Mark Cruz credits Jerwin Gaco's leadership by example for Tanduay's inspired play
Jerwin Gaco's leadership and intensity have inspired his Tanduay teammates in the shock win over top seed Cignal-San Beda. Dante Peralta

TANDUAY proved just how deadly a weapon experience can be in taking down Cignal-San Beda in the opener of their PBA D-League Aspirants' Cup semifinals series on Tuesday.

The Rhum Masters leaned on their veterans to end top-seed Hawkeyes’ eight-game win run and draw first blood in the best-of-three matchup, 66-55, at the Marikina Sports Complex.

Behind ex-pros Jerwin Gaco and Mark Cruz, the Rhum Masters outscored a Hawkeyes side bannered by college stars Robert Bolick, Jason Perkins, Javee Mocon, and Davon Potts, 28-15.

Gaco and Cruz combined for 22 points in that pivotal third period when Tanduay started to pull away and move a win closer to entering the finals.

"Actually ganun na nga nangyari. Kasi kahit papaano may experience kami ni Mark Cruz tapos nadagdag pa si Lester Alvarez," said Gaco, who topscored for Tanduay with 16 points.

"Tapos yung mga college players, nadagdagan yung kumpiyansa nila kasi nadadala sa laro eh - unang-una sa depensa, tapos sa opensa tulong-tulong kami," he added.

[See Gaco, Cruz spark third quarter surge to power Tanduay past Cignal]

Cruz agreed, noting that it was also helpful that Gaco, the charismatic cager who won multiple championships with the Purefoods franchise in the PBA, is setting a good example for the younger players.

But he was quick to add that it was still the collective effort of the Rhum Masters on both ends of the floor that got them the big win.

"For me, isang factor na yun. Yung leadership ni Jerwin, nahahawa talaga kami. Go hard sya everytime," said Cruz, who finished with 15 markers.

"Pero credit din sa hustle ng lahat. Talagang collective effort ang nangyari kaya successful kami sa Game 1 na ito. Hopefully ganun din sa next game," he added.

Game Two is on Thursday at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig, with the Rhum Masters looking to seal a seat in the finals.


"Ayoko magsalita ng tapos. Practice ulit bukas, pahinga, para may lakas sa second game. Hopefully makuha namin second game," said Gaco.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @janbballesteros