SLR 93, Barako 97

On: 23 March 2010

Sammy Monroe

Sammy Monroe came up with the game expected of him. And so did Al Vergara,

With the two coming up big, Barako Coffee managed to waylay Sta. Lucia Realty 97-93 to open up its 2010 Fiesta Conference campaign on a very bright note.

Vergara's two clutch jumpers in the stretch preserved Monroe's beauty of a team-high 39 points and the Coffee Masters' first opening game win in two seasons at the Araneta Coliseum.

"Al has been there before," simply said Barako coach Junel Baculi of the grizzled point guard who played eight games with Purefoods in last season's Fiesta and is coming off a stint with the Singapore Slingers. "He's been in international competitions, with the national team and he's been in clutch situations before".

Those four straight points followed Monroe's tie-breaking charities and completely bailed the Coffee Masters out of a precarious 90-88 lead and into its first opening day win in a conference since the 2008 edition of the tournament.

The initial win is something to crow about, Baculi added, and should only boost the confidence of a vastly retooled franchise that has finished dead last in the last three conferences.

"I told the team to work hard because we want to prove something in this league, that we belong. Fortunately we won," said Baculi, himself a former assistant coach in Burger King, now Air21.

"But it doesn't stop there. We still have 17 (eliminations games) to go and it's such a long long way."

The Coffee Masters wound up making 37 of 69 field shots for 53.6 percent, the team's highest in a game in the last six conferences.

Sta. Lucia trailed by as many as 12 points in the third quarter but managed to make it a tight game, mainly though the efforts of Anthony Johnson, who sizzled for 41 points on top of 13 rebounds. The balik-import almost offset all those with eight turnovers, another game-high.

The Realtors managed to tie the count for the eighth and last time at 88, but simply could not match the Coffee Masters' homeward surge.

Johnson capped his performance with a three-point play that made it 91-94 and a pair of charities that pulled them within 93-95.

Each time, however, Monroe made the charities that kept Barako's head above water.

Leo Najorda was the lone other Barako player in double figures but, like Vergara, Rob Reyes, Rob Wainwright, Jojo Duncil and Yousif Aljamal contributed quality minutes through hustle and defense.

"We have players willing to accept their roles in the system," stressed Baculi, referring to new recruits Vergara, Wainwright and rookie Jerwin Gaco.

Gabby Espinas chipped in 14 points and nine rebounds and Ryan Reyes 13, seven and five assists. But the latter was saddled by foul trouble, as well as Kelly Williams, who only had six points.

Barako Coffee readily served notice of its intent right in the opening minutes, leading by seven in the first period and by six in the second.

Then Monroe, coming off a stint in the Mexican league, fully unloaded his vast repertoire of shots in the third period, making six of nine shots for 17 points in powering Barako to a 67-55 lead. (NC)

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