On the doorstep of a grand slam

August 17, 2019
San MIguel beermen - 2019 Champion
The Beermen celebrate their second crown this season as they moved within a conference of completing a rare grand slam by winning the Commissioner's Cup the other night.

IRONY is not lost on a San Miguel Beer team that bagged the PBA Commissioner’s Cup after going hot and cold in the early part of the elimination.

A thankful coach Leo Austria admitted they had lots of misgivings early in the tournament, unsure whether their campaign in the mid-season conference would bring his Beermen anywhere.

After all, the Beermen started their campaign on the wrong direction, losing to NorthPort (121-88) and to Talk ‘N Text (110-97) in a 0-2 start that raised questions on the second of three jewels they are chasing in the season.

Although they finally made the win column with a 127-106 spanking of Blackwater, the Beermen tumbled anew, losing to sister team Barangay Ginebra, 110-107.

Knowing full well the toughness of the import-laced conference, the Beermen struggled further the rest of the elimination, winning four of their last seven outings, as a result of which they barely made the playoff round.

"They brought the best out of our guys,” uttered Austria as he made his way to the press room to meet the sports scribes patiently waiting for him after that well-earned win in Game 6 over Talk ‘N Text last Friday.

“We never thought we would make the finals at the start of the conference. We're fortunate to win the championship," added Austria.

Actually, the odds were on the KaTropa who looked quite invincible owing to the presence of a hard-working import in Terrence Jones who showed his real cause that truly rubbed off on the KaTropa locals.

Unknowingly however, the Beermen were slowly peaking after groping for form most of the way back in the elimination.

By the time they played in the quarterfinals, the Beermen were already regaining their old form and that was well manifested by the two must-wins they pulled off against number 2 NorthPort.

They then advanced to the semifinals whey they disposed of Rain or Shine to set up a finals confrontation with interestingly the same KaTropa that beat them earlier in the elimination.

The Beermen lost the opener of the best-of-seven finals showdown with the KaTropa, and oddsmakers seemed to have a second thought now if the Beermen still stand a chance in the series.

They nevertheless fought the KaTropa to a 2-2 standoff before they decked them twice in a row to wrap up the series and their 27th championship in the pro league.

Now, talks of a grand slam began to pervade the air moments after that 102-90 Game 6 win last Friday in a win where the team’s big three in Chris McCullough, June Mar Fajardo and Christian Standhardinger, combined for 72 points and 32 rebounds in a rare show of their dominance simultaneously on a given night.

The Beermen thus clinched the second of the three jewels that make up the grand slam.

"Wala nang pupuntahan kami kung hindi doon," said Austria, referring to the grand slam that’s now the talk of the town. "We're targeting another championship. Double purpose ito dahil once makuha namin yung championship sa third conference, siguro mababalato na sa amin yung grand slam."

The Beermen came close to scoring a sweep of the season two years ago when they also bagged the 2017 Commissioner's Cup crown. But they were foiled in the season-ending Governors’ Cup by Justine Brownlee and Ginebra.

There are only five grand slams in the league's 43 years - two by legendary ballclub Crispa and one each by Alaska, San Mig and San Miguel's 1989 team coached by Norman Black and led by Mon Fernandez, Hector Calma and Samboy Lim.

The Beermen now have handsome chances of replicating that feat owing to the star-studded lineup.

"It would really be an honor kung makukuha namin ito because they are really longing for this grand slam," said Austria, who himself raised his enviable batting average with his eighth championships in nine finals appearances with the Beermen.

“A lot of teams are really competitive. And we’re always the target of these teams in the PBA,” he said, as if to warn the difficult times ahead of them in the season-ending Governors’ Cup.