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Hapee, Cebuana close in on finals

Games Monday (San Juan Arena)
2 p.m. – Cebuana Lhuillier vs Cagayan Valley
4 p.m. – Café France vs Hapee

Second-seed Hapee and Cebuana Lhuillier are one game away from a championship duel nobody has imagined.

Hapee’s dominant bench and playoff experience were on display on Thursday as the Fresh Fighters routed the Café France Bakers, 74-58, in the opener of their PBA D-League Aspirants’ Cup semifinal series at the Ynares Arena in Pasig City.

In contrast, Cebuana Lhuillier used a strong first half to deal top-seed Cagayan Valley its first loss, 89-85, in the other semifinal many had thought would be a walk-in-the-park for the Rising Suns.

Simon Enciso scored 11 of his game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter to help the Gems repel repeated charge by the stunned Rising Suns.

Cagayan Valley, which swept the 11-games elimination round, battled back from a 26-point deficit in the second quarter but the margin proved too big to overhaul.

“This is the semi-finals. We take every game like a knockout game. I thought the players showed their character and played with a lot of poise,” observed Cebuana coach Boycie Zamar, visibly offended when Cagayan coach Alvin Pua ignored him during the customary handshake after the game.

Allan Mangahas scored 17 points while former La Salle teammates Norberto Torres and Almond Vosotros added 15 apiece for the Gems, who led by 19 after one quarter and by 47-35 at halftime.

Jason Melano scored 21 points and Don Trollano had 19 for the Rising Suns, who pulled within 85-88 on a 3-point shot by John Tayontong with 18.1 seconds left. Moala Tautuaa, managed just five points and nine rebounds in his match-up with Torres.

“Cagayan won 11 games in the eliminations. They are capable of making a comeback so we must be ready,” said Zamar of Game 2 set on Monday at the San Juan Arena.

The third seed Bakers were simply mismatched against the Fresh Fighters, who asserted their will in the second quarter as Garvo Lanete, Troy Rosario and Nico Elorde found their shooting touch to get them going.