Talisay rolls a win away from back-to-back titles wipes out 15-point deficit to down Mandaue in opener
Emmanuel B. Villaruel (The Freeman) - May 5, 2019 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  In a spectacular escape akin to the great Houdini act, the defending champions Talisay City Aquastars chiseled away a 15-point third-quarter deficit, then held off Mandaue City scoreless in the first five minutes of the final period on the way to fluster the Ballers, 81-76, in the opener of their best-of-three finals in the 2019 Governor’s Cup Inter-Cities and Municipalities Under 21 Developmental Basketball Tournament.

Flashy guard Jay Deiparine spearheaded Talisay’s offensive charge with 19 points, five rebounds and four assists, even as Clark Louis Ruedas, Keaton Taburnal and Kendrick Abarquez also stole the show in the come-from-behind triumph to the delight of the roaring 3,000-plus crowd that filled every nook and cranny of the Talisay City Sports Complex last Friday night.

Ruedas stepped up bigtime when it mattered the most to chart 16 points, eight boards and four dimes, while Taburnal chipped in 13 markers on top of 10 rebounds and eight assists as the Aquastars moved one step away from clinching back-to-back championships.

Abarquez also had a solid double-double of 10 points and 13 rebounds laced with three assists and as many steals for the Aquastars, who could accomplish their mission if they tame Mandaue anew in Game 2 on Monday at the University of San Carlos (USC)-Main gym. Game 3, if needed, is set for May 8 still at the USC gym.

“Defense did it all for us. When we were down by 15 points, I just told my boys to just keep their focus in the game and tighten their defense. I’m just happy they were able to make the necessary adjustments,” said the soft-spoken yet obviously jubilant Talisay coach Rey Michael Gurrea.

For the Gary Cortes-mentored Mandaue, it was indeed a heartbreak of a loss.

Despite playing without their top gunner Kenneth Brillo who served a one-game suspension after being ejected during their semifinal match against Minglanilla, the Ballers started strong and led for most of the way only to wilt under a courageous fightback by the Talisaynons in the crucial stretch.

Mandaue raced to a blistering 21-8 start and although Talisay closed in at 18-21 on successive 3-pointers by Deiparine, they re-establish a 46-34 edge at halftime, thanks to All-Star playmaker Gabriel Cometa who scored 13 in that scorching rally including a fantastic behind-the-back layup that drew oohs and aahs from the spectators.

Recharged after the short break, the Ballers upped their lead to 51-36 but Talisay retaliated with a vicious 17-4 punch to pull within just two points, 53-55, with 4:24 remaining in the third canto.

Mandaue quickly surged back to a 64-54 advantage with 1:21 left in the third but it turned out to be their last bright moment.

The tide of the match suddenly changed dramatically when Talisay, in a dazzling display of team effort, unravelled a devastating 15-0 attack bridging the third and fourth periods that rocked the visiting Mandauehanons.

Jhun Art Marco ended Mandaue’s nearly six-minute scoring drought at the final 4:41 mark of the contest but Talisay, riding high on the momentum that shifted on their side, countered with a 9-3 run capped by a booming Deiparine triple that gave the Aquastars their biggest lead, 78-69, with a little over two minutes left to play.

But the thrill is still on when Mandaue came threateningly close at 75-79 on a pair of foul throws by Jun Wilmar Isok with 41 seconds remaining in the gameclock. The Ballers could have even gotten closer, but Paul John Sungahid botched two pivotal free throws with 32 seconds to go that spelled their doom.

After Sungahid’s second miss, Ruedas grabbed the rebound, made a lob pass to Abarquez who then quickly passed the ball to Taburnal leading to an unmolested breakaway layup that ensured Talisay’s rousing victory in the final 20 seconds.

Cometa topscored for Mandaue with 22 points, eight assists and four rebounds but went ice-cold after a 13-point explosion in the second period. Sungahid, Archie Buscay and Lemuel Gonzaga combined for a total of 33 points in a losing effort.

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