THE Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards will have built-in advantages over Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines when the National Finals of the OKBet- Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) 4th Season Presented by Xtreme begin on Friday in Palayan City.
Nueva Ecija boasts a deeper roster, a better overall record and will be playing in front of the hometown crowd at the Nueva Ecija Coliseum.
The Rice Vanguards have tasted defeat but once in 27 games en route to the South division crown, while Zamboanga needed to rally from 19-points down in the third quarter to snatch the North division title from Batangas City.
According to Coach Jerson Cabiltes, Nueva Ecija’s lone loss to San Juan in the opener of their North title series was a “blessing in disguise” as it took off the pressure for them to sweep the tournament.
Cabiltes said he would rather suffer that loss than fail to capture the national title for team owner Bong Cuevas, team manager Ivan Cuevas and Palayan City Mayor Rianne Cuevas.
Opposing Coach Vic Ycasiano doesn’t mind the underdog tag and is focused on the task entrusted to him by Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines team owner Anita Kaw.
“Our goal is to win one on the road,” said Ycasiano, also referring to Game 2 which will again be held in Palayan City on December 5. “We’re going to play with our hearts and our balls.”
If Nueva Ecija manages to win both, the Rice Vanguards will be gunning for a sweep of the best-of-five playoffs at the Mayor Vitaliano Agan Coliseum in Zamboanga City. If necessary, Game 4 will be played at the same venue. In case the series goes the full route, Game 5 will return to Palayan City on December 16.
The Rice Vanguards are so star-studded, Cabiltes can field all 15 players at his disposal without suffering a serious drop in terms of talent and experience.
For the National Finals, however, Cabiltes is expected to give longer playing time to John Bryan Villarias, Hesed Gabo, Bill McAloney, Michael Mabulac, Michael Juico, Chris Bitoon, Renz Palma, JR Taganas, Jay Collado and Jonathan Uyloan.
Ycasiano, on the other hand, will again lean on MPBL All-Star MVP Jaycee Marcelino, his twin brother Jayvee, Jhapz Bautista, Jhaymo Eguilos, Chris Dumapig, Addy Santos and Chito Jayme.