CALAMBA — Down to three players and all, the Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards showed tremendous heart to make it to the Grand Finals of the 2020 Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3 President's Cup Friday at Inspire Sports Academy here.
Jai Reyes scored the go-ahead layup with four seconds left as Nueva Ecija pulled out an emotional 20-19 win over Uling Roasters-Butuan City to advance to the championship match.
Gab Banal poured seven points, while Reyes had six to make it to the Finals for only the second time in this tour.
But it was Tonino Gonzaga who was the shining light for the Rice Vanguards, scoring seven points while also getting a big block on Karl Dehesa and securing the rebound for the all-important possession late in the game.
Nueva Ecija missed the presence of big man Maclean Sabellina, who was nursing a fractured rib, on top of it already dealing with the absence of star guard Juan Gomez de Liano due to a sprained right ankle.
Dehesa led Butuan in the sorry defeat with eight points as tensions continued to build after the game with both teams engaging in a shouting match backstage.
Meanwhile, lightning couldn't strike twice for Pasig-Sta. Lucia Realtors.
Family's Brand Sardines Zamboanga City gutted out a tough 21-16 victory over Pasig.
Joshua Munzon just couldn't be denied, leading the three-leg champions to the Million Peso Game with 15 points, capped off by a pair of free throws with 1:43 remaining.
Yet the win didn't come easy for Zamboanga City, with Pasig making life hard in the nip-and-tuck battle.
With the game tied at 15, Munzon and Alvin Pasaol went on the offensive and put their foes at penalty with 2:08 left to play, cashing in on the freebies to put away the four-seed.
Santi Santillan added four points for Zamboanga City, while Pasaol scored a pair.
Jhaps Bautista captained the Realtors with seven points as they failed to replicate their stunning win over their favored foes back in the Leg 3 quarterfinals.