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MPBL: Bacoor punches South Finals slot, awaits winner of Gen San-Batangas


GenSan weathered Batangas’ repeated assaults to secure a 61-55 victory on Saturday, forcing a Game 3 decider in their battle for the MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) Fifth Season South Division second finals slot at the Batangas City Coliseum.

Bacoor secured the first championship seat with a 78-72 repeat victory over Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines in the other division semifinals.

The GenSan Warriors squandered a 15-point lead in the third quarter, relinquished control twice to the Batangas City Embassy Chill Athletics in the final quarter, before rallying behind Hafer Mondragon and Enzo Joson down the stretch of Game 2 of their best-of-three series.

Mondragon sank a three-pointer, Joson made a corner jumper, and then Mondragon hit two free throws in a closing 7-point run in the last 1 minute and 7 seconds, avenging their 75-81 defeat to the Athletics in Game 1.

GenSan and Batangas will compete for the right to face Bacoor for the South title at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the same venue.

Joson, a former National University Bulldog, finished with 14 points, including 10 in the second half, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists, earning him the best player honors over John Wilson with 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists, and Mondragon with 7 points and 6 rebounds.

“We did not want to go home yet. The ball happened to come to me, so I took the shot,” said Joson, referring to his pivotal jumper that extended GenSan’s lead to 59-55 with 30 seconds left.

GenSan Coach Rich Alvarez said both teams have the experience, composure, and the will to win, so Game 3 is likely to be decided by “who wants it more.”

Trailing by as much as 20-35 early in the third quarter, the Athletics threatened at 36-38 following an 11-point run, highlighted by three consecutive triples, two by Raffy Octobre that were sandwiched between Levi Hernandez’s one.

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Batangas briefly led at 50-47 on a layup by Jeckster Apinan and 55-54 on a turnaround jumper by Dawn Ochea before Mondragon and Joson led the final charge. The Athletics got 13 points and 4 rebounds from Hernandez and 10 points with 8 rebounds from Cedric Ablaza.

Bacoor clamped down on Zamboanga’s shooters and capitalized on Jan McHale Nermal’s hot hand to reach the division finals for the first time.

Nermal scored 25 points and grabbed 7 rebounds to lead the Strikers to a 2-0 sweep of Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines, last year’s South division champion.

The Strikers also defeated the Zamboanguenos 61-56 in Game 1.

A 3-point play by James Kwekuteye and a three-pointer by Chito Jaime pushed the Strikers to their biggest lead, 69-52, with 6 minutes and 6 seconds to go. Kwekuteye finished with 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists, while Jaime and Michel Canete contributed 10 points each.

Veteran Mark Yee settled for 6 points, including two free throws that halted a Zamboanga run at 73-65, and grabbed 8 rebounds in a balanced Bacoor offense.

Bacoor Coach Alex Angeles attributed the Strikers’ victory to their defense, emphasizing that they simply gave the ball to whoever was hot. It turned out to be Nermal, who made 4 of 8 three-point attempts, 3 of 6 two-point shots, and 7 of 10 free throws, earning him best player honors.

Zamboanga received 16 points and 11 rebounds from Jayvee Marcelino, 12 points and 5 rebounds from Adi Santos, and 10 points with 8 rebounds from Joseph Gabayni.

Reigning MVP Jaycee Marcelino was limited to 8 points, all in the fourth quarter, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals, while King Caralipio contributed 8 points and 10 rebounds.

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he elimination of Zamboanga, last year’s South Division champion, guarantees that the MPBL will have new division champions, as well as the national champion this year.

On Friday, San Juan completed a 2-0 sweep of defending champion Nueva Ecjia to set up a North Division title clash with Pampanga.

MPBL Founder and CEO Manny Pacquiao watched Saturday’s twin bill with his wife Jinkee.

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