|Vic Manuel powers through the basket against the defending of Meralco's Raymond Almazan. Dennis Jerome Acosta|
By Xy-Zha Cabanlong
PASAY CITY - The Alaska Aces put up a stellar performance to send the game in overtime and defeat the Meralco Bolts, 108-103, in their do-or-die Friday match at the Mall of Asia Arena,
Vic Manuel led the Aces to a quarterfinal date against the top-seeded TnT KaTropa with his 23 points, 11 of which came from his 4th quarter explosion.
The Bolts led as much as 8 points in the first quarter but ended the period ahead, 28-26
Alaska, on the other hand got their pace in the game at the second quarter beginning with Simon Enciso's triple that handed over the lead to the Aces. 35-34.
While Meralco was quick to recover through Bong Quinto's version of a triple to give the lead back to the Bolts, 37-35, Jeron Teng and Jake Pascual were able to make baskets to give the advantage back to the Aces.
With over 5 minutes left to play in the quarter, Delroy James was called for Flagrant Foul Penalty 1 and was forced to sit out in favour of Ranidel de Ocampo.
Kevin Racal sank both free throws to give the Aces a 4-point lead; 41-37.
Diamon Simpson closed the quarter with a slam dunk off an assist by Enciso and giving Alaska a 12-point lead; 55-43 coming to the halftime break.
At the resumption of play from the break, it was Meralco's turn to surge and chase the lead that Alaska has established.
Raymond Almazan was able to tie the ball game at 66-all but Enciso was also quick to break the tie before the quarter buzzer sounded with his driving lay-up.
Despite the Aces hanging on to a 2-point lead at the end of the third period, Meralco were able to outscore them in the said quarter, converting 23 points as against to Alaska's 13.
Late in the fourth quarter, James connected from the three-point area just in the nick of time, giving the Bolts a 4-point lead, 93-89, with only 48.1 seconds left.
However, Alaska would not want to back down easily and relied on Manuel to cut the lead down to only 2 points, 91-93, with only 40.6 seconds left to play.
Chris Newsome's trip on the free-throw area off a foul by Enciso made it a 4-point ball game forthe Bolts with 20.7 seconds left in the game.
JVee Casio proved that he plays with the biggest heart as he stood at the right place to pick up an offensive rebound off a missed shot and pass it to Chris Banchero, who was wide open to try to connect from beyond the arc.
Banchero sank the three-pointer, cutting Meralco's lead to only a point; 95-96 with only 10.4 seconds left to play.
A foul on Newsome sent him on the line and was able to sink one out of two free throws gave the Bolts a 2-point ball game only to realise that for Alaska, through the efforts of Banchero, it is not over until it is over.
Bachero's efforts in connecting to the basket was paid off with extra five minutes unto the game as his lay-up tied the ball game at 96-all in time for the buzzer that signaled the end of regulation.
The Aces outscored the Bolts in overtime by scoring 12 points against 7 to seal off the win and formally eliminate Meralco of the Commissioner's Cup.
"It felt like we played a championship game already," said Coach Alex Compton at the end of the ball game.
Compton gave credit to all of his players that worked hard in sealing off the win for the Aces and also gave his respects and praises for the Meralco Bolts for giving them a good fight.
"Personally, I just want to credit Meralco, because this is a game where I think both teams could have rolled over and died. I think we gave the PBA fans their first taste of playoff basketball," Compton added.
The Aces will be having a one-day break before they play their Quarterfinals match against the TNT KaTropa at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum on Sunday, with them bearing a twice-to-beat disadvantage.
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