SAN JUAN City – It will be the Cagayan Valley Rising Suns versus the Hapee Fresh Fighters for the 2014-2015 PBA D-League Aspirants Cup. This after the Rising Suns ousted the game Cebuana Lhuillier Gems, 103-85, Thursday afternoon (February 12) at the San Juan Arena.
While the final score seemed lopsided, it was not reflective of the game-long struggle. Nursing a three-point cushion with still 5:52 to play, the Rising Suns unleashed a crippling 19-2 blitzkrieg highlighted by a barrage of triples from Abel Galliguez, Don Trollano and Eric Salamat and an insane dunk by Moala Tautuaa to stretch their lead to its highest, 101-81, and 1:46 to go.
The first period ended with at 25-25 after Tautuaa and Salamat combined for the last six points to force the stalemate. Tautuaa continued to pound the inside, eventually giving Cagayan Valley its first twin-digit lead of the game on a free throw, 40-30.
The Gems came charging into a court with renewed energy come the second half. Slowly, the Gems chipped away at their deficit to threaten on a Jessmar Villahermosa basket, 63-65.
However, the Rising Suns banked on back-to-back triples by Andrian Celada and Galliguez against a James Mangahas free throw for some breathing space, 71-64. With the rest of his mates struggling, Allan Mangahas tried one final rally for the Gems, accounting for seven markers before Cagayan Valley managed to deliver the deciding blows.
The Gems of Coach David “Boycie” Zamar took Game One, 89-85, to hand the Rising Suns their first setback and snap their 11-game winning streak. Cagayan Valley recovered to take Game Two, 98-93.
This marks the Rising Suns’ second appearance in the finals after getting swept 0-2 by the NLEX Road Warriors in the 2012-2013 Aspirants Cup. “I have better players now compared to then and this team learned their lessons by getting hurt first,” said Coach Alvin Pua.
Tautuaa powered his way to 22 points on top of eight rebounds for the Rising Suns. Celada followed with 16 points and eight rebounds while Galliguez and Trollano chipped in 14 apiece.
Kevin Ferrer paced the Gems with 18 points. Norbert Torres followed with a double-double of 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Game One of the best-of-three championship series will be on Monday (February 16) at the San Juan Arena starting at 3:00 PM. The winner will have a big advantage as all of the past PBA D-League Finals have resulted in 2-0 sweeps.
Coach Pua expects the series to be at least three times as tough, a thought echoed by Galliguez who expects a physical series. Cagayan Valley inflicted Hapee’s lone loss in the tournament, 80-77, last January 22 on a miracle triple by Galliguez.
How They Scored:
CAGAYAN VALLEY (103) – Tautuaa 22, Celada 16, Trollano 14, Galliguez 14, Austria 10, Melano 8, Salamat 7, Mabulac 4, Capacio 3, Dilay 2, Tayongtong 2, Flores 1, Olayon 0, Santos 0.
CEBUANA LHUILLIER (85) – Ferrer 18, Torres 15, Enciso 14, A. Mangahas 12, J. Mangahas 10, Zamar 7, Lopez 3, Acibar 2, Villahermosa 2, Sarangay 2, Vosotros 0, Bautista 0.
Period Scores: 25-25, 55-47, 73-68, 103-85.