Steel, Knights within victories of national finals duel

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TAGUM CITY—The road to a national championship appearance in the Chooks-to-Go MPBL Lakan Season was once a long shot for a Basilan Steel team that won just seven games a year ago and failed to even make the playoffs.

It took an infusion for Basilan to turn things around and the Steel are reaping the benefits of their early buildup to the season last year.

At the forefront of its incredible run is a youthful coach in Jerson Cabiltes, who is making sure that his players stay grounded even as they’re one win away from reaching the national finals.

Cabiltes is pressing all the right buttons for the third seed Basilan squad that overcame Davao Occidental, 74-72, in Game 1 of the South division finals that ended in the wee hours of Tuesday morning at Davao del Norte Gym here.

Over at Filoil Flying V Centre, reigning national champion San Juan leaned on Jhonard Clarito’s big game as it repulsed Makati Super Crunch, 76-60, in Game 1.Clarito fired 19 points and grabbed 18 rebounds as the Knights also closed in on a return trip to the national finals.

It was the third game in five days for Basilan, which bundled out second seed Bacoor in a do-or-die game last Saturday before flying to Davao for the duel on Monday night.

“After Game 3 [of the Bacoor series], I just asked my players two questions,” said Cabiltes, whose team can close out the series with a win in Lamitan City on Wednesday.

“I asked them if they are tired and they said no. I asked them if they are hungry [to win] and they said they are very hungry. That was the mind-set of our performance here.”

Still, Basilan had to come up with a strong finish in a game that ended in a deadlock in each of the first three quarters. Down the stretch, Cabiltes trusted his point guard Hesed Gabo to make the decisions as the coach decided not to call a timeout following Kenneth Mocon’s triple that gave Davao a 72-71 lead with 57 seconds remaining. Gabo, who was scoreless then but already had 12 assists, rushed downcourt just seconds later and flipped in a floater as the Steel regained a one-point advantage. Jay Collado preserved the victory with a block on Billy Robles’ drive and Allyn Bulanadi split his free throws with four seconds left for the final count. INQ

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