Mark Cruz shines as Star Hotshots advance to playoffs

The smallest Star shone brightest as an undermanned Hotshots team drew a career game from diminutive rookie Mark Cruz to advance to the playoffs.

The 5-foot-5 Cruz exploded for 14 of his 18 points in the pivotal fourth quarter scoring the telling blows that took the fight out of Mahindra in an 86-73 shellacking on Wednesday night at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

With James Yap and Alex Mallari out and Mark Barroca suffering a boxer’s cut early in the game, Cruz seized the opportunity to shine.

“Before the game, sinabihan ako ni coach (Jason Webb) to be ready dahil kulang kami sa guards,” Cruz said after the game.

Read: Manny Pacquiao’s win boosts Mahindra’s morale ahead of KO game

And he was more than ready as he caught fire at crunchtime to key Star’s breakaway from a tight game.

Cruz hit 3-of-6 from long distance and made all of his 5 free throws to finish with his career-high. He added 2 rebounds and a steal and an assist in his biggest game that came at the biggest game yet for Star this conference.

“Kahit na maliit ‘yung bata, ibang klase ang puso niya. I’m lucky to have coached these guys,” said Webb.

The win sealed Star the final spot in the quarterfinals while ousting Mahindra in the process.

Read: Star’s Allein Maliksi, Jason Webb wary of ‘inspired’ Mahindra

Ricard Ratliffe had his usual double-double game collecting 24 points and 16 rebounds while Ian Sangalang and Allein Maliksi chipped in 12 and 11, respectively for the Hotshots.

Mahindra, which only trailed by 2, 51-53, heading into the final quarter, got 13 points each from import Augustus Gilchrist, Aldrech Ramos and Karl Dehesa as they finished with 3-8 win-loss record. – By Alder Almo

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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