New season, same story as San Miguel frustrates Star with fiery finishing kick
June Mar Fajardo was dominant as usual for SMB in the season opener. Jaime Campos

ONCE they turned the switch on, there was no stopping them.

San Miguel Beer lived up to its tag as favorites as it rolled to a 96-88 victory over Star to jumpstart its PBA Philippine Cup title defense on Sunday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

With the Hotshots threatening to make an early statement, the Beermen scored 15 unanswered points to erase a nine-point deficit before coming through on the defensive end to grab the opening-day win.

June Mar Fajardo and Alex Cabagnot delivered the key baskets down the stretch to lead the Beermen’s late salvo that turned the game around.

“I have my confidence in them dahil sanay sila sa ganitong laro,” SMB coach Leo Austria said of the standout duo, who combined for 14 points in the final frame, outscoring the entire Hotshots’ output of nine.

Fajardo finished with 25 points 16 boards, three assists, three assists, and two blocks, while Cabagnot added 22 points and eight assists.

The Beermen also shone on the defense, holding the Hotshots to a mere two points in the last nine minutes of the game while going on that telling run.

“I was worried dahil alam ko hindi kami naglalaro ng first game sa opening…at si coach Chito Victolero ang nasa kabila,” Austria said, referring to the former Mahindra coach, who steered the Enforcer to upsets against the Beermen in the last two seasons.

The Beermen thus won an opening-day game in which they appeared in for the first time in 12 years.

The Hotshots, though, were poised for a famous win as they erased an early 10-point deficit and started the fourth quarter hot as PJ Simon knocked down a triple from the top of the key that gave them an 86-77 lead with a little less than three minutes gone by.

But the Beermen suddenly regained their bearings as they embarked on that 15-0 run capped by a Fajardo turnaround that put them on top, 92-86 with three minutes and 21 seconds left.

The scores:

SMB 96 – Fajardo 25, Cabagnot 22, Santos 17, Lassiter 11, Ross 7, Tubid 6, Espinas 5, Reyes 3, Garcia 1, Agovida 0

STAR 88 – Barroca 13, Lee 12, Jalalon 11, Maliksi 10, Simon 9, Sangalang 8, Pingris 7, Ramos 6, Melton 6, Reavis 2, Pascual 2, Brondial 2

Quarterscores: 26-24, 51-43, 75-79, 96-88 

Follow the writer on Twitter: @KarloSacamos