IN one preseason game alone, Petron felt the impact of having a massive presence like June Mar Fajardo inside the paint - and Meralco realized how tough it was to lose one.
The Boosters drew big numbers from Fajardo and fellow frontliner Arwind Santos in an 89-78 victory on Monday at the Acropolis Gym as the duo got their way against a Meralco team that is trying to move on after losing top big man Asi Taulava.
Santos had a game-high 29 points along with 10 rebounds, while the 6-foot-9 Fajardo was just too big and too strong for the Bolts as he pulled down 23 rebounds in Petron's second win in four preseason games.
The Boosters' immense size advantage resulted in a 54-37 rebounding edge.
Bobby Parks, one of Petron's assistant coaches, said Fajardo is slowly getting accustomed to the physical brand of basketball in the PBA.
"I think he'll get to improve more and more, especially when he starts playing during the season. He's been getting a lot of help playing against Dorian Pena and Danny Ildefonso in practice," said Parks, who has given Fajardo personal training during their stint in the Asean Basketball League.
Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio admitted the departure of the 6-9 Taulava has left a huge hole in the Bolts' frontline but insisted the team has already moved on.
"Asi definitely left a huge vacuum on our team. He's been our team leader and he acts like a kuya to the younger guys. I feel with him playing center for us, we could easily compete with the top teams. But this season, we will need to have our other big men stepping up," he added.
The Bolts also missed the services of scoring guard Sol Mercado, who is still in the United States to attend his father’s funeral, Smart Gilas back-up center JayR Reyes and injured players Chris Ross, Paul Artadi, Mark Borboran and Reynel Hugnatan.
In their absence, Fil-Am first round pick Cliff Hodge bravely fought against Petron's tall front court, finishing with a team-high 21 points and six rebounds while Mac-Mac Cardona added 16 and seven boards.
Gregorio said he liked how his undermanned team competed against Petron.
"I think we were able to match up well, considering that we showed up without our seven key players. But we're using these preseason games for our guys to really have a good workout and basically give us an idea on what areas we need to improve on," said Gregorio.