(STAR) By Gerry Carpio – Team Philippines averted the specter of a looming shutout day with near-misses in five events but struck for two gold medals late Friday night through US-trained tankers and closed the day with a tally of three golds overall in the 24th Southeast Asian Games here.

Miguel Molina and Ryan Arabejo claimed victories for the embattled Filipino athletes at His Majesty The King’s 80th Birthday Anniversary Aquatic Center after the contingent missed the gold in cycling, wrestling and athletics.

The Filipinos also won six bronze medals in the day when the highly fancied RP basketball team demolished Cambodia, 136-82, even as the souped-up cagebelles failed to see action after the organizers flip-flopped for the nth time on game schedule.

But Team RP fuelled hopes of a golden splurge in boxing by sending nine fighters to the semifinals, led by the fancied women’s squad.

While Arabejo, a US-trained Olympic Solidarity scholar, had an easy time beating Singapore’s Zach Ong with a clocking of two minutes and 05.86 seconds in the 200m backstroke, Molina needed a last-gasp rush to win by a touch.

The three-time winner in 2005 found himself trailing after two legs of the 400m individual medley but used his superior skills in the breaststroke to catch up with Mohammad Nasution of Indonesia.

The two swam side by side the rest of the way before Molina won by a touch, his clocking of 4:28.85 just six-hundredths of a second ahead of Nasution.

Those medals put Team Philippines’ gold-silver-bronze tally to 3-8-9 for fifth, its total haul not even coming close to host Thailand’s front-running 33 golds. Vietnam is a far second with a 14-7-20 count, followed by Singapore’s 11-10-10.

“These wins should boost us,” said POC president Jose Cojuangco Jr. “I hope all our other athletes take the cue from these wonderful athletes and individuals and follow suit.”

After delivering the first gold for Team RP, courtesy of Joey Barba in the men’s downhill mountain bike event Thursday, cycling produced a silver yesterday with Eusebio Quinones finishing second in the men’s cross country event.

Four other RP bets claimed silver medals, including athletics’ Julius Sermona in the men’s 5,000m run, Rosie Villarito in the women’s javelin throw, and Mary Grace Milgar in women’s 400m hurdles and wrestler Marcus Valda in men’s 84kg freestyle event.

The Philippines also settled for six bronze medals through athletics’ Eliezer Sunang in men’s shot put and Jobert Delicano in triple jump, cycling’s Nino Surban in men’s cross country and Maritess Bitbit in women’s cross country, and wrestlers Maribel Jambora in women’s 48kg freestyle, and Ma. Christina Vergara in 51kg freestyle.

Boxer Josie Gabunco crushed tough Yen Vu Thie Hai of Vietnam, 9-6, in a grand debut in the 48 kg class and joined the proud march of Filipino boxers to the semifinal round.

Analisa Cruz, the 2005 bronze medalist, also gained headway in her quest for gold as she clobbered SooAyi Chaw of Myanmar, 28-12, in the 52 kg category in the other quarterfinal match.

With entry of world-caliber male boxers, the national boxing team is concentrating on the women’s team which won four gold medals – against three by the men – in the 2005 SEA Games in Manila.

Godfrey Castro halted Laotian Chanthasone Xayyaphone in a referee-stopped contest in the third round of their 51 kg class.

They join early semifinalists Annie Albania (50 kg), Jouveliet Chilem (54 kg), Mitchel Martinez (60 kg) in the women’s division and Vicente Vicera (45 kg), Orlando Tacuyan (57 kg), and Junie Tizon (75 kg) in the men’s who all made it to the semis by the luck of the draw..

The only boxer competing against a Thai in the semifinals is Vicera, who will battle Pongprayoon Kaeo in the 45 kg category at the start of the semifinals Dec. 11.

The beach volleyball team also got off to a smashing start, with Michelle Laborte and Michelle Carolino crushing the Laotian team, 21-13, 21-13, in the first match in Pool A.

In Pool B, Heidi Ilustre and Dianne Pascua made mincemeat of the Malaysian team, 21-11, 21-11 as they paved the way for what could be an all-Filipino final.

The baseball team announced its title retention bid in the six-team competition with a big blast. It peppered Malaysia with 21 hits en route to a 31-0 route.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved