San Sebastian’s “Sensational Six” and their gruesome 5-peat NCAA siege

Gerry Plaza on Jun 16, 2016 02:56 PM
San Sebastian’s “Sensational Six” and their gruesome 5-peat
Rommel Adducul (second row, seventh from left) was the cornerstone of the San Sebastian Stags, who dominated the NCAA men's seniors cage wars from 1993 to 1997 (Photo courtesy of the NCAA Retro - Philippines Facebook page)
For the illustrious San Sebastian Stags of the 1990s, fans coined a term befitting for this marvelous gang that brought the entire NCAA to its knees.

The “Sensational Six”—a fearsome band of merciless on-court hitmen with massacre sprees one season after another, some with unblemished sweeps leading to incredible title runs.

Historic

In fact, the no team could measure up to the gang, composed of Rommel Adducul, Aramis “Banjo” Calpito, Jasper Ocampo, Ulysses Tanigue, Brixter Encarnacion, and Rommel Daep, who in their last undefeated streak in 1997 exhibited their unequalled reign, pounding the opposition in the NCAA’s eliminations to a ruthless 12-0 sweep. And, with their twice-to-beat advantage, it was their historic chance for a fifth consecutive tile—the first in the 73-year league at that time.

The Stags’ “Drive for Five” had only one stumbling block in its path—the spunky and tough San Beda Red Lions led by Dino Manuel, Ralph Rivera, Kerwin McCoy, Ato Morano and Rensy Bajar, who were seeking redemption from a 20-year title drought.

But it wasn’t meant to be, as Adducul’s dominance in the paint, Tanigue’s scoring binges from beyond the arc, Ocampo’s court wizardry, Daep’s leadership, Encarnacion’s perimeter shooting, and Calpito’s bruising presence were too much for the versatile Lions, 84-72. They also had ample support from its prolific scorers off the bench: Jerome Barbosa, Michael "Topex" Robinson, Alvin Pua, and rookie Mark Macapagal.

Its new coach that year, former FEU Tamaraw and Crispa Redmanizer Arturo “Bai” Cristobal, devised dizzying motion offense tactics and gritty defensive walls all anchored on Adducul, who delivered the goods in the successful first-time five-peat in NCAA parlance.

Devastating four-year spree

Their previous four championships were no less devastating to their foes, as these core Stags, mentored by the one of the winningest Filipino varsity coaches ever, Arturo “Turo” Valenzona, left opponents in utter ruin.

In his first season with the Stags in 1993, Tanigue hurled 27 markers in the second round for a 110-76 rout of the Knights of Colegio de San Juan de Letran that gave them two successive round pennants and the seniors basketball title (in those pre-Final Four days, an NCAA-member school can win the championship outright if it tops both the two rounds of eliminations).

They made an even more exemplary feat the next year as the Stags, bannered by Rodney Santos and the rookie Adducul, made its second clean sweep of the eliminations, winning all their 10 games in the two rounds of eliminations to annex the NCAA title.

San Sebastian was also the first team in NCAA history to complete a sweep six years earlier with a team composed of Eugene Quilban, Paul Alvarez, Django Rivera, Nap Hatton, Allan Garrido, Melchor “Toying” Teves, Cris Bade and Allan delos Reyes.

19 straight wins

In 1995, Adducul started to assert his dominance in the league and further steered the fearsome gang in its rampage of the league with nine more wins, stretching its streak to 19 straight victories since the start of the 1994 season. But someone stepped up and stopped the assault. In the last game of the eliminations, as the Stags were about to annex their second straight sweep, Reuben dela Rosa and the Mapua Cardinals put the mighty Recto dribblers to a screeching halt with an emphatic win, forcing a best-of-three Final series. But of course, the Sensational Six won’t be denied and exacted revenge, blanking the hapless Cardinals, 2-0, and grabbed their third straight NCAA championship, tying records of the 1930s Ateneo Blue Eagles and the Samboy Lim-led Letran Knights from 1982-85.

But in the next season, what was being billed in the press as the most dominating force in NCAA basketball history was now dead-set in breaking that record with a four-peat. In that year, however, a new powerhouse was emerging, and their roars were deafening. San Beda’s Red Lions were now a force to reckon with, giving the Stags its most daunting challenge to date with awesome starters and reliable bench players that match up well with their already formidable lineup.

Unstoppable Adducul

The Lions, in fact, had upended the Stags handily in their second round face-off to bag the pennant and force a Best-of-Three finals that became their biggest chance to reclaim a title it last won in 1977 behind Chito Loyzaga, Frankie Lim and JV Yango. But again, San Sebastian just responded with the cunning and sleek solid game it had shown for the past three years. And, Adducul was just unstoppable in the paint, leaving his nemesis Manuel in the dust and blanking the Lions, 2-0, to make history anew as the first team in the NCAA to win four straight championships.

And they retained that emphatic win in their hearts and minds, as they continued their mastery of the Lions in the next year, not allowing another Finals duel with that second round conquest of San Beda and extending its reign to another NCAA first: being the champs for five consecutive years.

What can stop the Stags?

It seemed their “dynasty” would go on and no one seemed capable of ending their reign. What can stop them? Seemingly, there’s only one way: have the Sensational Six off the Stags’ lineup. And rightly so, after winning their fifth title, Adducul, Tanigue, Encarnacion, Ocampo, Daep and Calpito fully served their eligibility for San Sebastian, thus disallowed to play in succeeding seasons. This gave hope to their opponents for a crack at the title they held firmly for half a decade. And true enough, their chance had come, as the merciless, rampaging Stags were never the same again after the 1997 season, even with Barbosa, Robinson, Pua, and Macapagal still in the lineup.

But even if the glorious streak had ended, the San Sebastian Stags’ grit, impressive streak, tantalizing championship effort, resolute passion, and court brilliance in the mid-1990s are truly epic moments not easily forgotten, even by those currently in the basketball limelight. And those surely improved and expanded the level of varsity play, and inspired the current crop of young basketball phenoms we are now witnessing in college basketball.

 

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