By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THEY were challenge big time but in the end there was no stopping the Meralco Bolts from returning to the finals of the Philippine Basketball Association Governors’ Cup after defeating the Star Hotshots, 91-88, in overtime in Game Three last night to complete a sweep of their best-of-five semifinal series.
Needing just one win to make their finals return official, the Bolts showed tremendous resolve down the stretch to finish things, notwithstanding the challenge the Hotshots posted to try and keep their season alive.
While it momentarily lost its grip on the game it pretty much dominated most of the way, Meralco rose to the challenge when it needed the most and in the process secured the first final slot in the season-ending PBA tournament.
Found themselves trailing by four points, 83-78, with a little over two minutes remaining in regulation, the Bolts clawed their way back.
Baser Amer and Chris Newsome conspired to score four points to level the count at 83-all with 1:22 to go on the clock.
The two teams had their chances for the go-ahead but none would be consummated thereafter, sending the game to extra period.
In overtime, Jarred Dillinger opened things with a three-pointer to give his team an 86-83 lead with 4:08 remaining.
A scoring drought for both teams ensued after until Ranidel de Ocampo hit a long two to extend their lead to five, 88-83, with less than two minutes left.
Rafi Reavis answered for the Hotshots to narrow the gap, 88-85, with 36 ticks to go.
Cliff Hodge drained a three-pointer moments later to give Meralco more breathing space, only to be answered by Mark Barroca to help Star to come within three points anew, 91-88, with 14 seconds left in the contest.
Meralco coach Norman Black sued for time to craft a play but the Hotshots would hold defensively and force a jump ball off an inbounds play.
Star controlled the tip but its attempt to tie the game was foiled by Meralco just at the final buzzer sounded.
Import Allen Durham once again led the way for the Bolts with 24 points, 19 rebounds and six assists.
Mr. Hodge had 18 points and eight rebounds while Mr. De Ocampo added 13 markers and seven boards.
Messrs. Amer and Dillinger had 10 points each.
For Star it was Mr. Barroca who led the way with 21 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
Marc Pingris had 16 points and Jio Jalalon 12.
Hotshots import Kris Acox continued with his disappointing play in the semifinals with four points, on 2-of-9 shooting, and nine rebounds.
“Star did not give up easily as expected. We had a battle in our hands and we really had to gut it out, which made it all the more rewarding,” said winning coach Norman Black after the game.
Meralco now awaits the winner of the other semifinal pairing between the TNT KaTropa and the defending champions Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings which currently stands at 1-1, with Game Three to be played today.
Last year the Bolts lost to the Kings in the finals in six games.