Nueva Ecija and Pampanga took different victory routes in the OKBet-MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) 4th Season Presented by Xtreme quarterfinal round on Saturday at the Nueva Ecija Coliseum in Palayan City.
The Rice Vanguards overwhelmed the Marikina Shoemasters, 103-71, while the Giant Lanterns subdued the Bataan Risers, 82-75, in the opening games of the North division best-of-three playoffs.
The Rice Vanguards, who posted a 21-game sweep of the single round-robin elimination phase, and the Giant Lanterns, who placed fourth among the North qualifiers, aim for semifinal slots on Saturday, October 22 when they tackle the same opponents at the Bren Guiao Convention Center in San Fernando, Pampanga.
In extending its unbeaten run to 22 games, Nueva Ecija surpassed the 21-game win streak of Crispa in its PBA Grand Slam season in 1983.
The star-studded Rice Vanguards led by as many as 36 points, 101-65, in the fourth quarter before easing up a bit on the Shoemasters, the eighth and last North qualifier.
With the game under control, Nueva Ecija Coach Jerson Cabiltes had the luxury of shuffling the 15 players available, only one of whom failed to score.
Renz Palma led Nueva Ecija with 16 points and three steals, followed by Michael Mabulac with 15 points and seven rebounds, and homegrown icons Bobby Balucanag and John Arenas with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Marikina got 13 points each from Enzo Joson, Mark Terrence Garcia and Ryan Sual.
Unlike Nueva Ecija, Pampanga was tested to the limit by Bataan and needed a fourth-quarter explosion by go-t0-guy Archie Concepcion to prevail.
Concepcion poured 13 of his night-high 21 points in that span to power the Giant Lanterns, who also leaned on Dominick Vera, Jammer Jamito, and Christopher Lagrama.
Vera chipped in 18 points, including four triples, Jamito 15 plus 10 rebounds, and Lagrama, nine points, all from triples.
Bataan got 18 points from Gio Espuelas, 14 from Kristoffer Torrado, 13 from Ronjay Lastimosa, and 11 from James Darwin Castro.
The MPBL begins its South division playoffs on Monday at the Vitaliano Agan Coliseum in Zamboanga City. GenSan tangles with Bacolod at 6:30 p.m., followed by the Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines-Muntinlupa tussle at 9 p.m.