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MPBL: Nueva Ecija opens title defense with 27-point romp of Laguna


Defending champion Nueva Ecija and returning team Bulacan took contrasting routes to victory in the OKBet-MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) Fifth Season at the Star Arena in Baliwag, Bulacan on Monday night.

The Rice Vanguards showcased their depth in a 97-70 rout of Laguna, while the Kuyas relied on Levi Dela Cruz’s heroics to edge out Sarangani, 75-73, and gain a share of the early lead in the 29-team league.

The Rice Vanguards demonstrated their vaunted trapping defense and pulled away in the third quarter with a score of 67-55, never letting up to post their biggest spread in the final buzzer.

Coach Jerson Cabiltes fielded all 15 players, with Byron Villarias leading the way with 17 points, seven rebounds, six steals, and six assists.

He was supported by Renz Palma with 11 points and Jonathan Uyloan with 10, while Michael Juico and Stephen Siruma each contributed nine points.

Laguna got 16 points from Francis Camacho and 14 apiece from Paolo Pontejos and Ivan Villanueva.

Meanwhile, the 5-foot-7 Dela Cruz made the game’s last four points, the last two on a steal off Jeff Comia with 12.7 seconds left as the Kuyas frustrated the Marlins, who led at 66-58 in the fourth quarter.

Jerick Nacpil earned best player honors for Bulacan with 23 points and five rebounds, while Dela Cruz, Daniel de Guzman, and Buenaventura Raflores had eight points each.

Sarangani nearly got a triple-double from Jordan Sta. Ana with 12 points, 10 assists, and nine rebounds. The Marlins also drew 11 points from Danny Marilao, Nemesis Dela Cruz, and Comia, and 10 from John Dominguez Monteclaro.

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In the opener, Quezon City Gaz N Go thwarted Bicol, 85-81, to share the top spot with Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, and inaugural day winners Bataan Risers and Quezon Huskers.

The MPBL goes to the Batangas City Coliseum on Tuesday with a triple-bill pitting Zamboanga against Valenzuela at 4 p.m., Marikina against Bacolod at 6 p.m., and Pasay against Batangas City at 8 p.m.

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