Editor's note: Check out Tuesday's Guam Daily Post for more championship game coverage, including student-athlete commentary, game photos and more.
The McDonald’s Preseason Basketball Tournament boys and girls championship games on Sunday night at the Father Duenas Memorial School Jungle featured some of the most-inspired competition in more than a year.
In the girls final, shaking off a slow start, the Academy of Our Lady of Guam Cougars defeated the St. Paul Christian School Warriors 41-39.
In the boys tournament-ending showdown, the John F. Kennedy High School Islanders defeated the FD Friars in overtime 56-50.
“We want to give a huge shoutout to all the teams that participated for their sportsmanship and competitive spirit throughout the tournament,” said Guam Elite Basketball co-founder Dom Sablan, who along with Clutch Guam hosted the event. “Congratulations to the JFK Islanders and the Academy Cougars for a hard fought championship run. Both games were extremely competitive and entertaining to watch.”
After the Guam Sports Network decided not to host this year’s tournament, jumping at the opportunity to provide high-schoolers with a venue to shine, Sablan scrambled to secure sponsorship.
“We want to thank McDonald's of Guam for their tremendous support throughout the tournament,” Sablan said. “The basketball community is alive and well and the tournament was a huge success.”
For the three-time defending champion St. Paul Warriors, Janniliese Quintanilla put on a clinic in the first-quarter clinic, scoring nine points in the first two minutes. After draining a 3-pointer and a trio of shots inside the key, St. Paul led 15-9 at the half.
But for the Cougars’ Torie Rapadas, who was sitting on the bench and watching Quintanilla break down the defense, St. Paul’s early dominance was disheartening. But, in the second quarter, when head coach Jimmy Yi called the barely five-foot tall freshman’s No. 12 for the first time in the tournament, the powerhouse sprung into action. And as Quintanilla cooled off, scoring zero points in the quarter, Rapadas scored 13 of her game-high 16 points. From inside the lane, just inside the 3-point line or at the charity stripe, she turned the game around.
“I was just trying to catch up the points, but we all did it together as a team,” Rapadas said.
When Rapadas was on the bench, she felt helpless.
“It just makes me angry because she was scoring all those points, and I just wanted to get the (lead) back,” she said.
Earlier in the tournament, in pool play, the Warriors crushed the shorthanded Cougars by 35 points. So, being tied at halftime 24-24 was not the position St. Paul expected to be in.
“We were the underdogs in this game,” said Cougars junior Mia Taitano. “And just to go out and play with our hearts and just keep fighting to the end, was really satisfying.”
In the third quarter, the Warriors opened with seven unanswered points. With everything going St. Paul’s way, Kailie Tajalle-Celo banked in a 3-pointer. When the ball fell through the cylinder, she smiled at her teammates - for sure, she hadn’t called glass.
About a minute later, Academy’s Coco Paulino also banked in a shot from 3-point land. With the quarter more-than half expired, the shot was Academy’s first bucket since late in the second half.
Quintanilla, sensing the lead was slipping away, drained back-to-back buckets.
But a long 3-pointer from Rapadas changed momentum, and the Cougars trailed by only three points heading in the fourth quarter.
Tajalle-Celo, with her second 3-pointer of the game, came out firing.
With Myko-Jo Terlaje’s and Oriana Sevillla’s buckets finding the bottom of the net, Academy took the lead. Changing gears, Academy dropped into a slow-paced, half-court offense. With a small lead and time rapidly clicking away, Academy was five seconds from the title.
Trailing by two points, Quintanilla heaved a half-court Hail Mary that hit the backboard and rimmed out.
The Cougars’ Mia Taitano said the win “feels pretty good, but it’s just the beginning.”
“It’s not what our true goal is, but it’s a start," she said, adding, the goal is "winning the championship."
In the Islanders vs. Friars match up, pitting teams from the Guam Department of Education Interscholastic Sports Association against FD, the pride of the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam, with time running out in regulation, JFK trailed 48-40.
In the final minutes of regulation, JFK’s Jeremiah Kintoki forced three steals and converted them into three fast break baskets. His third pick-two sent the game into overtime.
Kintoki finished with 13 points.
Late in the fourth quarter, Friars’ Jaden Santos appeared to have sprained an ankle and had to be carried to the bench. A few plays later, Blaise Ada, FD’s catalyst, succumbed to cramps and also had to be carried to the sidelines. Ada, before exiting, had scored a game-high 19 points. His presence was sorely missed.
In overtime, without Ada and Santos to help run the offense, FD committed multiple turnovers.
A few seconds in the extra period, from well beyond the arc, JFK’s Kriston Guzman opened with a 3-pointer.
“I felt confident taking it,” said Guzman, who finished with a team-high 14 points. “I practiced so many hours working on it. I guess practice makes you confident.”
Forcing the issue and trying to play catch up, Friars’ Elijah Garrido committed back-to-back turnovers in the paint.
In overtime, the Islanders outscored the Friars 6-nil.
The tournament, which set the tone for the regular season, gave the teams ta chance to check progress and figure out the most-productive lineups. It also stoked the student-athletes’ competitive desire.
“I don’t like losing,” Guzman said.
For Guzman, because they had beaten FD in the championship, the win was extra sweet.
“It’s very satisfying beating the super team of the all high schools,” he said.