IN THEIR final home game this conference Thursday night at the Xavier University gym, the top seed Misamis Oriental Meteors gave their loyal fans more than enough memories.

A thrilling 73-71 decision over the defending national champion M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala-Cebu Niños, gives the Meteors a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five 2009 Smart Liga Pilipinas Conference II National Finals.

The Meteors of Governor Oscar Moreno and coach Jun Noel thus moved into position to claim their franchise’s very first Liga Pilipinas championship when they renew their rivalry with the Niños of Michel Lhuillier and coach Raul “Yayoy” Alcoseba in Game Saturday night at the New Cebu Coliseum.

The Niños though will try their best to force a winner-take-all Game 5 set for Monday (April 20), still at the Coliseum.

The odds tend to favor the Meteors. So far, the team has only lost once on the road in this conference supported by Smart, ML Kwarta Padala, Burlington, Accel, Air 21, Laptop Phoneshop Exchange, Pagcor Sports, Nature’s Spring Water and Molten and sanctioned by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP).

However, that was during the Cebu City Leg last March 5 against the Niños, 65-70. The Meteors though managed to adjust and take the leg at the Niños’ expense two days later, 69-68.

Team leader Mark Yee sank his only field goal a game, but it was a crucial triple at the 2:11 mark of the fourth period that matched the Meteors’ biggest lead of the game, 70-63. Earlier, Ramil Tagupa nailed back-to-back treys of his own to erect the first seven-point Meteors lead, 65-58 with 3:36 remaining.

Not giving up, Mark Ababon countered with a triple of his own to close in at the two-minute warning, 66-70.

Given a golden chance, the Niños bungled a major possession as they took too much time to execute leading to a hurried triple attempt by Ababon that went nowhere.

Yee drew a quick foul, then added two more free throws, 72-66. Woodraw Enriquez scooted down the floor but decided to go for the easy lay-up. Jeff Bombeo then secured the win with a free throw split at the seven-second mark.

Enriquez settled the final tally with a triple at the buzzer.

With both teams building leads no bigger than five markers, Yee suddenly became the recipient of a series of fouls from the Niños, responding by making eight of his 10 free throw attempts in the third period, the last two giving the Meteors the lead for good, 52-50 with 2:04 to play.

Yee totaled 15 points, 12 coming from the free throw line, to go with his five rebounds. Tagupa backed him up with 10 points. Ababon top-scored for the Niños with 18 points followed by Marlon Basco with 13.

The Meteors won Game One, 70-64. However, the Niños recovered to take Game 2 and level the series, 58-55.

How they scored:

Misamis Oriental 73–Yee 15, Tagupa 10, Kong 9, Bombeo 9, Micutuan 9, Daja 7, Mente 6, Moreno 6, Butel 2, Gudez 0.

Cebu Niños 71–Ababon 18, Basco 13, Tangkay 10, Enriquez 9, Dacia 9, Berame 4, Santos 4, Mepana 2, Dizon 2, Cavan 0, Padilla 0, Aying 0.

Period scores: 18-16, 34-36, 55-50, 73-71.

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