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Pampanga rules MPBL preseason event

Encho Serrano delivers for the Pampanga Giant Lanterns. MPBL
By Dugout Philippines

MANILA--The Pampanga Giant Lanterns overpowered the South Cotabato Warriors, 93-75, late Tuesday and cruised to the 2024 MPBL Preseason Invitational title at the Lagao Gym in General Santos City.

Powered by Encho Serrano and Justine Baltazar, Pampanga stormed ahead, 81-48, early in the fourth quarter from which South Cotabato, formerly General Santos City, couldn't recover.

Egged on by the hometown crowd, the Warriors bunched 13 points to trim the gap, 65-83, only for Baltazar to score inside and Serrano to nail back-to-back triples against a lone basket by John Wilson to seal the title, 91-67, for the reigning MPBL national champions.

Serrano wound up with 29  points and 3 rebounds to earn best player honors over Baltazar, who posted 23 points, 17 rebounds and 3 assists.

Prized acquisition Jeff Viernes and College of St. Benilde recruit Sonny Estil added 8 points each while Jhaymo Eguilos and Rence Alcoriza chipped in 6 points each for the Giant Lanterns who ruled the boards, 55-39.

Wilson tallied 26 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals, but no other Warrior could tally twin digits. Val Acuna made 9 points and Marwin Dionisio 8.

With the 6-foot-8 Baltazar, the 6-6 Eguilos, and 6-7 Kevin Santos making their presence felt, the Giant Lanterns poured 56 points inside the paid against only 20 for the Warriors. 

Pampanga also came up with 23 second-chance points against only 6 for the Warriors, who never led despite forcing the Giant Lanterns to commit 16 turnovers.

MPBL Founder and CEO Manny Pacquiao awarded the trophy and the P1.5 million champion's purse to the Giant Lanterns, who were represented by team owner AG Gonzales and Cong. Dong Gonzales in the absence of Pampanga Gov. and head coach Delta Pineda.

If any consolation, South Cotabato, formerly General Santos City, bagged P500,000 which was awarded by MPBL Commissioner Kenneth Duremdes.

Earlier, Batangas City Tanduay thwarted Quezon City TODA Aksyon, 68-60, to clinch third place and pocket P300,000.

Trailing at the break, 30-31, the Batangas Athletics, powered by RJ Ramirez, Juneric Baloria, Jeckster Apinan and Cedric Ablaza, found their rhythm in the second half and led by as far as 68-53 before allowing Quezon City to close the gap somewhat. Quezon City landed fourth worth P200,000 in the eight-team tournament held in conjunction with GenSan's Kalinangan Festival.

Although they headed to the exits after the elimination round, Valenzuela, Manila, Bataan and guest team GenSan Bulalakaw of Pacquiao received P125,000 each after the tournament serving as the prelude of the 2024 MPBL Regular Season starting on March 23.

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