Nueva Ecija thwarts Zamboanga, captures MPBL national crown

MPBL commissioner Kenneth Duremdes hands over the championship trophy to the Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards.

Nueva Ecija showed its maturity and poise in trouncing Zamboanga Family's Brand Sardines, 69-56, to clinch the OKbet-MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) 4th Season Presented by Xtreme national title at the Mayor Vitaliano Agan Coliseum in Zamboanga City.

Recovering their bearing from a 65-75 beating in Game 3, the Rice Vanguards struck hard in the second quarter to pull away and cut short the best-of-five series, 3-1.

Held to a 15-15 count after the first 10 minutes, Nueva Ecija greeted the second quarter with 14 straight points, the first 8 by Byron Villarias, then dropped another 10-point salvo to zoom ahead to the biggest spread of the series, 39-19.

Villarias wound up with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 2 steals to earn best player honors and get the citation as Finals MVP.

Other players who shone for Nueva Ecija Coach Jerson Cabiltes were Michael Juico, who finished with 11 points and 4 rebounds, Michael Mabulac, who ended up with 10 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals, and Jonathan Uyloan, who contributed 9 points, all from triples.

A teary-eyed Cabiltes, who won his fifth straight title in different leagues, said he just did what Nueva Ecija team owner Bong Cuevas asked him to do: Bring the championship to Nueva Ecija in Game 4.

Palayan City Mayor Rianne Cueva and other Nueva Ecija bigwigs flew over to Zamboanga to show their support to the Rice Vanguards, who swept the elimination round en route to the North division title and eventually the national title.

Nueva Ecija took the first two games at home, 81-75, and 75-74.

MPBL All-Star and season MVP Jayvee Marcelino tried to inject life back to Zamboanga, but the most the Zamboanguenos, the South division champions, could do was cut the lead a bit at 40-24.

Marcelino tallied 17 points, but no other Zamboanga player could contribute doubles figures with Jhaymo Eguilos, Ralph Tansingco and Cyrus Tabi chipping in 7 each.

The Rice Vanguards were able to break away by controlling the boards, 59-40, negating their poor free throw shooting, which saw them make only 7 of 23 attempts for 30.4 percent.

In contrast to their Game 3 triple shooting, when they only made 1 of 19 tries, the Rice Vanguards drilled in six treys, including two by Villarias and one by Taganas, who snared 10 rebounds.

MPBL Commissioner Kenneth Duremdes handed the P14-million trophy to Cuevas during the awarding ceremony held after the game.

MPBL Operations Head Emmer Oreta, League Executive Joe Ramos and Head of Security Rudy Distrito joined Duremdes in giving the Finals MVP trophy to Villarias, Coach of the Year trophy to Cabiltes and the 22 championship rings to the members of the victorious Rice Vanguards.

Caption: Byron Vilarias delivers in the Finals for Nueva Ecija.