Inserted to the starting lineup for the first time, rookie Kevin Racal quickly validated the trust given to him by the Alaska coaching staff.
The 6-foot-3 Racal made the most of surprise start on Friday night, providing the needed defensive energy in the Aces’ morale-boosting 111-109 victory against Rain or Shine to stay alive in their best-of-seven PBA Commissioner’s Cup finals showdown at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
With top defender Ping Exciminiano sidelined by an injury, Racal got the nod to join their starting unit and he made a good account of himself in nearly 20 minutes of action, collecting seven points, three rebounds and two assists against three errors while proving solid on the defensive end.
“He played great,” beamed Alaska coach Alex Compton, visibly pleased with their big gamble that paid off big dividends. “Kevin is well-taught defensively. He’s a solid defender. He’s a really tough kid.”
What made Compton, 42, doubly impressed with the performance of Racal, whom they selected 11th overall in last year’s draft, was the fact that he showed what he’s capable of when given the chance—even on the biggest stage.
“He’s coming into a situation wherein there’s a lot of players. All of the guys who are infront of him are veterans. We felt with his mental toughness, his mindset and his ability to defend that he could play.”
Racal, who played an instrumental role in Letran’s impressive title run in the NCAA seniors cage wars last year, admitted he was surprised with the decision to make him a starter but he’s just eager to help the Aces live to fight another day.
“Pinaghandaan ko ‘yun. Simula kagabi, inisip ko na kung ano ‘yung mga dapat kong gawin. Swinerte ako nu’ng una pa lang kaya nagtuloy-tuloy hanggang matapos,” said the Mandaluyong City native.
Compton disclosed it was a collective decision by members of their coaching staff to have Racal as a starter despite seeing action for just nine matches in the mid-season tourney.
Good thing for the Aces, it turned out right.
“We discussed it as a coaching staff. We taught in that discussion that Kevin could be a starter. What a heart from that kid. Almost never played then you’ll start in a finals game and you’re down 3-0. He came out and played really hard,” said Compton. – By Jerome Lagunzad
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