The Meralco Bolts took hold of the no. 6 seed in the standings, becoming the newest team to grab hold of a twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals stage of the upcoming Philippine Cup postseason, after outlasting a plucky GlobalPort Batang Pier, 82-70, Tuesday night at the Cuneta Astrodome.
An unexpected low-scoring affair featuring the two trigger-happy squads took place in the first quarter, with the score still at 7-5, in favor of GlobalPort, at the halfway mark of the quarter. The pace picked up in the final three minutes of the quarter, when an exchange of triples broke out. A long two from Gary David to beat the buzzer gave the Bolts the narrow edge at the end of the first twelve minutes, 17-15.
The Bolts opened the second quarter with an 8-3 run to lead by eight, 26-18, in the opening minutes of the second period. Meralco went on to pace the contest for the next few minutes, with a jumper from John Wilson finally giving the Bolts their first double-digit lead, 35-25, with less than six minutes on the clock. Youngsters Stanley Pringle and Keith Jensen collaborated to trim the margin by putting together a 7-0 run to come within just three points by the half, 35-32.
A 5-0 spurt to continue the previous quarter’s last minute surge gave GlobalPort its first taste of the lead since the first quarter, 37-35, just a minute into the second half. The Bolts however pulled away anew, led by Cliff Hodge, to build a five-point lead, 49-44, in only four minutes of play. The Batang Pier were dealt another blow when big man Jewel Ponferrada was accidentally hit in the midsection by Hodge’s knee while the former was trying to block a fastbreak put up by the Meralco star. Ponferrada was later escorted to the GlobalPort locker room after the pain persisted. Another late surge gave GlobalPort the lead, 56-55, after a breakaway lay-up from Ronjay Buenafe, with time winding down on the clock. Sean Anthony however responded on the other end to douse the fire, beating the buzzer with a corner trey to put Meralco back up 58-55, at the end of the third period.
The Bolts managed to hold on to the lead for much of the fourth quarter, responding to every rally from GlobalPort to maintain a 73-67 lead entering the final two minutes. A couple more defensive stops in final minutes helped the Bolts keep possession, and at the 1:18 mark, a dagger of a jumper from veteran sharpshooter David pushed the Meralco lead to 75-68.
Alex Cabagnot gave the Batang Pier a lease on life with 46.2 ticks left on the clock, sinking a breakaway trey to cut the lead to seven, 77-70. A couple of free-throws from Wilson in the next few possessions saw the Bolts’ lead go back up by 10, 80-70. Some more defensive explosions and free-throws then sealed the deal for Meralco.
Hodge took home Player of the Game honors with 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
Meralco will exit the elimination round with a 6-5 record and the no. 6 seed in the standings, joining the Alaska Aces, Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters, and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel as the four teams who will head into the playoffs with a twice-to-beat advantage in their respective best-of-three series. GlobalPort meanwhile slides to 5-6 and the no.8 spot in the standings. The Bolts’ series with the seventh-seeded Purefoods Star Hotshots will begin on Thursday evening.