SAN Miguel Beer relied on its championship class to withstand a late rally and dispatch Star, 109-102, on Friday night to march to the championship round of a PBA Commissioner’s Cup that has been elusive to the squad in recent memory.
Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross connected from long distance that established a huge cushion, before Charles Rhodes brought the Beermen home in the face of a Hotshots comeback.
The Hotshots cut a 14-point deficit inside the last four minutes to just three points, only to fall short as Ricardo Ratliffe again was forced to carry most of the load with a some key locals failing to live up to expectations.
The Beermen thus advanced to its fifth finals appearance in eight conferences, but only their first in the midseason tournament since 2001.
More importantly, San Miguel, who won a third successive Philippine Cup title early in the year, stayed on course for a grand slam - a feat the pioneer franchise last achieved in 1989.
“We’re back in the finals,” SMB coach Leo Austria said. “Many people are expecting a lot from us and pinakita nila yung kanilang championship caliber.”
SMB is now waiting for the survivor of the TNT KaTropa-Ginebra series that the Texters are leading, 2-1.
Cabagnot and Ross knocked down four treys as they combined for 21 points in the third quarter as the duo outscored the entire Hotshots’ output in the period by one point and sparked the Beermen’s surge in the period.
SMB stretched its lead to as many as 17 points early in the fourth quarter, and were still on top by 14 markers, 99-86 with 3:29 left after six straight points by Rhodes when the Hotshots made a last-ditch effort to force a deciding game.
Paul Lee came alive after being non-existent in the early goings, scoring a tough triple from the right corner that pulled the Hotshots closest at 98-101, before the Beermen held on.
Cabagnot finished with 26 points, six boards, five assists, and two steals, while Ross added 24 points, 10 assists, four rebounds, and five steals in almost 43 minutes of play. Rhodes registered 21 points and 10 boards.
June Mar Fajardo also anchored the Beermen down low with 22 points and eight boards in 35 minutes for Austria who relied heavily on his small core again.
Ratliffe delivered another outstanding showing with 36 points and 17 boards in almost 46 minutes that went for naught as Lee finished just eight points on 3-of-10 shooting in 33 minutes, while Justin Melton was held scoreless after missing all his three shots in 16 minutes as a starter.
SMB 109 – Cabagnot 26, Ross 24, Fajardo 22, Rhodes 21, Lassiter 8, Santos 4, Heruela 3, Espinas 1, Tubid 0
STAR 102 – Ratliffe 36, Maliksi 16, Barroca 13, Sangalang 11, Ramos 9, Lee 8, Jalalon 6, Simon 3, Melton 0, Reavis 0
Quarterscores: 29-27, 52-49, 83-69, 109-102