There won’t be any rematch in the Finals as fierce rivals Phoenix and Cafe France draw each other in the semifinals of the 2016 PBA D-League Foundation Cup Thursday at Strike Gym in Bacoor, Cavite.
Only one of the past two champions will have a shot of booking that elusive return trip to the championship series and though both of them got wins at each other’s expense, Phoenix will enjoy the twice-to-beat advantage when they face off at 6 p.m.
“That’s our goal, to make it back to the Finals, but there’s no guarantee yet,” said coach Eric Gonzales. “We need to study and work with our own hands together.”
The Accelerators will bank on Aspirants Cup MVP Mac Belo, this conference’s Best Player frontrunner Mike Tolomia, and Ed Daquioag to capitalize on the incentive for finishing as the second-seed.
But it won’t be easy, as Congolese Rod Ebondo returns for Cafe France after battling flu two days back.
Though it pains for the Bakers to miss out on the twice-to-beat, what they still have is an experienced core which have faced adversity before led by veterans Carl Bryan Cruz and Paul Zamar.
“We’ll prepare hard for the semis,” said assistant coach Mike Buendia, who, along with fellow deputy Yong Garcia, took charge in Cafe France’s last game against AMA Online Education.
Head coach Egay Macaraya will also be present after serving his one-game suspension.
In the other series, top-seed Racal is hopeful to sustain its late-season form and make the franchise’s first ever Finals appearance.
Coach Caloy Garcia knows the gravity of the situation, but the Tile Masters have proven to rise up to the challenge, as evidenced by their six-game winning streak.
“It was more of a challenge for our players because we lost two of our best players last conference in Jio Jalalon and Jason Perkins. So they were playing to prove that they can win games without them,” he said, as Jonathan Grey and Philip Paniamogan now lead the fort for the crew.
Learning from the heartbreaks of the past, Garcia is also wishing that his team have learned from last conference’s gaffe where Racal lost steam late and flubbed its twice-to-beat advantage. “This time, di na dapat namin paabutin sa situation na yun kasi talagang nakakasisi,” he said.
Doing that, though, won’t be easy as standing in the Tile Masters’ way is a dangerous Tanduay team when the two squads clash at 4 p.m.
Kevin Ferrer will finally have a chance to test his mettle against Racal, as he will pair up with Gelo Alolino and Rudy Lingganay as the Rhum Masters shoot for the upset.
But for coach Lawrence Chongson, he doesn’t want to look at the UST standout as a savior of sorts for his team after losing his first two cracks at the Tile Masters. “Kevin Ferrer will only be Kevin Ferrer if he can’t carry us through in the playoffs,” he said.
What he’s looking at, though, is the possibility of Racal peaking too early where its luck would run out in the playoffs.
“I’m just kind of hoping that they run out luck or the law of averages will catch up with them,” he said. “But seriously, we can see that they’re playing very well right now.”