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MPBL: San Juan ousts Nueva Ecija, forces North title series against Pampanga


San Juan found another savior in Mike Calisaan as the Knights repeated over the Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards, 88-80, on Friday and arranged a North Division final tussle against Pampanga in the MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) Fifth Season at the Nueva Ecija Coliseum in Palayan City.

Calisaan poured 30 points, 17 in the second half, grabbed 18 rebounds and made 3 steals to power the underdog Knights past the defending champions, whom they also stunned, 86-82, in the opener of their best-of-three semifinal series.

Orlan Wamar, who keyed San Juan’s Game 1 victory, was held to six points in Game 2, but drilled in a triple to quell Nueva Ecija’s early rally in the fourth quarter, 73-67.

The Rice Vanguards refused to give up and threatened for the last time, 77-82, following back-to-back triples by Jonathan Uyloan and Renz Palma, but Marwin Taywan countered with a 3 and Calisaan completed a 3-point play to seal San Juan’s romp over Nueva Ecija, which suffered its first loss at home this season.

It was payback time for San Juan, which lost to Nueva Ecija in last year’s North Finals, 2-1, after also winning Game 1.

“I told them (Knights) I don’t want a repeat performance,” said Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, co-owner of the 2019 MPBL Datu Cup champions. “That they should get the job done if they can in Game 2. Their determination paid off.”

Adrian Nocum, made up for a lackluster performance in the opener, with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists for San Juan Coach Randy Alcantara, who also drew 12 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds from Nikko Panganiban and 8 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists from Taywan.

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Nueva Ecija got 21 points, 4 rebounds and 4 steals from Will McAloney, 15 points and 4 assists from Uyloan and 11 points, 4 steals, 4 assists and 3 rebounds from Chris Bitoon.

Earlier, Encho Serrano took over in the fourth quarter as the Pampanga Giant Lanterns trounced the Caloocan Batang Kankaloo, 93-77, and swept the other North semifinal series.

The fiery 5-foot-11 guard from Apalit, Pampanga, poured 13 of his 22 points in the last 10 minutes, including nine in a decisive 18-3 outburst by the Giant Lanterns that broke the backs of the Batang Kankaloo from the game’s ninth and last deadlock at 71.

Serrano also issued pinpoint assists to Justine Baltazar, JB Bahio and MJ Garcia in that span to post 22 points, 6 assists and 2 rebounds to earn best player honors for Pampanga, which duplicated its 74-63 conquest of Caloocan in the opener.

Baltazar, the MVP race pacesetter, was again dominant with 16 points, 20 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and 1 block despite the double-teaming effort thrown against him in the shaded lane.

Other Giant Lanterns who shone for Pampanga Governor Dennis Pineda, who also serves as the head coach, were MJ Garcia with 14 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists, John Llooyd Clemente with 14 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds, and Archie Concepcion with 13 points and 2 rebounds.

A buzzer-beater triple by Garcia gave Pampanga 42-38 halftime lead, but Caloocan regained control, 64-62, following a 7-point blitz capped by a Paul Sanga triple.

Caloocan got 16 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds from Reil Cervantes, 14 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists from Sanga, and 9 points each from Jeramer Cabanag and Mac Baracael, who outdueled Arwind Santos in the second quarter.

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The MPBL Playoffs continue on Saturday at the Batangas City Coliseum with Bacoor battling Zamboanga at 6 p.m. and GenSan tackling Batangas at 8 p.m.

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