Barangay Ginebra San Miguel went without a title in the PBA for eight years. That’s an eternity in a league that typically plays three conferences a year.
After ending the drought by winning the 2016 PBA Governor’s Cup, the fan-favorite franchise has gone on to win one title a year, with the most recent coming in last year’s sole conference, the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup.
Their bid to keep the streak going with another championship this year has been far from smooth. They finished the regular season sporting a measly 4-7 record that put them in a three-way tie for the last playoff spot. Luckily for Ginebra, they had one last chance to make the postseason and with their backs against the wall, the team formerly known as the Gin Kings leaned on their very own “Prince” to seal the eighth seed.
Thrust into the starting line-up for the first time this season, Prince Caperal powered Ginebra to a confidence-boosting 95-85 win over the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters at the DHVSU Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
For at least one night, Ginebra looked like the team that won it all last year instead of the one that has struggled to find a semblance of consistency this season. They led by 11 points at halftime and increased their advantage to as much as 17 by the fourth quarter.
The 6’7 Caperal, who was starting in place of the still-injured Japeth Aguilar, energized the team with his hustle and finished with 19 points, four rebounds, and three three-pointers.
The 2020 PBA Most Improved Players had his finest game of the conference when Ginebra needed him the most and repaid the trust that head coach Tim Cone gave him in this crucial. With Aguilar still far from a return to the court due to the strained MCL that he suffered a few weeks ago, Caperal will have to continue his strong play in the upcoming quarterfinals versus the top-seeded TNT Tropang Giga in a rematch of last year’s finals.
His contributions as another viable offensive option are invaluable to this team that is in dire need of consistency beyond the trio of Stanley Pringle, LA Tenorio, and Christian Standhardinger. The loss of Aguilar and the absence of Scottie Thompson due to health and safety protocols have been a tough blow to Ginebra, but if this version of Caperal shows up, they have a more than decent chance at upsetting the Tropang Giga with two consecutive wins.
The defending champions are not your typical eighth seed and it is unfortunate that TNT’s reward for their almost-perfect elimination round is a quarterfinal meeting with them. This promises to be not quite typical of the usual opening round match-up and their upcoming showdown (Or two) is shaping up to be the one to watch this coming week.
TNT has had the better season and has looked like the best team in the league this year, but Ginebra seems to have turned the corner and are hoping to carry over the momentum from their win against Phoenix to the postseason.
Over the past few decades, Ginebra became a fan favorite not because of a prolonged run of winning and championships. They have endeared themselves to the hearts of fans around the world because of their resilience and grit that gave rise to their trademark “Never Say Die” attitude.
This team is an underdog once again and it has given them the perfect opportunity to rediscover their roots as they take the first step in their attempt to pull-off one of the most improbable championship runs in league history.