by Jerome Lagunzad
Denied the last time out, Batangas City got back at host Muntinlupa, 68-66, to clinch the inaugural Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Anta Rajah Cup crown before an overflowing Thursday night crowd inside the Muntinlupa Sports Center.
Moncrief Rogado, inserted to the starting lineup for the very first time, repaid the trust given to him by coach Mac Tan by scoring a team-high 14 points while reliables Bong Quinto and Jhaymo Eguilos made big buckets down the stretch to help the Athletics hold off the Cagers in another cardiac finish.
Quinto finished with 12 points off the bench while Paul Varilla came up a rebound shy of a double-double with 10 points, doing their best to overcome the shooting struggles of eventual tournament MVP Val Acuña and Teytey Teodoro for the second straight time.
The thrilling victory enabled Batangas City to bounce back from an 82-77 loss in Game 3 last Tuesday and wrap up the series at 3-1, bringing home the Larry O’Brien-inspired 24-inch trophy plus the top purse of P1million from league founder Senator Manny Pacquiao.
“Nakita niyo naman ‘yung intensity and willingness ng mga players to play. Ayaw na nilang umabot sa Batangas para maglaro pa. Kung uuwi man kami, para sa motorcade na lang,” said Tan, basking in the glow of their latest title conquest.
University of the East product Pari Llagas came up big anew with game-highs of 19 points and 14 rebounds while Dave Moralde and Allan Mangahas combined for 25 points despite their rough shooting performance but the Cagers still came up short after erasing a 15-point deficit in the first half.
Muntinlupa, boosted by another huge hometown crowd, went on a big surge in the third canto and even went ahead at 65-63 off a Moralde lay-up with less than two minutes to play.
But Batangas City refused to crumble under duress as Quinto tied things up with his own conversion in transition and Eguilos made the go-ahead jumper, giving them back the momentum with 59 seconds remaining.
The Cagers had plenty of opportunities to make things more interesting in the crunch but Moralde and Llagas could not help them get over the hump as they bungled three of their four attempts from the 15-foot line.
The 6-foot3 Acuña, despite his lackluster showing in the finals, was still adjudged as the tournament MVP. “Hindi ko po ‘yun ini-expect kasi nag-struggle talaga ako ngayong finals. Pero masaya ako na ako ‘yung naging MVP. Sabi nga ni coach, maniwala lang kami na mananalo kami ngayon,” he said.
BATANGAS 68 – Rogado 14, Quinto 12, Varilla 10, Teodoro 9, Eguilos 7, Santos 6, Acuna 5, Olayon 4, Villamor 1, Grimaldo 0, Alvarez 0, Pasculado 0.
MUNTINUPA 66 – Llagas 19, Moralde 14, Reverente 12, Mangahas 11, Ylagan 7, Jaime 3, Apreku 0, Vergara 0, Stevens 0.
Quarters: 16-12, 43-28, 54-47, 68-66.