Nueva Ecija, Bulacan triumph

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF MPBL JOHN Byron Villarias fires 17 points to tow the Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards to a 97-70 rout of Laguna Heroes in the OKBet-MPBL late Monday at the Star Arena in Baliwag, Bulacan.

Reigning champion Nueva Ecija and Bulacan book contrasting victories to launch their respective campaigns on a high note in the OKBet-Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League late Monday at the Star Arena in Baliwag, Bulacan.

The Rice Vanguards flaunted their depth in a 97-70 rout of the Laguna Heroes while the Bulacan Kuyas banked on Levi de la Cruz’s heroics to nip the Sarangani Marlins, 75-73, and gain a share of the early lead in the 29-team league.

Out to prove that they are still the team to beat, the Rice Vanguards employed their vaunted trapping defense to pull away in the third quarter, 67-55, and never looked back until the final buzzer.

Nueva Ecija coach Jerson Cabiltes was able to deploy all his 15 players with John Byron Villarias dropping 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists while Renz Palma and Jonathan Uyloan chipped in 11 and 10 markers, respectively.

The Rice Vanguards, who lost to Zamboanga’s Family Brand Sardines in the Preseason Invitational final last month, also drew nine points from Michael Juico and Stephen Siruma.

Laguna, meanwhile, got 16 points from Francis Camacho and 14 points apiece from Paolo Pontejos and Ivan Villanueva.

Meanwhile, the 5-foot-7 De la Cruz nailed the game’s last four points — the last two off a steal by Jeff Comia in the final 12.7 seconds — to help the Bulacan Kuyas frustrated the Sarangani Marlins.

Jerick Nacpil emerged as best player with 23 points and five rebounds while De la Cruz, Daniel de Guzman and Buenaventura Raflores added eight points apiece for the Kuyas.

Sarangani nearly drew a triple-double from John Jordan Sta. Ana with 12 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds while the Marlins were powered by the 11 points from Danny Marilao.

Quezon City Gaz N Go thwarted the Bicol Volcanoes, 85-81, in the opener to share top spot with Nueva Ecija, Bulacan and inaugural day winners Bataan Risers and the Quezon Huskers.

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