Determined to redeem itself from a forgettable debut in the Philippine Cup, GlobalPort took a step in that direction in its very first game in the Commissioner’s Cup.
And an ample amount of credit goes to newly-acquired Japeth Aguilar.
Proving he’s worth the wait, the high-leaping Aguilar helped Batang Pier buck the absence of import Justin Williams in the second half to eke out a morale-boosting 94-92 victory over powerhouse Petron Blaze Friday night as the PBA’s second conference got going at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
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Obtained in a straight-up deal with Talk ‘N Text for center Rabeh Al-Hussaini, the 6-foot-9 Aguilar made his presence felt with 16 points, nine rebounds and three big blocks as the retooled GlobalPort, losers of 13 of 14 games in the all-Filipino tourney, earned a needed breath of fresh air.
Scoring dynamo Gary David tallied 10 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth period where the Batang Pier exploded for 30 big markers.
New starting playmaker Sol Mercado, acquired in a deal with Meralco, added 17 markers and 11 assists while reserve Mark Yee had eight points, ably filling up the role of former two-time MVP Willie Miller, who was virtually absent with just two markers.
The notable exploits of Aguilar, especially in holding his ground against do-it-all Petron import Renaldo Balkman defensively, couldn't be overshadowed.
“Guarding Balkman is a tough job. Pero ginawa ko na lahat to push him out of the paint,” beamed a relieved Aguilar, who was also named to the 17-man training pool of the Gilas Pilipinas national team.
Making the victory sweeter for the Mikee Romero-owned ballclub was the fact the Batang Pier pulled it out without the 6-foot-10 Williams, who was ejected for a flagrant foul penalty-2 against towering Booster center Jun Mar Fajardo at the 8:18 mark of the third canto. He finished with 18 points, 15 boards, and three blocks.
Balkman, the smallest import in the 10-team field at 6-foot-8, lived up to the hype with 23 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks but the Boosters failed to utilize him especially in the crunch.
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The Batang Pier also clamped down in the critical stages, with Aguilar and Yee setting the tone defensively, that left coach Junel Baculi beaming no end.
“I begged the players to play defense, hang on make the game close and pull an upset,” he related. “In order to beat Petron you gotta limit your turnovers.”
“It’s a good, lucky win for us. But we still have lots of jelling to do. We cannot rely on individual talent and we gotta build chemistry.”
In the eyes of Baculi, who took the coaching mantle from now assistant Glenn Capacio, Aguilar is just scratching the tip of the iceberg, saying: “‘Yung bata marami pang ipapakita. Importante he has a fighting heart and I think he wants to prove something. It’s good for him and also good for our team.”
“As far as we’re concerned, we need Japeth. We need a big man there to help us. I think we'll stay with Japeth for the meantime,” he added.
In a tightly-fought game that could have gone either way, the Batang Pier showed they’re ready to turn their fortunes around.
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After a Balkman short stab put Petron ahead at 88-86, Yee scored on a floater followed by Mercado and Jondan Salvador’s free throws for a three-point lead with 2:59 left.
Back-to-back buckets by Arwind Santos sandwiched two Aguilar free throws, making it a 93-92 count in favor of GlobalPort with less than two minutes left.
Both teams traded misses in the ensuing plays, the last a botched floater by David from close range, giving the Boosters another chance to steal the win with 9.4 seconds left.
Off a timeout, Alex Cabagnot kicked out a pass to a wide-open Santos, whose three-point attempt just hit the front of the rim before Aguilar corralled the leather and was fouled with 1.8 ticks to go.
After Aguilar split his freebies that virtually pegged the final tally, Petron couldn’t get any good look as the athletic forward swatted Ronald Tubid’s desperate corner three-point attempt.
Santos led three local Boosters in double figures with 15 points.