Bacolod became the first two-game winner, Nueva Ecija showed its strength, while Mindoro and Rizal pulled off stunners in the 2021 Chooks-to-Go Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Invitational on Sunday, December 12, at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Ichie Altamirano made a pair of free throws with 12 seconds to go as the All-Star Bacolod Ballers nipped the Negros Muscovados, 68-67, to lead Group A, while the Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards coasted to a 99-92 victory over the Sarangani Marlins in Group C of the 22-team, 13-day tournament open to a limited number of fans.
The Mindoro EOG-Burlington Tamaraws kept their poise in a seesaw encounter to beat the Manila Stars, 80-77, and keep pace with the EMKAI-Rizal Xentromall Golden Coolers who trounced the GenSan Warriors, 73-66, in Group D.
Earlier in Group B, the Bicol Volcanoes rebounded from an opening day loss with a 90-68 thumping of Laguna Krah Asia.
As in their 73-71 victory over the Bacoor City Strikers on Saturday, December 11, the Bacolod Ballers struggled past the Muscovados, who rallied from 12 points down to take the lead at 67-66 courtesy of 4 straight points from Jonathan Gantalao.
But Altamirano, who also lifted Bacolod past Bacoor, 73-71, proved steady at the line while the Muscovados bungled their final play to absorb their second straight defeat.
“Hats off to Negros for being able to come back despite us controlling this game,” said Bacolod coach Alex Angeles in a mix of Filipino and English. “For our part, a win is a win. These kinds of situations will make us stronger.”
JK Casiño led Bacolod with 15 points, 11 on free throws, while Altamirano scored 13 plus 4 rebounds. John Pastias and Arben Dionson added 9 and 8 points, respectively, for Bacolod.
Negros drew 13 points from Jaycee Adjei and 10 each from Jafet Claridad and Ralph Jude Dinolan.
The Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards pulled away at 67-49 before easing up in their debut in Group C.
Michael Mabulac led Nueva Ecija’s scorers with 17, followed by John Paul Sarao (15), John Bryon Villarias (14), Justin Gutang (10), and Christopher Bitoon (10).
Mindoro, now being mentored by Britt Reroma, got 17 points each from team leader Ryusei Koga and James Darwin Castro.
The Golden Coolers of coach Rodney Santos drew 23 points and 7 assists from Adrian Celada and 16 points and 9 rebounds from Jordan Rios. – Rappler.com