CAFÉ France and Hapee try to arrange a PBA D-League Foundation Cup title showdown as the two teams look to close out their respective semifinals series on Thursday.
The Bakers go for the clincher against the Cagayan Valley Rising Suns at 1 p.m., while the Fresh Fighters try to put away the Cebuana Lhuillier Gems in their scheduled 3 p.m. duel at the Ynares Arena in Pasig.
Café France, one of only four remaining founders of the league, has never reach the finals since 2011, but gave itself a chance to break the spell after holding off the Rising Suns, 78-65, in the opener of their best-of-three series on Monday.
The league’s top defensive team is one win away from making it back to the big stage and coach Egay Macaraya declared the Bakers are determined to make it all the way.
“They have worked really hard this conference and have committed to win and get to the finals. It will be truly frustrating if we end up empty again,” he said.
Cameroonian Rodrigue Ebondo scored 19 points and had 13 rebounds, while Fil-American Maverick Ahanmisi tallied 11 and 10 boards in Game 1 as the duo is again expected to take the lead against the embattled Rising Suns.
Michael Mabulac turned in 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, but needs solid support from Abel Galliguez, Don Trollano, Andrian Celada and Jason Melano if Cagayan intends to stave off elimination.
Hapee, the Aspirants’ Cup champion, also dominated the other semifinal pairing, pulling away for an 82-71 rout against elimination top notcher Cebuana Lhuillier in Game 1 even with an undermanned roster.
“We just caught them [Gems] in an off day. They were also rusty and I thought our defense held up,” observed Hapee coach Ronnie Magsanoc, who’s on the threshold of a second straight finals stint.
Ola Adeougun, Art Dela Cruz and Chris Newsome tallied big numbers in the series opener as the Fresh Fighters make up for the absence of key players Garvo Lanete, Bobby Ray Parks, Scottie Thompson, Baser Amer and Troy Rosario, who are out for various reasons.
The Gems were visibly hurt by the absence of playmaker Almond Vosotros and center Norberto Torres, currently with the national team in the Singapore Southeast Asian Games.
They also lost 6-foot-7 Mo Tautuaa early in the third quarter after the US born Fil-Tongan twisted his left ankle and never returned the rest of the way.
Noticeably, though, the Gems were far from the team that has won seven straight games in the elimination round to earn an outright spot in the Final Four.