MANILA, Philippines – Nueva Ecija showed its maturity and poise in trouncing Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines, 69-56, and clinching the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) national title on Monday night, December 12, at the Mayor Vitaliano D. Agan Coliseum in Zamboanga City.
Bouncing back from a 65-75 beating in Game 3, the Rice Vanguards struck hard in the second quarter to pull away and cut short the best-of-five series, 3-1.
Held to a 15-15 count after the first 10 minutes, Nueva Ecija greeted the second quarter with 14 straight points, the first 8 by Byron Villarias, then dropped another 10-point salvo to zoom ahead to the biggest lead of the series, 39-19.
Villarias wound up with 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 steals to earn best player honors and get the citation of Finals MVP.
Other players who shone for Nueva Ecija coach Jerson Cabiltes were Michael Juico, who finished with 11 points and 4 rebounds, Michael Mabulac, who ended up with 10 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals, and Jonathan Uyloan, who contributed 9 points, all from triples.
A teary-eyed Cabiltes, who won his fifth straight title in different leagues, said he just did what Nueva Ecija team owner Bong Cuevas asked him to do: bring the championship to Nueva Ecija in Game 4.
Cuevas, Palayan City Mayor Rianne Cuevas, and other Nueva Ecija bigwigs flew to Zamboanga to show their support for the Rice Vanguards, who swept the elimination round en route to the North division title and eventually the national title.
All Rice Vanguards were also allowed by the Cuevas family to bring their families to Zamboanga. Nueva Ecija took the first two games at home, 81-75 and 75-74.
MPBL All-Star and season MVP Jaycee Marcelino tried to inject life back into Zamboanga, but the most the Zamboangueños, the South division champions, could do was cut the lead a bit to 40-24.
Marcelino tallied 17 points, but no other Zamboanga player contributed double figures. Jhaymo Eguilos, Ralph Tansingco, and Cyrus Tabi chipped in 7 each.
The Rice Vanguards were able to break away by controlling the boards, 59-40, negating poor free throw shooting which saw them make only 7 of 23 attempts.
In contrast to their Game 3 three-point shooting, where they only made 1 of 19 tries, the Rice Vanguards drilled in 6 treys, including two by Villarias and one by Taganas, who snared 10 rebounds.
MPBL commissioner Kenneth Duremdes handed the P14-million trophy to Cuevas during the awarding ceremony held after the game.
MPBL operations head Emmer Oreta, league executive Joe Ramos, and head of security Rudy Distrito joined Duremdes in giving the Finals MVP trophy to Villarias, the Coach of the Year trophy to Cabiltes, and the championship rings to the members of the champion team. – Rappler.com