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CEU reaches D-L semis

Centro Escolar University survived a comeback attempt by Batangas late in the fourth quarter and hacked out an 81-74 victory to claim a semifinals berth yesterday in the PBA D-League Foundation Cup quarterfinals at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.

The UCBL champion Scorpions enjoyed a 14-point lead in the fourth behind JK Casino, Rod Ebondo, Mark Cruz and Aaron Jeruta only to see Batangas rely on its pressure defense to narrow the gap to 77-74 on a Cedrick Ablaza layup with 1:33 remaining.

But CEU hang tough until the end as it made up for missing its final four attempts with key defensive stops, including a steal by Orlan Wamar with Batangas still down by the same score, to arrange a duel with unbeaten Flying V in next week’s best-of-three semis.

“Walang nag-eexpect na umabot kami sa semifinals, but it was all a collective effort,” said CEU coach Yong Garcia.

“Sobrang proud ako sa kanila dahil nakafocus sila sa game na ‘to, even na may tendency na magrelax. At least nakabawi.”

Casino topscored with 18 points spiked by five triples, Ebondo overcame a 5-of-21 shooting to register 15 points, 19 rebounds and four blocks, while Cruz and Jeruta added 15 and 13 points, respectively, to lead the charge for the Scorpions.

Celiz, acquired recently from Zark’s Burgers, had 18 points, eight rebounds and three assists while De Joya added 16 points before sustaining a leg injury when he fell at the midcourt line with Batangas looking to tie the game, resulting in a steal by Wamar.

Casino would knock down two clutch free throws off a Celiz foul following De Joya’s turnover, giving CEU a breather at 79-74 with 14 ticks left.

A breakaway dunk by Joseph Manlangit gave CEU a 67-53 lead with 8:49 to go, only to see Batangas crawl back with Ablaza scoring off Celiz’s steal to close within three.

In the second game, Marinerong Pilipino slipped past Tanduay, 74-72, to force a rubber match for a spot in the semifinals against Cignal.

Fil-American Robbie Herndon, a late acquisition from Wang’s Basketball, scored 16 points in his debut to keep the Skippers’ campaign alive.