Centro Escolar University hacked out a tough 81–74 victory over Batangas to advance to the 2017 PBA D-League Foundation Cup semifinals Thursday at Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.
JK Casiño topped the Scorpions with 18 points, none bigger than his insurance freebies with 14.3 ticks left to douse Batangas’ late rally, along with five rebounds.
Congolese big man Rod Ebondo added 15 markers, 19 boards, and two blocks, while Mark Cruz chimed in 15 points and nine rebounds in the win.
“I’m so proud because they were so focused in the game. even though we had that tendency to relax, we were able to recover in the end,” said coach Yong Garcia, as CEU moves on to the next phase where top-seed Flying V awaits in a best-of-three series.
The Scorpions squandered a 14-point lead, 67-53, with 8:49 remaining as the Batangueños sliced the deficit down to three, 77-74 , thanks to a Cedrick Ablaza putback with 1:33 to play.
Batangas had numerous chances to tie the game but failed to make the most of it as Robby Celiz muffed his trey in the final minute before Cedric de Joya got pickpocketed by Orlan Wamar to quash the uprising for CEU.
It was a huge confidence-boosting campaign for the Scorpions, who consider the semis berth as an overachievement following the huge offseason shift for the squad.
“Nobody expected us to get in to the semis, but with our collective effort, we made it,” said the youthful coach, who took over from coach Egay Macaraya before the conference. “We just keep on reminding the players to treat every game like a championship, and hopefully, whatever experience we gained in the quarterfinals, we can bring it to the semis.”
Celiz paced Batangas with 18 points, eight rebounds, and three assists, while De Joya unloaded 17 in the season-ending defeat.
CEU 81 – Casiño 18, Cruz 15, Ebondo 15, Jeruta 13, Aquino 8, Arim 5, Wamar 5, Manlangit 2, Guinitaran 0, Intic 0, Uri 0.
BATANGAS 74 – Celiz 18, De Joya 16, Ablaza 15, Bautista 7, Gabayni 7, Dela Peña 3, Isit 3, Saitanan 3, Laude 2, Anderson 0, Bulawan 0, Mendoza 0, Ragasa 0, Sorela 0.
Quarters: 28-18, 43-34, 61-50, 81-74.