By Jerome Lagunzad
Heady playmaker Jeff Viernes delivered a key basket down the stretch as Che’Lu Bar and Grill repeated over Akari-Adamson, 93-90, yesterday to book the first finals ticket in the 2018 PBA D-League Aspirants Cup at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.
The 5-foot-7 Viernes highlighted his team-high 17-point showing with the go-ahead 15-foot jumper from the right elbow with 18.2 seconds left as the fourth-ranked Revellers completed their figthback from an early 19-point deficit and earned a fitting follow-up to a 70-60 win over the top-ranked Falcons in the opener last Tuesday.
More importantly, Che’Lu Bar and Grill, composed of the core of San Sebastian College with the entry of battle-scarred veterans led by former pro Viernes, sealed its place in the best-of-three title series either against Zark’s Burgers and Marinerong Pilipino.
“Kailangan ko talaga ‘yung leadership ng mga veterans. Kita niyo naman, kahit anong sama ng simula ni Jeff, siya pa rin ‘yung magdadala sa dulo,” said Revellers coach Stevenson Tiu, who finally made it to the finals after several failed tries with defunct Jumbo Plastic.
Lefty gunner Allyn Bulanadi also came up big for Che’Lu Bar and Grill, drilling in half of his 16 points in the final period, while grizzled big man Cedric Ablaza added 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting and hauled down eight rebounds.
Top forward Michael Calisaan, back from a fractured left elbow injury, provided enough inspiration for the Revellers as he made an empathic return with 14 points in as many minutes off the bench, doing most of the damage in the middle quarters.
“Ang sama kasi ng other big man namin so nag-decide ‘yung coaching staff ko at the last minute na i-gamble na si Michael. Buti nag-pay off naman,” added Tiu of the Stags’ main man who also accounted for four of their 12 steals, underscoring his immense help on the defensive end.