PBL: HAPEE TOOTHPASTE ENDS LONG DRAUGHT W/ THRILLING WIN 64 - 62

Pasig Sports Center, June 20, 2003 By Joey Villar (Star) Hapee Toothpaste rode through the pressure of a pulsating endgame and pulled off a thrilling 64-62 victory over Viva Mineral Water and snapped a seven-year title drought by winning the Sunkist PBL Unity Cup crown at the Pasig Sports Center.

The Teeth Sparklers fought back from double-digit deficits in the early going of a run-and-gun game and then leaned on their championship experience in the end of a topsy-turvy finish.

It was also about heart.

"I want to dedicate this victory to my players, to the management and everybody who supported us all the way," said Hapee coach Junel Baculi after bagging his seventh diadem as a mentor. "But itís all about heart."

June Peter Simon finally came out of his shell after dismal efforts before the winner-take-all match, exploding for 22 points, including four straight in the homestretch that brought his team back after a six-minute spell in the fourth quarter. His awesome effort earned him the MVP of the series award from the PBL scribes.

Eugene Tan also stepped up with a game-long brilliance which he capped by scoring the decisive field goal that sealed the Lamoiyan franchiseís first title in seven years.

The San Miguel Corp.-owned franchise actually had a chance to steal the victory with 24.2 seconds to go but Gerard Jones missed off a Dennis Miranda feed. Then Jason Misolas, rock solid all game on both ends of the court, had one more opportunity to snatch the win but his desperation attempt after Wesley Gonzales split his charities with 1.9 seconds remaining did not even hit the ring as the buzzer sounded.

Pandemonium broke loose as fans stormed onto the court and whooped it up with the triumphant Teeth Sparklers.

Viva Mineral Water mentor Coy Banal, who was named by the press corps as the coach of the conference said thereís nothing to be ashamed of. "We gave our best and that is something to be proud about. They deserved this win."

After a sloppy start, Viva came roaring back as it leaned on a 11-1 blast to turn a 7-12 deficit to a 18-13 advantage after the first quarter.

Steady sniping by Joel Co, Sunny Margate and Cesar Catli gave the Water Force a double-digit lead twice, the last at 35-25 late in the second period before the Teeth Sparklers uncorked a 19-4 run bridging the middle quarters to regain control, 44-39.

That advantage, however, went up in smoke just as quickly as Dennis Miranda and Misolas teamed up in a 6-0 run for a 45-44 Viva lead.

From there, both teams fought it out in a neck-and-neck battle but baskets by Joseph Allan Salangsang and Tan gave the lead back to Hapee, 55-51, going into the final period.

A jumper by Francis Mercado at the start of the final period made it a 57-51 count.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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