NLEX stuns Meralco to force do-or-die match for semis spot

Published September 29, 2021, 5:09 PM

by Jonas Terrado

Photo from PBA

Rookie Calvin Oftana saved NLEX from elimination with a layup in the final seconds to stun Meralco, 81-80, Wednesday, Sept. 29 and force a do-or-die affair in their PBA Philippine Cup quarterfinal duel at the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.

The third pick in the draft came through for the Road Warriors when he beat the Bolts’ Bong Quinto before converting the go-ahead basket off Jericho Cruz’s layup with 6.1 seconds remaining.

Meralco, with no timeouts left, tried to go for the win but Cliff Hodge’s three-point attempt was way off and NLEX players celebrated after keeping their campaign alive for at least another game.

It was sweet redemption for Oftana, who earlier missed a three with the Road Warriors down a point. But the Bolts blew a chance to extend the lead when Mac Belo missed two free throws with 8.6 seconds to go.

That set up the winning play which NLEX coach Yeng Guiao said was followed to the letter.

“It went exactly as we planned it,” Guiao said. “Of course, sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t happen for you. But we’re really lucky that it happened for us this time.”

NLEX extended the quarterfinal matchup to a knockout match on Friday, Oct. 1 with the winner advancing to the best-of-seven semis against Magnolia Pambansang Manok or Rain or Shine.

Oftana was not just the hero for the Road Warriors as Tony Semerad came through with 23 points, one shy of his career-high.

Semerad made 9-of-14 shots, including five from three-point range to play a vital role for NLEX. Oftana finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals, Don Trollano had 12 points, eight rebounds and three assists while Cruz added 10 points, four rebounds and four assists.

The Bolts, carrying a twice-to-beat advantage, took an 80-79 lead when returning Reynel Hugnatan scored with 50 seconds to go.

Following Oftana’s miss, Belo couldn’t convert a three-point shot but Quinto was able to grab the offensive rebound and called for a timeout.

Belo would be fouled when action resumed but the bungled attempts opened the door for Oftana’s heroics.

The scores:

NLEX 81 — Semerad 23, Trollano 12, Oftana 10, Cruz 10, Alas 9, Miranda 5, Soyud 4, Quinahan 4, Paniamogan 2, Ighalo 0.

MERALCO 80 — Maliksi 16, Belo 12, Quinto 11, Hugnatan 11, Caram 9, Newsome 7, Almazan 6, Hodge 6, Pasaol 2, Baclao 0, Pinto 0.

Quarters : 20-26, 44-42, 63-64, 81-80.