League-leading Tigers nip athletics
BATANGAS CITY—Unheralded swingman Eman Calo scored on a fastbreak layup with 20 seconds remaining as Davao Occidental hacked out a gutsy 71-70 victory over Batangas City on Saturday night to solidify its hold of top spot in the South division of the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) Datu Cup.
Calo went on a mad sprint to catch Billy Robles’ pass, before finishing at the rim for the marginal basket as the Tigers came out on top in a wild and enthralling endgame before a sizeable crowd at Batangas City Coliseum.
The Athletics, champions of the inaugural Rajah Cup, failed to score on their final possession with Val Acuña missing a couple of three pointers before Robles swatted away Denice Villamor’s potential game-winning jumper at the baseline.
Leo Najorda had 17 points and 10 rebounds as the Tigers, who improved to 18-4, showed their readiness for the playoffs by conquering a team known for its strong play at home.
Batangas fell to 13-10 and dropped to fourth in the South.
Davao coach Don Dulay said he is no longer concerned whether or not his team finishes at the top of the South division heading into the postseason just as long as the Tigers keep improving.
“What I want is for the team to get better with our execution,” said Dulay.
The Tigers led by as many as 14 points in the second half, before Jeff Viernes willed the Athletics back in the game together with Jhaymo Eguilos.
Najorda’s putback pushed Davao ahead, 66-64, but Viernes tied the game anew with two foul shots. Acuña tipped in an Eguilos miss for a two-point spread, but Joseph Terso knocked in a three to give Davao the lead, 69-68.
Earlier, Rizal kept its postseason hopes alive by stunning a surprisingly lethargic Pampanga squad, 85-76.
Marco Balagtas tallied 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists, while Patrick Bacay finished with 14 points and Eric Dela Cuesta added 13 points for the Crusaders, who still occupy 12th spot in the South division with 7-15 record.
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