The Smart Liga Pilipinas Conference III tour elimination phase opens the Quezon Province Leg today (September 16) with the three top finishers of last conference and a brand new team from the North clashing at the Quezon Convention Center.

Host Quezon Red Oilers of Gov. Raffy Nantes are all set to face the challenge of visiting two leg winner M. Lhuillier Kwarta Padala-Cebu Ninos, the defending National Champion Misamis Oriental Meteors and newly admitted “guest” team EBK Apayao Rapids.

The Rapids of Kalinga Apayo which are applying to become a regular member of Liga Pilipinas have taken over the slot vacated by the Toyota Bacolod Turbos which announced last week that it was skipping their last three legs of the Liga tour due to “unavoidable circumstances”.

“It is with pained understanding that we accept the decision of Toyota Bacolod Turbos to skip their succeeding legs for reasons that are unavoidable at this time. However, we are very excited to welcome Liga’s newest member the Apayao Rapids, and look forward to regularizing their membership in the next conference.” said Liga Pilipinas CEO and President Noli Eala.

Due to league rules that a team must complete all of their four tour legs to become an regular active member, the Apayao Rapids will be participating only as a guest team in their next three legs, one of which will be played in their home turf in Kalinga Apayao on October 21. As a guest team, all of the games of the Rapids will still count in the race to the playoffs for all teams but Apayao will not be eligible to qualify for the wildcard series or the Super Leg National Finals.  

The Red Oilers under Coach Oliver Bunyi have drawn the Meteors for their opening assignment at 6:00 PM, and will go all out to settle an old score.  The Meteors of Gov. Oscar Moreno and Coach Jun Noel eliminated the Red Oilers in last conference’s semi-finals by taking the deciding Game Five in Lucena City, 58-57, last April 8.

Coming off a last place finish in the Cebu City Leg on opening week, the Red Oilers hope to draw inspiration from their home fans.  The fans may also find comfort in the fact that some key players who missed the Cebu City Leg have returned to the roster.

Mark Magsumbol, Roberts Labagala and Jonathan Pinera were left to carry the fight in Cebu but will now welcome back point guard Ramsey Williams, forwards Hafer Mondragon and Jorel Canizares and center Angelus Raymundo.

The Meteors, who garnered the runner-up spot in their own Misamis Oriental Leg just last weekend, will parade gunners Eder Saldua and Patrick Cabahug together with holdovers Ramil Tagupa, Mark Moreno, Philip Butel and former Red Oiler center Arden Guiyab.

In the 4:00 PM opener, Apayao will have their hands full with powerhouse Cebu which have swept their first two legs so far.

The Ninos of Michel J. Lhuillier and Coach Raul “Yayoy” Alcoseba will stake their perfect eight-game run this conference backed by Smart, Accel, Molten, Calcium-Cee, Gatorade, Air 21 and Burlington and sanctioned by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP).

Bruce Dacia and Woodraw Enriquez, MVPs of the Cebu and MisOr Leg, will spearhead the Ninos’ charge along with Stephen Padilla, Ian Saladaga, Ariel Mepana, Frank Nailon, Mark Ababon, Marlon Basco, Abby Santos and Jan Malinao.

Another good showing by the Ninos will enable them to pull away from the rest of the 10-team field in the overall points standings.  They have 30 points, 11 points better that the current second placer Trace-Laguna Stallions (19 points).  Forward Taguig holds Third Place with 18 followed by the Smart-Pampanga Buddies at Fourth Place with 14.  Newcomer Cebu Landmaster-Mandaue has eight points.

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