Sudden death Final Four in PBA D-League


Jude P. Roque

It’s sudden death Tuesday tomorrow in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Developmental League semifinal games. In the first game at 3PM, the Racal Tile Masters tangle with the Café France-CEU Bakers. In the second match at 5PM, the Tanduay Rhum Masters collide with the Cignal HD-San Beda Hawkeyes. Games will be played at the Ynares Gym in Pasig City. With both series tied at 1-1 in a best-of three contest, all four squads are hoping to score the win that would catapult them to the finals of the 2017 Aspirants Cup. One thing’s for sure, both battles will be fierce and thrilling.

Racal took Game 1 via a buzzer-beating triple by Emilio Aguinaldo College star forward Sidney Onwubere. In Game 2, the Tile Masters dominated the Bakers for 35 minutes before the latter made a forceful finishing kick in the final few minutes to pull the rug from under Racal and tie the series, 86-75. Also forcing a sudden death Game 3 were the Hawkeyes, who made the huge baskets in end game to escape the Rhum Masters’ late rally and snatch the W, 89-86.

Expect both encounters to go down the wire in Game 3. Let’s review the match-ups.

Cignal led all teams after the elimination round with an 8-1 card, posting eight straight victories after losing to AMA Computer on its debut game. Tanduay had to defeat AMA in the quarterfinals to earn the right to face the Hawkeyes in the semis. But the Rhum Masters proved the more experienced and composed unit in Game 1 of the semis, dominating the boards and taking advantage of their opponents’ woeful shooting to annex a convincing 66-55 triumph. PBA veteran Jerwin Gaco was a prize addition to coach Lawrence Chongson’s crew as the 6’4” power forward imposed his will in the paint to topscore for his squad with 16 markers, while former Letran ace Mark Cruz added 15. But it was Tanduay’s defense that did the most damage, limiting Cignal to a season-low 55 points, after topping the elims in offense with 87.55 points per game. The Hawkeyes also shot blanks from beyond the arc (0-of-19).

In Game 3, experience will play a big factor in favor of the Rhum Masters, as Gaco, Cruz, Jaymo Eguilos, Bong Quinto and Paul Sanga are expected to carry the scoring chores. Gaco, Eguilos , Adrian Santos and Jomari Sollano are Tanduay’s inside operators while Cruz, Sanga, Quinto and Lester Alvarez should provide the outside sniping. This is unquestionably a formidable bunch that’s tough to beat in a playoff contest. But Cignal has bench depth, energy and multi-titled mentor Boyet Fernandez on its side to level the odds. Jason Perkins, Pamboy Raymundo, Mark Bringas and Harold Arboleda lead a young cast, mostly from the NCAA championship roster of San Beda, to form a solid group that made an amazing run in the elims. The more composed team in endgame should come out victorious.

In the other match-up, Racal’s talent will be tested against the size and aggressiveness of Café France. Coach Jerry Codinera’s Tile Masters are believed to be the most talented in the field, with a gang made up of collegiate stars from the NCAA and UAAP. Rey Nambatac, Kent Salado, Thomas Torres and Allan Mangahas make up a dreaded scoring pack that’s hard to stymie. Racal thrives on a running attack and superb outside shooting. But the Bakers of coach Egay Macaraya has an unstoppable force in Rod Ebondo, a 6’7” do-it-all forward from Africa who has been a defensive nightmare in the D-League. Add to the mix San Sebastian gunner Mike Calisaan, Santo Tomas 6’7” center Jeepy Faundo and University of the Philippines spitfire Paul Desiderio, and Centro Escolar dynamic duo JK Casino and Aaron Jeruta. The Bakers will try to apply the defensive pressure on Racal’s scorers and control the shaded lane with Ebondo, Calisaan and Faundo. The Tile Masters need to force the up-tempo game and work as a team to offset the Bakers’ established defense.

It’s difficult to make a prediction as both series are very evenly matched. We can expect all four coaches to come up with a few new tricks in Game 3 that could seal the finals seat.


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