Facing elimination, the defending National Champions M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala-Cebu Ninos summoned all their skills and a little bit of Lady Luck to escape with a 62-58 thriller over the top seed Misamis Oriental Meteors in order to tie their best-of-five 2009 Smart Liga Pilipinas Conference II National Finals at 2-2 Saturday at the New Cebu Coliseum.
The deciding Game Five will be played April 20, still at the New Cebu Coliseum, with the backing of Smart, ML Kwarta Padala, Accel, Air 21, Burlington, Pagcor Sports, Laptop Phoneshop Exchange, Nature’s Spring Water and Molten and sanctioned by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP).
Shooter Stephen Padilla, who could only muster a total of five points in the series’ first three games, connected for eight points in the pivotal fourth period to bail out the Ninos of Michel Lhuillier and Coach Raul “Yayoy” Alcoseba.
Padilla banged in a triple that ignited a 14-1 run powered by Marlon Basco, Jercules Tangkay and Mark Ababon that gave the home team their biggest of the game, 55-47.
The Meteors gamely fought back, with Mark Yee canning two free throws off a Tangkay technical foul for excessive elbowing with 45 ticks left, 54-56.
The Meteors threw the ball away in the ensuing possession, forcing them to foul Padilla, who made the first two of his six key free throws in the waning seconds of the contest.
Yee then closed the gap anew with two more free throws but it was quickly neutralized by Padilla’s next trip to the line. Suddenly, Erian Daja fielded a perfect inbound baseball pass for a lay-up plus a foul from Abby Santos and still 15 seconds to play, 58-60.
Sadly, Daja missed the bonus charity with Padilla icing the win with two more gift shots with four ticks left, 62-58. Yee then missed a desperation triple at the buzzer.
Padilla tallied 14 points to lead the Ninos followed by Basco with 13. Yee paced the Meteors with 12 markers while Mark Kong and Joey Mente added eight apiece but were both scoreless in the fourth period.
Kong issued a kick out assist to Mente for a triple at the third period buzzer that gave the Meteors a 44-41 edge.
Prior to Padilla’s perfect six of six free throw shooting, the Ninos missed a total of 12 out of 18 free throws, compared to the Meteors’ 13 of 15 clip.
“Free throws almost cost us the game and we had bad field goal shooting,” said a visibly relieved winning coach Alcoseba. “We’ll take tonight’s win and give it our all in Monday’s Game Five.”
During the halftime break wherein the Meteors nursed a 29-27 advantage, Yee was honored as the conference’s Most Valuable Player (MVP). The do-it-all 6’2” forward out of San Sebastian-Cavite clinched the award with norms of 14.4 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.1 blocks over 28 games.
CEBU (62) – Padilla 14, Basco 13, Santos 9, Enriquez 8, Tangkay 6, Cavan 4, Ababon 4, Mepana 4, Aying 0, Dacia 0, Berame 0, Dizon 0.
MISAMIS ORIENTAL (58) – Yee 12, Mente 8, Kong 8, Moreno 7, Daja 7, Gudez 6, Micutuan 6, Bombeo 2, Butel 2, Sanchez 0, Tagupa 0.
Period Scores: 18-16, 27-29, 41-44, 62-58.