By JONAS TERRADO
Magnolia Pambansang Manok moved on the verge of advancing to the PBA Philippine Cup Finals after holding off Meralco, 81-69, for a 3-1 lead in their semis series Sunday at the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Mark Barroca’s triple with 2:11 remaining not only put the Hotshots out of danger zone but also pushed them a win shy of reaching the title series of the All-Filipino conference for the third time in the last four years.
The Hotshots now have three tries to finish off the Bolts, beginning with Game 5 tentatively set Wednesday, Oct. 13.
Barroca’s shot came after Meralco got to within five, 74-69, from a high of 22 while also losing Magnolia’s Calvin Abueva with 4:11 left after being forced to sit down for a Flagrant Foul 1.
“We know na babalik sila and this is not an easy game,” said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero. “But we stayed composed on our last possession and then Mark hit the three. So we weathered that storm.”
Barroca finished with 17 points and six assists while Abueva and Sangalang also had the same amount of points for Magnolia.
Earlier, San Miguel Beer unleashed a furious start and never looked back to beat TNT, 116-90, and tie their best-of-seven semifinal series at 2-2.
After spending the first three games falling behind by big margins, the Beermen turned the tables on the Tropang Giga that set the stage for the most lopsided result since the series the began.
Mo Tautuaa imposed his will against the TNT froncourt with 19 of his 25 points in the first half Terrence Romeo, June Mar Fajardo, Marcio Lassiter, Arwind Santos, CJ Perez, Chris Ross and Alex Cabagnot were also key in SMB’s triumph.
The Beermen also gave the Tropang Giga a frustrating afternoon with both Troy Rosario and Poy Erram dealing with foul trouble.
Erram would later be sent to the hospital for observation after his head hit the floor while he and Tautuaa were scrambling for the looseball in the second quarter.
RR Pogoy, TNT’s top semis scorer after averaging 23.3 points, was held to just two points on 1-of-10 shooting while Mikey Williams struggled anew with a 3-of-12 shooting despite 11 points while turning the ball over six times.
Jio Jalalon also was key for the Hotshots with 10 points, four rebounds and four assists.
Magnolia led from start to finish as Meralco was once again without injured center Raymond Almazan for the second straight game.
Abueva’s three-point play made it 64-42 with 4:13 remaining in the third period, but the Bolts slowly tried to make their way back.
Meralco’s defense in the fourth limited Magnolia to 2-of-15 while gaining more momentum when Abueva got a Flagrant 1 after another rebound situation with series nemesis Cliff Hodge.
Down 74-62, the Bolts put up seven consecutive points with Hodge draining two free throws from that infraction, Chris Newsome making a jumper and Hugnatan knocking down a three-pointer with 2:34 left.
Magnolia barely avoided an eight-second violation before Barroca sank the triple that put a death knell on Meralco.
SAN MIGUEL 116 — Tautuaa 25, Romeo 16, Fajardo 13, Lassiter 13, Cabagnot 12, Santos 11, Perez 10, Ross 7, Pessumal 4, Zamar 3, Gamalinda 2, Gotladera 0.
TNT 90 — Castro 15, Khobuntin 13, M.Williams 11, Rosario 10, Exciminiano 8, Mendoza 6, Heruela 5, Montalbo 4, Alejandro 4, Javier 4, Erram 3, Marcelo 3, Reyes 2, Pogoy 2.
Quarters: 26-14, 57-32, 91-61, 116-90.
MAGNOLIA 81 — Barroca 17, Abueva 17, Sangalang 17, Jalalon 10, Lee 9, Ahanmisi 5, Dionisio 4, Corpuz 1, Reavis 1, Dela Rosa 0.
MERALCO 69 — Hugnatan 21, Hodge 13, Newsome 11, Quinto 7, Pinto 6, Belo 3, Maliksi 2, Pasaol 3, Baclao 3, Caram 0.
Quarters: 23-18, 46-35, 68-50, 81-69.