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BULLDOGS AVENGE LOSS, ADVANCE TO FINALS

The top-ranked Okkodo Bulldogs move on to face the defending champion Southern Dolphins in the championship Friday.

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By Patrick Lujan

Redemption serves as one of the major motivating factors in the sports world today.

Although they were the top seed and riding a 10-game win streak, the Okkodo Bulldogs had that extra motivating factor going into Tuesday night’s IIAAG Girls Basketball League semifinals. Their opponent, the fifth-ranked Academy Cougars, handed them their lone loss in the opening game of the season and that’s what was on their minds.

“We wanted this real bad because they are the only ones who beat us the whole season,” said senior Okkodo guard Keann Castro, who came up huge for the Bulldogs with 18 points.

Okkodo pulled away from a tight game at the start of the fourth quarter and never looked back, beating the Cougars 57-50 to advance to the championship game Friday night against the defending champion Southern Dolphins. The score was eerily close to their game one game in which the Cougars won 56-50 in late October.

The decisive moments came early in the fourth quarter after both teams traded blows with three lead changes and two ties through the third quarter.

A very calm shooter, Bulldogs Ke'ann Castro releases her shot with defenders in her path. (photo by Jose Perez)

A very calm shooter, Bulldogs Ke’ann Castro releases her shot with defenders in her path. (photo by Jose Perez)

Holding a slim 41-39 lead, Castro came up with a huge 3-pointer that banked off the backboard two minutes into the final period.

“I thought I was going to miss, but I was praying that it was going to go in, and it went in,” the 2nd team All-Island guard said. “I was really thinking it was going to miss.”

On the ensuing possession, Castro came up with a huge defensive play, picking the offensive pocket and driving coast-to-coast for a layup with Kali “Special K” Benavente all over her defensively. As the ball dropped through the net, the home crowd went into a frenzy and pretty much sucked the air out of the Cougars’ hopes of going to the title game for the fourth straight year.

“They were saying it was a travel, but I wasn’t going to wait for the whistle to blow,” Castro said about her big defensive play and fastbreak conversion. She shot 8-for-16 on the night.

Academy would come no closer than five points the rest of the way as senior leader Felicia “Fearless” Borja controlled the game late to avoid any dramatic comeback.

Okkodo got off to a hot start, jumping out to a 7-0 lead before fouls gave way to an Academy charge that saw them take a 12-11 lead. Starters Borja, Lori Okada and Jeshyne Sablan all picked up two fouls in the opening quarter, putting the Cougars into the bonus with 3:25 left in the first.

Bulldogs Felicia Borja releases her shot at the top of the key. (photo by Jose Perez

Bulldogs Felicia Borja releases her shot at the top of the key. (photo by Jose Perez)

Academy charged out to a 24-21 halftime lead as it took advantage of Borja sitting on the bench after she picked up her third foul midway through the second quarter. Benavente scored 10 of her 24 points in the second quarter.

The Okkodo defense adjusted properly on Benavente in the second half as it frustrated the junior star to miss eight straight shots. Kiersten Pangelinan did all she could to keep the Cougars alive scoring 11 of her 13 points in the second half.

Despite two early fouls, Okada came up big with eight rebounds and four blocked shots for the Bulldogs.

Turnovers were huge as the Cougars committed 22 turnovers while the Bulldogs had 16.

Okkodo Leaders

Borja: 6-15 (FG), 4-7 (FT), 16 pts, 7 reb, 5 ast, 3 stls

Castro: 8-16 (FG), 0-1 (FT), 18 pts, 3 stls

Bulala: 3-8 (FG), 3-6 (FT), 9 pts, 2 blks

Academy Leaders

Benavente: 9-21 (FG), 6-6 (FT), 24 pts, 8 reb, 2 ast, 3 stls

Pangelinan: 6-11 (FG), 1-2 (FT), 13 pts

Villanueva: 9 rebs

Championship Preview

The Bulldogs blew out the visiting Dolphins 71-49 on Veteran’s Day, largely in part because the Dolphins sat down superstar April Talledo in the first quarter – a quarter Okkodo jumped ahead 29-0.

The Bulldogs understand that Southern will be out to repeat and expect a heavy dose of Talledo come Friday night.

“We can’t be cocky, but we will be confident. We have to prove to others that we can do this,” Castro added.

Other Game

Southern 55, JFK 48

PHOTO GALLERY:

Okkodo Bulldogs fans  celebrate after beating the Academy Cougars. (photo by Jose Perez)

Okkodo Bulldogs fans celebrate after beating the Academy Cougars. (photo by Jose Perez)

Cougars Caroline Poppe releases her shot for 2 points under the rim. (photo by Jose Perez)

Cougars Caroline Poppe releases her shot for two points under the rim. (photo by Jose Perez)

Bulldogs Shania Bulala has an open lane for an easy two point. (photo by Jose Perez)

Bulldogs Shania Bulala has an open lane for an easy two points. (photo by Jose Perez)

Opening tip off for the Academy Cougars vs the Okkodo Bulldogs. (photo by Jose Perez)

Opening tip off for the Academy Cougars vs the Okkodo Bulldogs. (photo by Jose Perez)

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