Batangas kept its poise in the homestretch and subdued General Santos City, 66-62, to barge into the South Division finals in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Fifth Season late Tuesday at the Batangas City Coliseum.
Levi Hernandez drilled in a triple, Vincent Importante came up with a defensive stop, while Cedric Ablaza canned the insurance free throws as the Batangas City Embassy Chill Athletics bested the GenSan Warriors, 2-1, in their semifinal series and book another best-of-three title tussle with the Bacoor Strikers.
That triple by Hernandez gave Batangas a breathing spell, 64-58, while Importante’s block on Michole Sorela’s long jumper prevented GenSan from seizing control.
Ablaza, on the other hand, sealed the outcome with two charities in the last four seconds that put Batangas on track toward becoming the MPBL’s first two-time champion. The Athletics won the MPBL’s inaugural Rajah Cup in 2018.
Duplicating his double-digit outputs in the first two games, Hernandez fired 14 points, grabbed eight rebounds and issued two assists to clinch best player honors over Ablaza, who posted 13 points, four rebounds and four assists.
Other Athletics who delivered were John Ambulodto with 12 points plus seven rebounds, Mark Niel Cruz with eight points and Dawn Ochea with 10 rebounds that enabled Batangas to rule the boards, 43-33.
GenSan got 15 points from Sorela and 12 from Mark Cruz. Veteran John Wilson, however, went scoreless after missing all of his eight field goal attempts.
Although missing the services of gunner Jong Baloria, who’s feeling under the weather, Batangas surged ahead, 11-9, behind Ablaza and kept it for nearly 37 minutes, with GenSan leading only for a total of 17 seconds at 55-54.
“My team plays with pride, with heart every time, that’s our culture,” said Batangas coach Cholo Villanueva, whose wards will open their South Division Finals against the Strikers on Monday at the Strike Gymnasium in Bacoor City.
“My players did not give up. They wanted the game more. They stayed calm and composed.”