The UST Golden Sox secure a final four slot after escaping the UP Fighting Maroons, 15-11, in the UAAP Season 86 baseball tournament at the UP Diliman Baseball Field on Saturday, April 6. (Photo by Valere Jane R. Callorena / The Varsitarian)

THE UST Golden Sox staved off the pesky UP Fighting Maroons, 15-11, to clinch the last Final Four spot in the UAAP Season 86 baseball in their one-game playoff at the UP Diliman Baseball Field on Saturday, April 6.

This will be the Golden Sox first postseason appearance since Season 79, when they fell to the Ateneo Blue Eagles in the finals in 2017. This season saw the return of the Final Four format after 12 years.

The past few seasons have been rocky for the Golden Sox, but head coach Jeffrey Santiago said he likes where the team is heading.

“Lahat naman ng team ay gustong makaangat,” Santiago told the Varsitarian. “Kami rin, gusto naming makaangat. At least ngayon, medyo nakaangat na.”

The Golden Sox were leading by eight in the bottom of the fifth inning, 13-5, when Fighting Maroon Ian Mercado blasted an inside-the-park grand slam to left field that cut the deficit to four, 13-9.

Golden Sox rookie Jesus Cabigao stole home to widen the gap by five in the top of the sixth inning, 14-9, but Mercado and Aaron Nicha scored runs in the bottom sixth and seventh that allowed UP to inch by three.

In the top of the ninth inning, Team captain Steven Dominguez delivered UST’s final run after Alwyn Pinero’s sacrifice fly, 15-11.

With two outs left in the bottom ninth, reigning MVP Justine Rosales caught Kobe Torres’s grounder to force out Val Mangahas and fired to first to complete the unassisted double play, punching UST’s ticket to the semifinals.

Santiago said that this time, the team did not crumble under the pressure and finished strong.

“Nag-usap kami kahapon. Talagang sinabi ko sa kanila, ‘yan ang problema ninyo,” he said. “As I said, ‘yung mental toughness. Dito niyo ibuhos lahat. May tiwala ako sa inyo. Magtiwala kayo sa sarili niyo. May skill na kayo. Mas magaling na kayo. Ang problema lang sa inyo itong utak na lang.”

Golden Sox ace Harry Geronimo tallied two strikeouts, while limiting UP to one hit and one walk in the first three innings. Cabigao took over the mound starting from the sixth inning and allowed five hits and two runs.

Dominguez, Rosales, John Vargas, Geronimo and Cabigao drove in runs in the first inning to gain an early 5-0 lead.

After hammering in three more runs in the top of the second, 8-0, the Golden Sox added five more to mount a 13-0 lead in the top fourth, punctuated by Marvin Trillana’s run.

Dominguez, Vargas and Cabigao paced UST with three runs each. Rosales and Geronimo contributed two runs apiece, tallying three and two hits, respectively.

The Golden Sox faced four UP pitchers: Ram Matanguihan, Darren Mayo, Daniel Badrina, Nicha and Torres, who could not hold off UST’s offense, as the Golden Sox recorded 17 hits.

UST will face the twice-to-beat DLSU Green Batters in the semifinals at the same venue on April 14.

“Hopefully, next game against La salle, makapanalo kami sa first game. Iyon muna ang aming focus,” Santiago said. “‘Pag nakaisa kami diyan ibubuhos na namin talaga. Kukunin namin ‘yan kung kaya.”