SAN JUAN City – The CaféFrance Bakers earned the first playoff win in franchise history at the expense of Bread Story-Lyceum, 81-68, and barge into the semifinals of the 2014-2015 PBA D-League Aspirants Cup Monday (February 2) at the San Juan Arena. The Bakers will now meet pre-tournament favorite Hapee Fresh Fighters in the best-of-three semifinal series starting on February 5 (Thursday) at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.
Coach Edgar Macaraya made a surprise move by inserting third-string guard Aaron Jeruta into the starting unit and the gambit paid instant dividends as the former NAASCU Juniors Division Most Valuable Player exploded for 10 points in the first period as the Bakers built an early 14-7 lead. Recovering from their slow start, substitutes Mike Gamboa, Ed Daquioag and Joseph Gabayni sparked a key 14-0 run in the second period that allowed Bread Story to seize the advantage, 36-24, en route to a comfortable halftime cushion, 42-37.
After the halftime break, the Bakers returned a different team, turning the third period into a seesaw battle for the lead. After Gamboa put Bread Story ahead for the last time, 53-52, the Bakers went on a crippling 16-3 windup to the third chapter behind Samboy de Leon, Rodrigue Ebondo and Jeruta for a 68-56 tally entering the final period.
The Bakers proceeded to deliver the jugular, erecting their biggest lead of the day at 79-62 with 2:21 to play. A late surge by Bread Story pared down their final deficit.
“I challenged the guards to step up today because last game they were eaten alive,” said Coach Macaraya. “We had a goal of making the semifinals and now that we are there, we might as well go for the finals.”
Entering the game averaging only 3.4 points in 11 games, Jeruta finished with 22 points and three rebounds and three steals in 24 minutes of action. Joseph Sedurifa came off the bench to pop in 12 points and six rebounds.
Daquioag paced Bread Story with 11 markers. Gamboa and Jiovani Jalalon were next with 10 points each.
The Bakers managed to qualify as the sixth seed twice but immediately got the boot after the first quarterfinal game – 75-82 to the Cebuana Lhuillier Gems in the 2012 Founders Cup and 69-89 to Blackwater in the 2014 Founders Cup. The team also ended up tied for the sixth seed with Blackwater during the last Aspirants Cup but the latter held the tiebreaker.
The Gems completed the other semifinal pairing by ousting the Jumbo Plastic Linoleum Giants, 85-81. The Gems arranged a best-of-three duel with undefeated top seed Cagayan Valley Rising Suns also beginning on Thursday.
Leading for most of the first three periods, the Gems enjoyed several 12-point leads, the last coming at 58-46. The Giants showed signs of life via an 11-0 burst anchored on Jansen Rios, Maclean Sabellina and Jeymo Eguilos to threaten, 57-58.
With momentum on their side, the Giants finally grabbed the lead as Philip Paniamogan tossed in two triples and Dennice Villamor and Juami Tiongson provided backup in a 14-2 blitz to begin the fourth canto, 73-67. The Gems then countered with a five-point cluster by Allan Mangahas and a three-point play Simon Enciso and capped by a Paul Zamar triple to push the Gems ahead, 79-78.
Glenn Khobuntin tied the game for the last time with a charity split off Kevin Ferrer at the 2:55 mark, 79-79. Khobuntin then fouled Zamar who could only make one free throw, 80-79.
Bracing for another mad finish, the Giants bungled their next offensive. Norbert Torres then drilled in a crucial side jumper to stretch the Gems’ lead with 33 seconds remaining, 82-79.
Torres then fouled Khobuntin who missed both free throws. The Giants had no choice but to foul Zamar, who calmly insured the win with two more gift shots, 84-79, and 24 ticks on the clock.
“We lost the killer instinct at the start of the fourth as they celebrated too early,” said winning coach David “Boycie” Zamar. “Good thing the players realized their mistakes in time and stepped up to make the big plays.”
Torres was no doubt the biggest man of the game with 17 points and eight rebounds. Mangahas followed with 15 points.
Paniamogan was silent with only five points in the first period but added 10 more in the fourth to still top the Giants with 15 points. Sabellina and Tiongson were next with 11 points each.
How They Scored:
CEBUANA LHUILLIER (85) – Torres 17, A. Mangahas 15, Enciso 12, Vosotros 12, Ferrer 10, Zamar 8, Bautista 5, Guinto 3, Lopez 2, Villahermosa 1, Sarangay 0.
JUMBO PLASTIC (81) – Paniamogan 15, Sabellina 11, Tiongson 11, Eguilos 10, Khobuntin 8, Villamor 6, Colina 6, Javier 5, Cruz 3, Terso 3, Rios 3, Rosales 0.
Period Scores: 28-24, 51-40, 65-59, 85-81.
CAFÉFRANCE (81) – Jeruta 22, Sedurifa 12, Ebondo 10, de Leon 9, Ahanmisi 7, Andrada 6, Alolino 4, Batino 4, Cruz 2, Cortes 2, Abundo 0, Noble 0.
BREAD STORY (68) – Daquioag 11, Gamboa 10, Jalalon 10, Corpuz 9, Gabayni 6, Taladua 5, Bangga 5, Mbomiko 3, Bulawan 3, Baltazar 2, Zamora 2, Vigil 2, Lao 0, Elmejrab 0.
Period Scores: 21-19, 37-42, 68-56, 81-68.