NLEX sweeps series, claims 4th title in row
MANILA, Philippines - For NLEX, winning championships in the PBA D-League has indeed become a habit.
The Road Warriors used a strong start and a stronger finish to bury the Cagayan Valley Rising Suns, 82-71, and complete a sweep of their best-of-three series for the Aspirants Cup crown at The Arena in San Juan yesterday.
It was NLEX’s fourth straight championship in as many conferences of the fledgling league, underscoring the team’s superior edge in manpower, talent and experience over the rest of the field.
“Just like our previous championships, this one is sweet because of the hardship and the challenges we went through along the way. Everybody thought this conference would be a breeze for us but we almost got eliminated by JRU (Jose Rizal University) in the semifinals,” said NLEX coach Boyet Fernandez as the Road Warriors whooped it up at center court after the buzzer while team owner and patron Manny V. Pangilianan and Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes merrily watched from the stands.
Not even the ejection of Cagayan Valley coach Alvin Pua in the second quarter could fire up the Rising Suns, visibly overmatched in terms of bench depth and experience.
“The players are determined to finish the series today to get some rest. In a couple of weeks we’ll be back for the next conference and we still have no idea about our lineup,” said Fernandez.
Garvo Lanete scored 17 points, Borgie Hermida had 10 markers and Jake Pascual grabbed 13 rebounds to anchor NLEX’s fastbreak game. The Road Warriors won the battle of the boards, 54-36.
NLEX was safely ahead at 33-18 when Pua was tossed out for contacting a game official with 4:42 left in the second quarter.
“His ejection somehow affected our energy level. The players thought it was over. So I scolded them during the break and I’m pleased they responded well after halftime,” said Fernandez.
The Road Warriors opened the first quarter with a bristling 19-2 run that set the tone of the rout with Lanete and RR Garcia closing that run with back-to-back triples.
Eliud Poligrates tallied 21 points for Cagayan Valley. Mark Bringas scored 13 and Adrian Celeda added 12 for the Rising Suns, who turned into a championship contender after a 0-9 stint in the Foundation Cup.
But their lack of championship experience and poise told heavily on their title bid.