TIGERS DRAW FIRST BLOOD; EXPRESS CLINCH 3RD PLACE

Manila, August 18, 2003 (MALAYA) By MARIVIC AWITAN - Coca-Cola took out a hobbled Alaska crew out of its game early and waltzed to a 94-81 victory last night at the start of their Samsung PBA Invitationals championship series at the Astrrodome.

Rudy Hatfield scored a team-high 21 points, but it was Johnny Abarrientos doing a masterful job quarterbacking the Tigers' offense that enabled them to gain the headstart in the best-of-three series.

FedEx pulled out all stops in the final period to beat Red Bull Barako 99-84 and clinch third place.

The finish further improved the best wind-up for the Express, who did not even get past the quarterfinals in their maiden season last year.

All due to their unrelenting pressure defense that held the Thunder scoreless in the last 2:40 of play.

John Hubert Ferriols and Roger Yap, meanwhile, fuelled FedEx's offense that enabled it to fully break off from a 90-84 count.

"We wanted to reach the finals but we came one game short. So I told the boys, let's end this conference on a winning note," said FedEx coach Derick Pumaren.

"We were able to keep our composure in the endgame and I hope this will serve as a springboard for us as we look forward to the third conference."

Pumaren also posted his best finish since steering Purefoods to runner-up honors behind San Miguel Beer in the 2000 Govenors Cup. And he specifically cited Yap, whom he was forced to use as substitute point guard after injured starter Egay Billones failed to suit up.

The acquisition from Purefoods readily heeded the call by scoring 19 points, including three straight from the stripe that capped the surge which Ferriols sparked with a split and a lay-up.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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