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By Robert Balajadia
Against all odds and after an eight year drought, the FD Friars have recaptured the high school basketball crown by defeating the Okkodo Bulldogs in a defense dominated game 37-35 at the UOG Field House Friday night.
The Friars allowed just two points in the fourth quarter displaying a dominant defensive performance against one of the league’s top teams.
“The foundation of our program at FD is defense. I kept reminding them over and over that defense is what we are know for. We needed to make a stand and we needed to leave our stamp on that game tonight and that is exactly what we did that in the fourth quarter,” said Friars head coach Eddie Pelkey.
The Friars were the underdogs all playoff long and rose to the occasion in every game. They took down the high seeded St. Paul Warriors in the quarterfinals, the top ranked team in triple overtime in the JFK Islanders, and shutdown one of the league’s best offense in the Bulldogs to win it all.
“Since day one I set two goals, that I wanted them to work harder than anybody else and smarter than everybody else. I never talked about a championship. I told them as long as they work hard and work smart you will achieve the goal you ultimately have set. They finally bought into that after that loss to ND and it showed those three playoff games that we work harder and smarter than everybody else,” said Pelkey.
FD has won their first basketball title since 2006, snapping an 0-2 championship drought since.
No Friar scored double digit points with their leading scorer being Jeremiah Taitano with eight points. Merrill had nine rebounds and six assists netting only three points.
How Defense won the 2014 Championship
Trailing all game long, the FD Friars were heading into a fourth quarter that seemed all too familiar.
Down 33-30, the Friars got timely buckets from Nic Aglubat and big man Taitano to go up 34-33, but the hero down the stretch was Nick Clark who grabbed three steals in the fourth quarter to prevent the Bulldog guards from feeding their dangerous big men.
Bulldogs big man Jeddou Antonio got a good look on a layup but missed it allowing teammate Karl Melencio to try and tip in the shot to give the Bulldogs the lead though the ball rolled out with Merrill grabbing the rebound.
On the next possession the Friars ran a play for Clark to get open on the wing and Clark let loose a wide open three in front of the Friar crowd that sank, shifting the momentum entirely to the Friars.
“We needed to just stop them from penetrating. They are a hard scrappy team, not really a shooting team, and we just stayed on our feet,” said Clark.
Pelkey took a timeout with 2:20 left in the game and the Frairs shaved a near minute and a half before turning over the ball back to the Bulldogs with 35 seconds left.
The Bulldogs tried to go to Melencio on the following possession but Sakazaki forced Melencio into a tough spot where Melencio lost the ball out of bounds with 24 seconds left. Okkodo then fouled Friars’ guard Javier Dimla who missed the first of a one-on-one free throw to give the Bulldogs another chance to tie or take the lead still trailing 37-35.
Okkodo then tried to work the ball around to Antonio who stumbled on a pass attempt overthrowing teammate Randall Diego, giving the Friars the ball back with two seconds left.
Okkodo finished with 20 turnovers.
“We knew that no matter what defense would win us the game and the offense would find itself. We didn’t do anything special, we just played good man to man defense,” said Friar captain Bruce Merrill.
The Friars were leading with two seconds left facing a very similar situation as in their semifinal matchup against the Islanders.
Aglubat was the in bounder and was told to throw the ball ahead of the defense to a streaking teammate, but Aglubat overshot his target allowing the ball to bounce out of bounds giving the ball back to Okkodo with two seconds left.
Okkodo could not get a good look and inbounded to guard Vern Gustilo who tossed up a three pointer that was way short as the final buzzer sounded followed by the storming of the court by the Friar fan base.
“Once [Nic] threw the ball out of bounds I was mad, but then we just needed to play two hard seconds of defense,” said Merrill letting out a big sigh of relief.
Okkodo led 17-9 after the first quarter and still held on to the lead heading into the half leading 27-22.
Forward Garren Reyes got in foul trouble early and Antonio was in and out with of the game after bleeding and needed bandages which allowed Melencio to step in and provide a big lift. Melencio finished with 10 points and nine rebounds scoring majority of his points in the first half.
Ben Borja had six blocks and provided a nice defensive stand off the bench.
Eddie Pelkey – “It’s unbelievable. God had blessed us and we’re very thankful for the opportunities that were presented in front of us. I want to give a shot out to Kyle Condo. He was a kid who played for us in 2006 and he was the reason we won that championship. He passed away of leukemia two years ago and we’ve been playing for him the last six years and I’m so happy that we finally got one for him.”
Bruce Merrill – “I give all the props to my teammates for forcing those late two turnovers. We collectively wanted to make a strong defensive stand.”
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