(STAR) By Nelson Beltran -  Sta. Lucia Realty completed last night one of the most improbable championship runs in PBA history, ending a seven-year title drought with a conquest of the more fancied Purefoods Tender Juicy Giants in their Smart Philippine Cup finals showdown.

Never among the title favorites before the start of the tourney, the Realtors emerged the surprise champions as they upended the Giants, 100-88, in a classic Game Seven watched by a sellout crowd at the Araneta Coliseum.

Coach Boyet Fernandez and his gallant troops overcame Purefoods in a gripping battle, denying the Giants what could have been a record-tying fifth All-Filipino championship.

It was a historic moment for the Realtors who won only their second title in franchise history. Their previous championship came in the 2001 Governors Cup.

Skipper Dennis Espino took charge in a decisive romp in the fourth quarter, leading the Realtors to the victory. The former UST King Tiger edged out Kelly Williams for the Finals MVP award.

When the smoke of battle cleared, the Realtors themselves couldn’t believe everything they accomplished in the tourney.

Their biggest accomplishment was, of course, handing the franchise its first All-Filipino crown since joining the league in 1993. Along the way, the Realtors recorded many other firsts for the ball club – an eight-game streak, 12 wins in all in the eliminations and automatic entry into the semifinals.

The Realtors posted a 20-12 win-loss record in the entire run of the tourney. Curiously, the ball club finished only sixth in last year’s Philippine Cup and won only 18 games throughout the campaign last season.

Engineering the team’s big turnaround was Fernandez, a 36-year-old licensed nurse who was never part of any champion team in his playing career from 1993-05.

His biggest achievements as a pro player were winning the league’s three-point shootout for two consecutive years (2000-01) and being an alternate in the all-pro RP team to the 2002 Busan Asian Games.

A former RP Youth player and member of the star-studded RP team in the 1991 SEA Games, Fernandez credited much of their success on the all-out support of the management, guidance of governor Buddy Encarnado, valuable help of his coaching staff and the hard work and dedication of his players.

The two teams engaged in a nip-and-tuck battle before Espino presided over a lethal 11-to-nothing run that moved Sta. Lucia in front to stay at 90-80.

The Purefoods, threatening to score yet another epic comeback after trailing 0-2 and 2-3 in the series, had its last taste of the lead at 80-79 on back-to-back three-pointers by James Yap.

The Realtors finished the Giants off on a 20-9 closing run, ending their seven-year championship itch.

“It’s beyond expectation and this All-Filipino championship means a lot to us,” said Buddy Encarnado, the team’s board representative since their entry in the league in 1993.

“We’re not here on sheer luck. We worked hard for this since day one. I take pride that we’re the league’ best defensive team and this carried us to victory,” Encarnado added.

“Finally, we’ve got an All-Filipino championship. We worked hard for this. And hopefully, masundan pa ng marami,” said Espino.

The 6-foot-6 veteran went 9-of-12 from the field and finished with a game-high 29 points that went with five rebounds, one steal and one block in 31 minutes of action.

Kelly Williams, the Best Player of the Conference awardee, helped a lot as he came back strong from a mediocre nine-point showing in Game Six, putting in 17 points and 15 rebounds.

Williams logged 14 points and nine rebounds just in the first half.

Peter June Simon, Kerby Raymundo, James Yap and Marc Pingris carried the cudgels for the Giants as they took the first quarter at 21-18 and the half at 45-44.

The Realtors actually started the game with a 6-1 run but couldn’t sustain the fire while shooting only 36.6 percent from the field in the first 24 minutes of play. The Giants converted 43.2 percent of their 37 shots.

Purefoods also lorded it over the boards with Pingris accounting 10 of their 29 rebounds as against the Realtors’ 18.

Bustamante settles for second in Guinness 9-ball Monday, March 3, 2008

TAIWAN – Hometown bet Jung-Lin Chang got off to a hot start yesterday and that was all he needed to beat Filipino Joven Bustamante, 11-5, in the finals of the 2008 Guinness 9-Ball Tour opening leg at the Taipei Gymnasium here

Chang, the tour’s reigning overall champion, raced to a 5-1 lead against the top-ranked Bustamante, wavered a bit then poured it on to take a 10-5 lead in the finals of the tournament featuring 24 of Asia’s best players.

Bustamante, one of five Filipinos in the tour, advanced to the finals in his first stint in the Guinness Tour when he defeated reigning junior world champion Ko Pin-yi, 9-7.

After taking a 5-1 lead, Chang faced some challenge from Bustamante who swept the seventh, eighth and ninth racks to close in at 4-5. But a couple of bad breaks in the succeeding racks gave the Taiwanese breathing room, 8-5.

Chang won the next three racks to wrap it up, and give the Taiwanese a needed headstart in the tour.

“Luck was not on my side this time around. Even though I broke cleanly and balls went down off the break, I was not given open looks at the table,” said Bustamante.

“I really need to give a hand to the skill of Chang. He was the better man out there. Being a first-timer in this series, I’m very proud of making it to the finals. I just hope that I could weather the pressure again and win the championship,” added Bustamante, a mainstay of Bugsy Promotions.

Chang pocketed $15,000 while Bustamante earned $6,000. The tour’s next stop will be in Penang, Malaysia, from April 4-6. It is sanctioned by the Asian Pocket Billiard Union (APBU) and organized by ESPN STAR Sports’ Event Management Group (EMG).

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved