CENTRO Escolar University continued its improbable run in the 2019 PBA D-League, stunning St. Clare College Virtual Reality, 89-72, in their winner-take-all Game 3 duel on Tuesday at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.
Rich Guinitaran and Dave Bernabe made big contributions in the second half when the terribly shorthanded Scorpions went on a killer 20-4 third-quarter run to overturn a 38-39 halftime deficit and take a 58-43 lead.
Guinitaran poured in 11 of his 23 points in the second half, including the big three that made it an 83-68 lead with 2:49 remaining.
Bernabe also scored 16 in the final two frames to wound up with 22 points, 14 rebounds, and five steals to lead a CEU team that was down to seven men owing to a game-fixing controversy to get as far as the championship series.
"We didn't expect to be here, to make it to the finals, but the heart and the desire to win ng mga players, there's no substitute for that," said coach Derrick Pumaren after CEU wrapped up the best-of-three series, 2-1.
The Scorpions had to dig in in the final 3:11 of the game without Senegalese slotman Maodo Malick Diouf, who was whistled for a flagrant foul penalty one for his landing spot foul against Raymond Rubio.
But Guinitaran and Bernabe would not be denied, as the CEU defense held its ground.
Diouf wound up with 14 points, 20 rebounds, five blocks, two assists, and two steals for the Scorpions, who now brace for a best-of-five finals against the powerhouse Cignal-Ateneo squad.
Game One is set on Thursday at Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
"For me, this team is already a champion. With all the adversities na nangyari, we still made it. But we know we're gonna be the underdog against Ateneo," said Pumaren.
Junjie Hallare led St. Clare in the defeat with 19 points, as Joshua Fontanilla got 16 points, six rebounds, five assists, and five steals.
CEU 89 - Guinitaran 23, Bernabe 22, Diouf 14, Sunga 12, Santos 8, Diaz 7, Abastillas 3.
ST. CLARE 72 - Hallare 19, Fontanilla 16, Pare 11, Lunor 7, Tiquia 7, Santos 6, Ambulodto 4, Rubio 2, Penaredondo 0.
Quarters: 16-21, 38-39, 67-52, 89-72.