Phoenix-FEU survives CafeFrance’s late fightback in Game 1

Phoenix Petroleum nearly squandered a 20-point lead but showed enough poise in the stretch to hold off CafeFrance on Thursday afternoon 82-78 and take the opener of their best-of-five PBA D-League Aspirants Cup finals showdown at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.

Gunner Roger Pogoy led another balanced scoring attack with 18 points while wingman Mac Belo scattered 15 markers, 13 rebounds and three blocks for the Accelerators, who took control majority of the way and led by as many as 51-31 midway in the third but still needed to survive tense moments in the crunch.

“In-expect na namin ‘yun,” said Phoenix Petroleum coach Eric Gonzales of their near collapse in the fourth. “Kaya lang siyempre hindi dapat huminto (maglaro).”

Staring at a 66-79 deficit with more than 2 minutes left, the Bakers employed a suffocating full-court press defense that threw the Accelerators off-balanced while veterans Paul Zamar, Mon Abundo and Congolose center Rod Ebondo took turns in their 10-to-nothing attack, cutting its deficit to just 3 with 18.1 seconds left to play.

A pair of freebies by Ed Daquioag, who finished with 16 points, stopped the Phoenix Petroleum’s 2-minute scoring drought and restored their lead back to four with 12.2 ticks to play, forcing CafeFrance coach Egay Macaraya to sue for time.

On the ensuing play, Carl Cruz kept the Bakers’ hopes alive when he sank two free throws off Mike Tolomia’s foul but Accelerators’ Russell Escoto sealed the deal by splitting his charities with less than five seconds to play.

“There’s no such thing as perfect defense. Ang importante, perfect effort,” added Gonzales. “Basta dapat laying andu’n ang effort. Magkakamali at magkakamali pero ang importante magkaroon tayo ng effort. Hindi dapat mawala ‘yun.”

The 6-foot-8 Ebondo, despite a foul-plagued outing, finished with 16 points, 18 rebounds and 2 blocks for the Bakers, the reigning Foundation Cup champions.

Game 2 is on Tuesday at the FilOil-Flying V Arena in San Juan. – By Jerome Lagunzad

The scores:

Phoenix Petroleum-FEU (82) – Pogoy 18, Daquioag 16, Belo 15, Tolomia 13, Ru. Escoto 12, Ri. Escoto 4, Andrada 3, Jose 1, Inigo 0, Mendoza 0, Pascual 0, Tamsi 0.

CafeFrance (78) – Ebondo 16, Zamar 12, Casino 11, Abundo 8, Jeruta 8, Manlangit 8, Opiso 5, Cruz 4, Anunciacion 2, Celso 2, De Leon 2, Arim 0, Villahermosa 0.

Quarterscores: 17-12, 41-29, 65-50, 82-78.