Nueva Ecija will have a built-in advantage when it battles Zamboanga in the National Finals of the OKBet-Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League 4th Season today at the Nueva Ecija Coliseum.
The Rice Vanguards boast a deeper roster, a better overall record and will be playing in front their home crowd when they see action in Game 1 of their best-of-five title series in Palayan City.
The Vanguards have tasted defeat only once in 27 matches en route to clinching the South division crown while Zamboanga had to rally from 19-point deficit in the third quarter to snatch the North division title from a game Batangas City squad.
Nueva Ecija coach Jerson Cabiltes said their lone loss to San Juan in the opener of their North division title series was a “blessing in disguise” as it took off the pressure for them to sweep the tournament.
Cabiltes said he would rather suffer that loss than fail to capture the national team for team owner Bong Cuevas, team manager Ivan Cuevas and Palayan City Mayor Rianne Cuevas.
Opposing coach Vic Ycasiano, for his part, doesn’t mind the underdog tag and is focused on the task entrusted to him by Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines team owner Anita Kaw.
“Our goal is to win one on the road,” said Ycasiano, also referring to Game 2 that will be held at the same Palayan City venue on 5 December.
“We’re going to play with our hearts and our balls.”
If Nueva Ecija manages to win both, the Rice Vanguards will be gunning for a sweep of their title series at the Mayor Vitaliano Agan Coliseum in Zamboanga City.
If necessary, Game 4 will be played at the same venue before the series flies back to Nueva Ecija for sudden-death Game 5 on 16 December.
So star-studded are the Rice Vanguards that Cabiltes afforded to field all 15 players at his disposal without suffering a serious drop in terms of talent and experience.
For the National Finals, Cabiltes is tipped to give longer minutes to John Bryan Villarias, Hesed Gabo, Bill McAloney, Michael Mabulac, Michael Juico, Chris Bitoon, Renz Palma, JR Taganas, Jay Collado and Jonathan Uyloan.
Meanwhile, Ycasiano will lean on MPBL All-Star Most Valuable Player Jaycee Marcelino, his twin brother Jayvee, Jhapz Bautista, Jhaymo Eguilos, Chris Dumapig, Addy Santos and Chito Jayme.