by Jonas Terrado
Game Tomorrow (Smart Araneta Coliseum)
7 p.m. – NLEX vs Magnolia
(Magnolia leads series 3-2)
ANTIPOLO CITY – The Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok moved on the edge of claiming a finals berth that eluded them thrice the previous season behind a fourth quarter surge to frustrate the NLEX Road Warriors, 87-78, last night for a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series at the Ynares Center here.
A pair of veterans from the franchise’s past championships anchored a telling 16-4 run to open the fourth quarter in Mark Barroca and PJ Simon, enabling the Hotshots to pull away from the Road Warriors a low-scoring, rugged affair for three periods and regain control of the series after Friday’s 91-79 loss.
Aldrech Ramos, who capped off that run with a three-point play that turned a 59-58 lead after the third into 75-62, finished with 15 points and nine rebounds to put Magnolia in a position to advance to its first finals since the then-San Mig Super Coffee completed the PBA’s fifth grand slam in 2014.
The Hotshots take their first crack at forging a title showdown with the defending champion San Miguel Beermen tomorrow night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
A Game 7, if necessary, is set Thursday in this city.
“Wala pa kaming kailangan na i-celebrate,” said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero, whose team last season lost in the semifinals of all three conferences last season, including the Philippine Cup duel with Barangay Ginebra San Miguel that saw the team previously known as the Star Hotshots waste a similar 3-2 advantage.
“May konting advantage kasi nanalo kami pero again, di pa kami nananalo sa series,” he added.
Kiefer Ravena scored 21 points but he and the rest of the Road Warriors went cold in the fourth, shooting just 6-of-22 while allowing the Hotshots to score 28, with Simon and Barroca combining for nine points, Sangalang scoring six and Rome de la Rosa and Paul Lee having four apiece.
Worse, NLEX could play the rest of the series without guard Kevin Alas, who injured his right knee moments into the start of the game. Alas’ condition and status will be known today.
Barroca topscored with 18 points, Lee also hit 15 while Sangalang was Magnolia’s other double-digit scorer with 12 even as he added 11 rebounds, six assists and three blocks.
Alex Mallari produced 13 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals and Rau Soyud delivered 11 points and nine boards for the Road Warriors in the loss.
MAGNOLIA 87 – Barroca 18, Lee 15, Ramos 15, Sangalang 12, Simon 7, Dela Rosa 6, Pascual 4, Reavis 4, Brondial 2, Gamalinda 2, Jalalon 2, Herndon 0, Mendoza 0.
NLEX 78 – Ravena 21, Mallari 13, Soyud 11, Fonacier 9, Miranda 8, Quiñahan 8, Rios 3, Taulava 2, Tiongson 2, Baguio 1, Alas 0.
Quarters: 20-20; 37-36; 59-58; 87-78.