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Nueva Ecija completes dream season, rips Zamboanga to claim MPBL title

By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA—It may have been delayed by a few days, but destiny would still be fulfilled.

Nueva Ecija put a fairy-tale ending to the team's dream season, drubbing Zamboanga, 69-56, in Game 4 of the MPBL National Finals on Monday night at the Vitaliano Agan Coliseum in Zamboanga City to become the champion.

The turning point came in the second quarter, when Nueva Ecija silenced the raucous crowd by outscoring Zamboanga, 25-9, to break a 15-all tie at the end of the first quarter and take a 40-24 lead at the half.

Zamboanga tried to flip the switch in the second half, holding Nueva Ecija to only nine points in the third quarter and cutting the lead down to nine, 49-40, entering the fourth. Still, Nueva Ecija kept Zamboanga at bay in the final period and never let go of the lead.

Byron Villarias capped a Finals MVP-worthy performance all series long with 14 points, 10 rebounds, and two steals to lead Nueva Ecija in the clincher.

Villarias finished with averages of 14.0 points and 5.0 rebounds a game while shooting 36 percent from three-point range to become Nueva Ecija's main man in the National Finals, enough to earn him the Finals MVP award.

Michael Juico added 11 points, four rebounds, and one assist.

It was a fitting finale for Nueva Ecija's success story, which began by sweeping the regular season and extending it to a 25-game winning streak, the longest run in Philippine professional basketball.

While there were some hiccups deep into the playoffs, losing Game 1 of the North Division Finals against San Juan at home and Game 3 of the National Finals to Zamboanga on Friday night, Nueva Ecija's destiny could never be stopped.

Jaycee Marcelino capped his MVP season with 17 points, five rebounds, two assists, and three steals to lead Zamboanga.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno

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