MANILA, MARCH 31, 2008
(STAR) By Joaquin Henson Monday, March 31, 2008 WBC superfeatherweight champion Manny Pacquiao almost landed a knockout blow on the PBA Legends but his running desperation triple at the buzzer fell short of the hoop as the former pros escaped with a 96-94 squeaker over the Philippine Army in an exhibition game at the Wellness Center in Fort Bonifacio late Saturday afternoon.

Pacquiao, a Master Sergeant in the reserves, played on the Army squad that included six generals – incoming Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano, PMA superintendent Lt. Gen. Leopoldo Maligalig, Central Command head Lt. Gen. Victor Ibrado, Northern Luzon Command head Lt. Gen. Rodrigo Maclang, GHQ internal auditor Brig. Gen. Nestor Ochoa and Army internal auditor Brig. Gen. Charly Holganza.

The Legends, sponsored by San Miguel Corp., came in full force. The team was composed of Allan Caidic, Alvin Patrimonio, Hector Calma, Chito Loyzaga, Ryan Gregorio, Joseph Uichico, Peter Martin, Siot Tanquingcen, Pido Jarencio, Art de la Cruz, Biboy Ravanes and comedian Jimmy Santos. Samboy Lim, recovering from knee surgery, sat on the bench with team manager San Miguel assistant vice president Robert Non.

The game was the culmination of a month-long celebration of the Army’s 111th anniversary. Secretary of National Defense Gilbert Teodoro Jr., who came with wife Tarlac Rep. Nikki Prieto-Teodoro and son Jaime, said the exhibition was not only in honor of the Filipino soldier but also a tribute to the Army’s support system – the family and friends of those who put their lives on the line for the country.

Teodoro thanked Pacquiao for making time in his busy schedule to attend to the responsibilities of an Army reservist. He said Pacquiao’s “physical well-being is of national interest” because the world champion is a source of pride for all Filipinos.

Pacquiao, wearing No. 106 and playing point guard, fired the Army’s first six points and led a spirited rally down the stretch to nearly pull the rug from under the Legends.

After Maclang tied it at 88-all, Caidic rifled in a triple with 2:51 left. Then, Santos, providing comic relief in a Harlem Globetrotters routine, passed the ball to the referees who conspired to score a breakaway layup for the Legends. Pacquiao countered with a difficult reverse bank shot on a penetration but Caidic hit another trey to make it 96-90. Yano sank a runner to cut the deficit to four before Pacquiao brought the crowd to its feet by throwing the ball off the board and catching it in mid-air to score a reverse layup.

With time running out, Pacquiao stole the ball and raced in for a layup but blew a heartbreaker that would’ve knotted the count. After the Legends missed on the return play, Pacquiao grabbed the rebound, dribbled quickly past the time line and threw up a Hail Mary triple at the buzzer. If the shot went in, the Army would’ve won by one. But Pacquiao failed to connect, leaving the Legends on top, 96-94.

“It was a fun game but we tried our best to make it close,” said Holganza who used to contribute sports articles to newspapers and magazines when he was assigned in Kidapawan. “This goodwill game was the first in Army history and we thank Secretary Teodoro for making it possible. It was a perfect way to end the celebration of the Army’s anniversary and a testament to our motto – ‘Team Army, strong and united towards peace and development.’”

The generals, particularly Yano, surprised the Legends by playing tough. They earned their minutes playing alongside regular mainstays of the Army squad, including ex-pro Ato Morano, Jeffrey Quiambao, 6-5 Erecson Araman, skipper Gregorio Malapit and Sonny Manucat. Absent from the lineup were ex-pros Eugene Tan and Allan Salangsang.

Yano, who was assigned in General Santos City in 2004, invited Pacquiao to play. Pacquiao, who flew in from his hometown the other day, said he was proud to wear the Army colors.

“Basketball helps my boxing,” said Pacquiao. “It sharpens my reflexes, keeps me in condition and improves my footwork.”

Teodoro said the game was also to thank the civilian community for joining hands with the Army in providing the support system for the soldiers in the frontline.

Caidic spewed fire in the fourth quarter and finished with a game-high 33 points, punctuated by seven triples. The Army held an eight-point lead in the third period but the Legends stormed back behind Caidic’s hot hand to take over the driver’s seat for good, 88-86, time down to 3:29.

Santos, playing “spy,” had the audience rolling with laughter when early in the game, he rebounded a Pacquiao miss only to pass the ball to the fighter who promptly hit a jumper on the assist. Santos, however, made up for it in the fourth quarter by passing the ball to a referee who sank a layup for the Legends.

“I thought Manny would knock us out,” said the 56-year-old Santos who played 13 games for 7-Up during the PBA’s inaugural season in 1975. “I’m glad it was basketball we played, not boxing. Manny plays with intensity just like when he fights in the ring. I like his style because he’s not afraid to take the ball strong inside even if he’s up against bigger defenders.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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