Moments after dropping a stinging 86-88 decision to Alaska last Friday, Arwind Santos couldn’t help but call out his Petron Blaze teammates.

“Kulang kami sa puso,” was how the 6-foot-4 Santos described his team’s inability to rise to the occasion in the stretch.

Three days later, Alex Cabagnot, Chris Lutz and Joseph Yeo took Santos’s comments to their hearts and showed their up to the task.

Yeo came through with a left-handed lay-up with 57.1 seconds left before the Boosters made life miserable for Barangay Ginebra, hanging tough to a gutsy 98-95 victory that enabled Petron to arrest a two-game skid in the 38th PBA Philippine Cup at the MOA Arena.

With towering rookie June Mar Fajardo still recuperating from a swollen scrotum, Santos held the fort in the lane with 22 points, 17 huge rebounds and two blocks while two other teammates tallied at least 16 markers each as Petron Blaze improved its record to 2-3.

The Gin Kings, who opened the All-Filipino conference with two consecutive wins, suffered their third straight defeat. 

After two sub-par outings, Cabagnot bounced back with 25 points, capped by the game-clinching free throw, while Lutz, who got into a heated exchange with Mark Caguioa early, tallied 18 markers and Yeo scattered 11 of his 16 points in sparking the Boosters’ big surge in the third canto.

“Medyo nag-improve naman kami. Sana ‘yung pagkakabitaw ko ng salitang ‘yun (maganda ang idulot sa team), sana magtuloy-tuloy pa (ang panalo). Sana maintindihan nila ako,” stated Santos. “Kahit natatalo man kami, andu’n pa rin ‘yung tiwala ko sa mga teammates ko.”

Although missing several key players including Marcio Lassiter, Petron Blaze coach Olsen Racela lauded his players’ response of giving it their all.

“I think Petron plays better with an injured lineup. Arwind is really consistent for us. Cabagnot played well today, J-Wash is really patient waiting for his minutes. Yeo hit big threes while Lutz is also consistent for us. It’s really a team effort for us,” he noted.

Caguioa, the reigning league MVP who finished with 23 points, had a chance to send the game into overtime but muffed his three-point attempt against Yeo while Tenorio churned in 15 but made a crucial turnover in the crunch.

Down 53-55, Yeo teamed up with Santos in uncorking 11 unanswered points for a 64-55 cushion before the Boosters took a 74-68 lead into the fourth.

A Cabagnot lay-up gave Petron comfortably ahead 89-80 but Ginebra, riding mainly on the shoulders of Caguioa, aggressively clawed back and forged a 95-all count off a Willy Wilson putback with 1:41 left.

Caguioa tried to put Ginebra at the helm but misfired on a jumper, leading to a Yeo lay-up against Tenorio at the break for a 97-95 buffer.

Rookie Chris Ellis and Cabagnot traded ill-advised shots, then Tenorio, who had a speed edge over Jay Washington at the top of the key, opted to pass to an open Wilson, who failed to hold onto the leather, time down to just 9.4 ticks.

After Cabagnot split his charities that virtually pegged the final count, Caguioa released a tough shot against Yeo, with Santos collaring the rebound.

Meanwhile, veteran center Danny Ildefonso appeared to have dislocated his left shoulder after banging with Ginebra forward Rico Maierhofer at the post during a play in the opening period.

The veteran big man quickly left for their dug-out at the 4:53 mark of the second canto.

“Danny I. was down because of a dislocation sa shoulder. But that just shows the character of the team–everyone’s helping out. This is a very great game for us to regain our confidence. It will help us down the line,” added Racela.

Earlier, the Meralco Bolts quickly bounced back from a horrific experience–both on and off the court–by turning back Air21 Express 85-72.

Fil-Am playmaker Sol Mercado sustained his strong offensive brilliance with a game-high 24 points while Mac Cardona regained his scoring ways by pumping in 15 of his 18 markers in the pivotal second half, enabling the Bolts to improve their record to 3-2.

Ronjay Buenafe chipped in 13 points while veteran forward Reynel Hugnatan dished out a double-double outing of 10 markers and 10 rebounds for Meralco, which absorbed a shocking 104-105 setback against newcomer GlobalPort last Friday.

Holding to a shaky 67-61 buffer, Meralco unleashed a blinding 18-1 finishing kick for a whopping 85-63 cushion, putting the result beyond the Express’ reach with less than 90 seconds left.

 “We defended well today. We defended our things well and the numbers put up by Air 21 are not so significant,” noted Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio, who lost his valuables during a locker room break-in. “After that harrowing experience, we were able to bounce back strong, came out with better focus, competed and played good basketball.”

John Wilson emerged as the lone bright spot for the Express with a team-high 16 points but none of his teammates crashed double figures in points as Air21 dropped to 1-4 in the company of GlobalPort.

The scores:

First Game

Meralco 85 – Mercado 24, Cardona 18, Buenafe 13, Hugnatan 10, Reyes 7, Nabong 6, Artadi 5, Salvacion 2, Hodge 0, Bulawan 0.

Air21 72 – Wilson 16, Taha 9, Canaleta 9, Sena 8, Isip 8, Omolon 7, Reyes 4, Baclao 3, Atkins 2, Ritualo 2, Arboleda 2, Escobal 2.
Quarterscores: 18-14, 43-33, 63-56, 85-72.

Second Game

Petron 98 - Cabagnot 25, Santos 22, Lutz 18, Yeo 16, Pena 6, Washington 4, Ildefonso 4, Lanete 2, Mallari 1, Sison 0, Miranda 0.

Brgy. Ginebra 95 - Caguioa 23, Tenorio 15, Raymundo 14, Ellis 8, Wilson 8, Maierhofer 7, Mamaril 7, Helterbrand 7, Maliksi 5, Jensen 1, Hatfield 0.
Quarterscores: 20-25, 48-49, 74-68, 98-95


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