Alaska prevails over Meralco, barges into playoffs

Levi Verora
Five Aces finished in double figures as Alaska hangs on for dear life and dispatch the Meralco Bolts from the playoffs

SURVIVAL. The Alaska Aces win their second survival game in two days to enter the PH Cup quarterfinals. Photo by Nuki Sabio/PBA Images

MANILA, Philippines – Most of the Alaska Aces struggled all conference long, but everyone of them played stellar games when they needed it the most.

Facing the danger of elimination, the Alaska Aces emerged victorious in an intense showdown to book the last ticket to the PLDT Home DSL PBA Philippine Cup quartefinals following a 94-91 conquest of the Meraldo Bolts on Monday, January 20 at the Mall of Asia Arena.

The Aces will take the 8th and last seed in a game highlighted by scuffles brought by excessive aggression and tempers flaring from both camps. They will face the twice-to-beat top seed Brgy. Ginebra San Miguel starting on Wednesday, January 22.

Sonny Thoss shot 60% from the field en route to finishing with 21 points and 7 rebounds; Dondon Hontiveros fired 20 points, while Cyrus Baguio and Gabby Espinas added 16 apiece.

It was a heated exchange in the first 24 minutes, with both teams staging runs in a game that saw 8 lead changes and 2 deadlocks. Neither team led by more than 8 in the first half, with Alaska managing to keep a 42-39 edge heading into their dugouts.

The story would change in the third period however, with Sonny Thoss and Gabby Espinas muscling their way inside the paint and Dondon Hontiveros putting up key baskets. The Aces pulled away from a tight ball game and erected a 61-44 bubble mid-way in the third period.

But that huge lead evaporated quickly as Gary David would do everything he could to keep Meralco’s conference alive.

The reigning PBA scoring champ fired at will and rifled 16 points in the final quarter, including a four-point play under the final minute as Meralco clawed back to make it 90-89.

Thoss then missed free throws while David’s potential go-ahead basket went short. Hontiveros collared the rebound with 13.4 seconds and sank two free throws to give the Aces a 92-89 edge.

With no timeouts remaining, Jared Dillinger rushed towards their basket and sank a fastbreak layup, pulling Meralco within 91-92, 5.3 ticks remaining.

Hontiveros was fouled anew with 4.5 seconds to go and calmly hit both freebies to make it 94-91 even as Cliff Hodge’s 45-foot heave went down the drain, ending Meralco’s campaign in the Philippine Cup.

“It’s our first to win back to back. I’m just proud of my guys. It’s more of attrition for us,” said Alaska head coach Luigi Trillo, whose troops survived their second straight do-or-die game.

“Meralco didn’t give up and we had to weather that storm. We’ll take the win and we’ll look forward to bigger things, which is Ginebra.”

Fight-marred knockout game

Tempers flared early in the all-important do-or-die match; Alaska’s Cyrus Baguio gave Meralco’s Paul Artadi a clothesline underneath the basket with only 26.2 seconds left in the first quarter. Both players were quickly restrained and were slapped with technical fouls.

Later in the second quarter, Bolts forward Cliff Hodge received an elbow from the Aces’ Gabby Espinas which caused both players to topple over.

Out of momentum, Espinas landed a forearm on Hodge’s face upon falling which angered Hodge afterwards. Their teammates prevented further damage while Espinas was given a flagrant foul penalty one.

It will be the first time the Bolts won’t be able to sail past the elimination round of the Philippine Cup. Alaska meanwhile, hopes to survive again against league-leading Ginebra sans Calvin Abueva, who sprained his right ankle in the first half.

The scores

Alaska (94) – Thoss 21, Hontiveros 20, Espinas 16, Baguio 16, Casio 13, Jazul 4, Eman 4, Dela Cruz 0, Ramos 0, Abeuva 0

Meralco (91) – David 20, Artadi 15, Hodge 14, Dillinger 12, Salvacion 11, Wilson 9, Hugnatan 6, Ildefonso 2, Allado 2, Timberlake 0, Al-Hussaini 0


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