When Hapee Toothpaste and CaféFrance take the floor for the first game of the PBA D-League Foundation Cup finals today, it will be a story of two teams who took separate routes on the way to the pinnacle.
But the method of how both teams got here is now out of the question as the Fresh Fighters and the Bakers look to draw first blood in their 3 p.m. duel at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.
The opener of the best-of-three title series will feature a team on the rise against a squad determined to keep its winning tradition.
CaféFrance is out to prove that entering the finals for the first time since the franchise joined the league’s inaugural staging in 2011 is no fluke, while Hapee aims to keep its winning ways after ruling the Aspirants Cup in February.
The Bakers wound up tied with the Cebuana Lhuillier Gems for the best record in the elimination round at 7-2 before cruising past the Cagayan-Gerry’s Rising Suns in the semifinals.
Coach Egay Macaraya, who coached CaféFrance right from the beginning, finally got the big pieces to compete for the title behind Maverick Ahanmisi, Rod Ebondo, Samboy de Leon and key acquisition Eloy Poligrates.
“Makikita mo naman talaga ang kagusutuhan ng mga players na makuha ito e. They worked hard for this. Talagang pinaghirapan nila. Ngayon we have to go for gold,” said Macaraya.
As for Hapee, it reached the finals the hard way, needing to win its last four elims matches to reach the playoffs before surviving Jumbo Plastic and Cebuana in hard-fought matches in the quarters and semis, respectively.
The Fresh Fighters have battled adversity right from they started the conference minus key players from the NCAA champion San Beda Red Lions.
The San Beda players such as Ola Adeogun, Baser Amer and Art dela Cruz eventually returned to the fold but had to deal with the absences of Garvo Lanete, Bobby Ray Parks, Amer, Troy Rosario and Scottie Thompson for various reasons to reach the title round.
The good news for Hapee is that Amer, Rosario and Thompson will return in time for the finals, making them the favorites to hoist a second straight championship.
Hapee Coach Ronnie Magsanoc, however, believes his team will endure a tough ride against CaféFrance.
“I’ve always said that (CaféFrance is) a very disciplined team. They’re well coached and talagang lahat nagtatrabaho. They got into the finals seamlessly, napakatahimik, and that’s what makes them a dangerous squad,” said Magsanoc.