By Ivan Saldajeno
MANILA—Right at the start of its Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League playoff campaign, Batangas City finally raised its championship banner at its home, the Batangas City Sports Center.
On Tuesday night, the Athletics showed why they are the defending champions.
Batangas City opened its stint in the postseason with a 77-69 win against Imus.
Despite a slow start, the Athletics turned things around in the middle two quarters, although they still had to hold off the Bandera in the end.
Seventh-seeded Imus made an early upset threat by taking a 20-15 lead after the first quarter to the shock of the jampacked crowd at the said venue.
But second-seeded Batangas City went on a 20-12 second quarter to take a 35-32 halftime lead and made a breakaway bid with a 23-16 third quarter to go up, 58-48.
The Bandera started the fourth sizzling with an 9-0 run to trim the lead down to one, 58-57.
The Athletics, however, answered with a 10-0 blast to stretch their lead to 11, 68-57, with 5:43 remaining.
Imus still had one final run, cutting the lead down to two, 71-69, with exactly a hundred seconds left, but Batangas City finished the game with a 6-0 rally for the final tally.
Lester Alvarez made 16 points, eight assists, one rebound, and two steals for the Athletics, who can sweep the series on Thursday night at the Muntinlupa Sports Complex.
Dennice Villamor added 15 points, seven rebounds, two assists, and two blocks, while Jaymo Eguilos put up 13 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks, and one steal.
James Castro made 15 points, two rebounds, and three assists off the bench for the Bandera.
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