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Manila boots Bataan in MPBL North semis decider

By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA—Bataan, the team with the best record entering the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Playoffs, was knocked out of the postseason.

Yes. This is not an April Fools Day joke.

Manila sent Bataan crashing with a 56-51 win in the rubber match of their Northern Division Semifinals at the Bataan People's Center in Balanga right on April Fools Night.

Reil Cervantes came up huge down the stretch as the Elite pulled a huge endgame rally to steal the win on the road from the Risers.

Up 44-40 with 6:21 remaining, Bataan suddenly struggled to find a field goal, and Manila went on a 14-3 run capped by back-to-back treys from Cervantes to take a 54-47 lead with 1:09 to play.

The Risers finally broke the six-minute dry spell as Alfred Batino scored on a layup to trim the lead down to four, 54-50, with 28.6 seconds to play.

They even had a chance to inch closer as Marcy Arellano missed two free throws after a foul, but Cervantes won the battle for the board and laid the ball back in for the dagger.

Cervantes finished with 20 points, five rebounds, one assist, and one steal for Manila, which will play San Juan in the North Finals beginning on Wednesday night at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan City.

He was 0-for-4 from deep prior to his crucial long toms.

Byron Villarias put up 12 points, nine boards, three dimes, and one steal off the bench for Bataan, which now needs to ponder on what went wrong after falling to a huge upset.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno