Letran Squires are one win away from defending their NCAA juniors basketball crown after drawing first blood against the Perpetual Junior Altas, 97-80, morning on Saturday, March 16, 2024, at the FilOil EcoOil Centre in San Juan, Metro Manila.

The Intramuros-based squad ended the first quarter with the lead, 29-20, but it was all Perpetual in the second quarter climbing back from striking distance to close the half, 46-45.

“Yung second quarter medyo struggle kami, nakabalik sila, lamang na kami nung first quarter. I just told the boys we need to execute and then we just have to stay composed,” Letran Coach Allen Ricardo said to GMA Regional TV News.

In the second half, Letran cruised to a 17-3 run to open the third quarter led by Jonathan Manalili and George Diamante.

“Yung third quarter naman medyo maganda yung execution namin and depensa namin and then we pulled away… going to the fourth quarter hindi na kami naglaro ng ganon ka bilis kasi we need to consider the situation, lamang na kami. We just have to stay composed sa depensa, he added. ”

The Squires slowed down the pace of the game in the fourth and final canto to pull away with the victory.

Manalili spearheaded Letran's attack with a 35 point explosion along with nine rebounds, nine assists, and four steals.

“Nagulat ako kasi hindi ko inexpect na ganon yung mangyari… sa awa ng Panginoon, binigyan ako ng lakas,” Manalili shared.

During the post-match interview, Ricardo applauded his court-general who has been in every part of the court with his all-around performance.

"He earned it, hindi ko na rin napansin na ganon na yung stats niya… congratulations to him, I do hope na on the upcoming game 2 [he] just stay consistent,” Ricardo said.

Aside from Manalili, Syrex Silorio and Diamante also added 15 and 14 points, respectively, for Letran.

On the other hand, Perpetual was led by Jan Pagulayan who scored 17 markers to go along with six boards, and four dimes.

Most Valuable Player award contender Amiel Acido was only limited to 10 points on 28.6 percent field goal shooting.

The Scores:

Letran 97 - Manalili 35, Silorio 15, Diamante 14, Navarro 12, Gazzingan 9, Baliling, 8, Padilla 2, Reyes 2

Perpetual 80 - Pagulayan 17, Daep 12, Acido 10, Roluna 10, Gojo Cruz 10, Diaz 8, Asuncion 7, Borja 6

Quarterscores: 29-20; 45-46; 71-66; 97-80