Nueva Ecija, Zamboanga rip foes, share MPBL Pre-Season top spot

 Zamboanga's Judel Fuentes tries to shake off Bulalakaw's Manny Pacquiao in the MPBL Pre-Season Tournament on Tuesday.

Nueva Ecija and Zamboanga Family's Brand Sardines trounced their respective opponents on Tuesday, Feb. 21, to share the early lead in the 2023 MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) Pre-Season Tournament at the Lagao Gym in Brgy. Lagao, General Santos City.

The Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards showed their lethal form in the second half to subdue the Imus SV Squad, 88-78, while the Zamboanguenos waxed hot from start to finish to dump guest team Bulalakaw, 102-75, of MPBL Founder and CEO Manny Pacquiao.

Earlier, host General Santos City beat Valenzuela XUR Homes Realty Inc., 82-73, in the opener of the eight-team, weeklong event dangling P3 million to the champion.

Playing lackluster ball, defending national champion Nueva Ecija barely led undermanned Imus at halftime, 38-35. A tongue-lashing from Coach Jerson Cabiltes during the break, however, roused the Rice Vanguards to play harder as they led by as many as 18 points, 74-56, before cruising to victory.

John Bryon Villarias and Pamboy Raymundo led Nueva Ecija with 13 points, followed by Michael Mabulac with 11.

Cabiltes tested new recruits Harvey Pagsanjan, Joshua Fontanilla and Rich Guinitaran, who managed to contribute, 6, 3 and 2 points in that order.

Zamboanga, the South Division champion, showed balanced firepower in whipping Bulalakaw.
With the game under control, Zamboanga coach Vic Ycasiano fielded the full complement of his 14-man roster, all of whom managed to score.

New acquisition Judel Ric Fuentes lived up to expectations with a team-high 14 points, followed by Jhapz Bautista with 13, 2022 MPBL MVP Jaycee Marcelino with 12, Jayvee Marcelino with 10 and Ralph Tansingco also with 10 plus 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals.

Bulalakaw got 20 points from Don Diamante, followed by Pacquiao with 17 and EJ Dialogo with 12.
The tournament serving as a prelude to the MPBL Fifth Season starting on March 11 continues on Wednesday with another triple-bill at the same venue.

Batangas City, the 2018 MPBL Rajah Cup champion, and Sarangani clash in the first game at 5 p.m. Other matches pit Imus against Valenzuela at 7 p.m. and GenSan against Nueva Ecija at 9 p.m.