THE date was August 31, 1997.
The place: Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City.
It was Game 3 of the 1997 PBA Commissioner’s Cup finals between Gordon’s Gin and Alaska Milk.
Handled by PBA legend Robert Jaworski, the Boars swept the first two games of the best-of-seven title series, 99-89 and 102-96.
But with import Chris King hobbling with an injury, Ginebra faced imminent defeat with 84-86 deficit in Game 3.
Enter Alfredo “Pido” Jarencio.
Jarencio, nicknamed the “Fireman”, nailed the game-changing three-point shot — his seventh out of eight attempts for the night — in the final 1:03 of the game to give Gordon’s Gin a dramatic 87-86 win and a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.
Although Alaska came back to take the next two games, 108-90 and 86-81, Gordon’s Gin finished off Alaska, 105-79, to wrap up the series, 4-2, and capture its fourth title in Asia’’s play-for-pay league.
“That was one of the most memorable games in my career,” said Jarencio during the 12th “Usapang Sports on Air” by the Tabloids Organization in Philippine Sports (TOPS) via Zoom.
“Madami din akong memorable games sa PBA, pati na sa UAAP. But that Game 3 of the 1997 PBA Commissjoners Cup was surely one of them,” claimed Jarencio during a special appearance in the weekly public service program sponsored by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).
Jarencio, who turned 56 last Sept, 5, clearly stood out for the star-studded Gordon’s Gin lineup that also included Marlou Aquino, Vince Hizon, Bal David, Noli Locsin, Terry Saldana, Jayvee Gayoso. Michael Orquillas, Benny Cheng, Wilmer Ong and Dodot Jaworki.
“Yun ang talagang masarap na feeling sa player — yun maka game-winning shot. Tapos championship game at madaming taong nanonood,” recalled Jarencio, now the head coach of the NorthPort Batang Pier in the PBA.
The 5-10 Jarencio, who played in the PBA from 1986 to 2001, made seven three-point shots, including five in the second half.
The most important one, however, came at the most opportune time when he buried a three-pointer from the right corner that put the Boars ahead, 87-86, and sent the pro-Gordon’s Gins fans up to their feet, with smiles on their faces.
Jarencio clearly remembers the moment.
“Lamang ng dalawa ang Alaska, tapos pinasa sa akin ni Jayvee (Gayoso) sa deep right corner. Pag tira ko, syut. Mabuti hindi ako nakapikit nun,” Jarencio told editors and sportswriters with a hearty laugh during the forum.
There were actually still one minute left in the game after Jarencio’s dagger triple. But the Boars managed to keep the Milkmen at bay with solid defense by Aquino, Hizon, Gayoso. David, King and Jarencio.
And when the potential game-winner by Dwight Lago missed the target, the Boars erupted into a championship-like celebration.
Jarencio, who finished with 23 points, was named as Player of the Game, along with Saldana, who also had a monster game with a double-double-performance.
Overall, it was Jarencio’s third PBA championship.
Among the people Jarencio thanked during the post-game interview with the late Butch Maniego was his former UST coach, Charlie Badion.
The former University of Santo Tomas gunner also bagged the championships in the 1985 PBA Reinforced Conference as a mainstay of guest team Northern Cement Corporation and the 1987 PBA Reinforced Conference as a member of San Miguel Beer.
Jarencio is also best remembered for his buzzer-beating jumper to lead Great Taste to a 102-100 win over Purefoods in the 1988 All-Filipino Conference.
A two-time PBA All-Star in 1992 and 1993 and the Most Improved Player awardee in 1992, Jarencio also had his finest moments with crowd favorite Ginebra.
Under Jaworski, Jarencio became the leading scorer for the team with an average of 18.6 points per game.
He scored 45 points against 7-Up, 44 against Swift and scored over 30 points in four other games during the season.
Before his most memorable game against Alaska, Jarencio also made eight three-point shots to beat San Miguel Beer in the double overtime in the semis.
When he retired in 2001, Jarencio had amassed 6,121 career points with seven different teams.
Before the PBA, the pride of Sigma, Capiz also provided some of the biggest moments of UST in the UAAP.
Except for few provincial and overseas games with his fellow PBA Legends, Jarencio is no longer playing these days.
But he surely brings the same never-say-die fighting spirit as a coach, first with UST which he led to the 2006 UAAP title, and now with the NorthPort Batang Pier in the PBA.
As a player and now as a coach, the “Fireman” is always expected to bring the best in every game.
The basketball gods always love him for that.