Nueva Ecija and Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines posted contrasting victories on Saturday night to forge a title duel in the 2023 MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) Preseason Tournament at the Lagao Gym in Brgy. Lagao, General Santos City.
The Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards routed the Sarangani Marlins, 112-89, while the Zamboanguenos bested the Imus SV Squad, 89-82, in the knockout semifinals to stage a repeat of their championship showdown in last year’s MPBL national finals won by Nueva Ecija.
Showing their vaunted depth and strength, the Rice Vanguards of Coach Jerson Cabiltes sealed the outcome midway through the fourth quarter, 103-74, before cruising to victory.
The Zamboanguenos, on the other hand, were barely ahead, 77-75. Then Judel Fuentes, Dexter Maiquez, Jayson Grimaldo, and Jaycee Marcelino put the final touches for Coach Vic Ycasiano.
Fuentes, a prized acquisition from San Juan, tallied 21 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists, while Marcelino, last year’s MVP, contributed 20 points. Grimaldo added 16 points and 7 rebounds, Will McAloney 14 points and Addy Santos 13 points.
John Byron Villarias shone for Nueva Ecija with 18 points, including 5 triples. Then came Pamboy Raymundo with 15, Jonathan Uyloan with 12 and Michael Mabulac with 10.
Sarangani got 18 points from Nemesis Dela Cruz, 11 points from Orin Catacutan and 10 each from Alex Desoyo and Marc Poole.
Unlike Sarangani, Imus put up a tough fight against Zamboanga through veteran Mac Cardona, Johnsherick Estrada, Jaymar Gimpayan, and Bryan Faundo, never allowing the Zamboanguenos to lead by twin digits.
Cardona posted 24 points, Estrada 19, and Gimpayan 17.
The eight-team, weeklong event takes a break on Sunday before Nueva Ecija and Zamboanga dispute the title and the P3 million that goes with it at 9:00 PM on Monday. Imus and Sarangani will clash for third place and P300,000 at 7:00 PM.