Paint Masters to score inside the paint.

Gerard Jones, Mark Isip and Jason Misolas provided the extra strength for Viva.

Welcoat made its move in the second quarter by turning a 16-16 deadlock into a 30-22 lead. The Paint Masters kept that lead until the last three minutes of the third quarter.

Miranda and Raneses, this year’s top pick, then turned things around for Viva which tied the count at 43 going into the final quarter. Raneses, Santos and Catli then took their turn, teaming up in a 13-5 run to finish off the Paint Masters.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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