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PBA D League: CaféFrance stays alive

Game Thursday (Ynares Sports Arena, Pasig City)
3 p.m. – CaféFrance vs Hapee
(Series tied 1-1)

CaféFrance refused to hand Hapee Toothpaste the title on a silver platter and earned the distinction as the first team to force a sudden death showdown in the PBA D-League finals.

Behind a slew of heroes who stepped up when it mattered most, the Bakers outlasted the Fresh Fighters, 76-70, to send the Foundation Cup finals to a deciding third game yesterday at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.

Buoyed by a throng of supporters from Centro Escolar University, CaféFrance unleashed a fiery start behind a variety of contributors before an ex-pro made sure that the Bakers’ lead will stay intact until the final buzzer.

Topscorer Samboy de Leon, who finished with 14 points, joined hands with fellow CEU standouts Joseph Sedurifa, Mon Abundo and Alfred Batino to lead the charge in ending a string of title sweeps in the first eight conferences of the league.

De Leon and company gave their schoolmates and CaféFrance Coach Egay Macaraya something to cheer about as they helped the Bakers take a commanding 43-25 lead near the end of the first half.

And as Hapee appeared to be on the verge of orchestrating a big comeback, Eloy Poligrates, the heart and soul of the team’s breakthrough finals appearance, ended his shooting drought late in the contest.

The left-hander from Cebu drained a crucial three-pointer that gave CaféFrance a 72-62 cushion with 3:33 remaining in the game, then put the finishing touches on the victory when he threaded the Hapee defense for a layup to make it 75-67 with 15 seconds to play.

Poligrates, who shot a horrendous 3-of-20 shooting in Game 1, scored just eight points but left in imprint in the win that set the stage for a winner-take-all third game on Thursday at the same venue.

“We played good defense. The boys tried to stop Hapee as a whole and that was the biggest key in this game,” said Macaraya.

“However, we just won one game and we need to win another one. As I’ve said before, records are meant to be broken and that’s why we’re going for the victory this Thursday.”

It remains to be seen whether tensions caused by a fourth quarter scuffle will boil over in the rubber match.

Team managers Bernard Yang of Hapee and Jun Tongco of CaféFrance were ejected with 2:51 left in the game after Art dela Cruz was grimacing in pain following a hit by Batino.

The two officials and several players such as Hapee’s Jaypee Mendoza and Ola Adeogun and CaféFrance’s Michael Miranda trade verbal barbs.

Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed.

Adeogun’s technical proved to be his dubious contribution yesterday as he was forced to watch the game from the sidelines after he and Kirk Long sustained injuries. Hapee was also forced to sit guard Baser Amer in the second half for undisclosed reasons.

CaféFrance feasted on their absence with Batino scoring 11 markers and Rod Ebondo, also a CEU product, contributing 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Sedurifa added nine markers while Abundo and Aaron Jeruta chipped in eight points each.

Chris Newsome led Hapee in a losing effort with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

CAFÉFRANCE 76 – De Leon 14, Batino 11, Ebondo 10, Sedurifa 9, Jeruta 8, Poligrates 8, Abundo 8, Ahanmisi 7, Cortes 1, Galanza 0, Miranda 0, Noble 0, Andrada 0.

HAPEE 70 – Newsome 15, Dela Cruz 14, Rosario 13, Thompson 9, Elorde 6, Romero 5, Amer 3, Mendoza 3, Sorela 2, Gamboa 0, Villahermosa 0, Koga 0.

Quarters: 21-12; 45-30; 62-48; 76-70.