MANILA, January 21, 2004  (STAR) By Joey Villar - Defending champion Welcoat Paints and Fash Liquid Power fashioned out contrasting wins over Blustar Detergent and Sunkist-University of Santo Tomas, respectively, yesterday to arrange a title playoff in the PBL Platinum Cup at the Pasig Sports Center.

The Paintmasters, drawing firepower from their pro-bound players, got off to a strong start and sustained a steady game till the end as they walloped the Detergent Kings, 75-64.

The Liquid Powers, meanwhile, banked on June Peter Simon’s crucial baskets down the stretch as they nosed out the Tigers, 87-86.

Thus, the two teams gained entry into the best-of-five finals, relegating Blustar and Sunkist-UST to the series for third place.

Marc Pingris, the third pick overall in the recent PBA draft, scored 16 points, including two from a monster slam in the fourth quarter, to pace the Paintmasters, who also drew double-digit outputs from Willie Wilson, Ervin Sotto and James Yap.

Simon, on the other hand, was Fash’s biggest hero as he delivered the baskets that mattered most for the team.

The 5-foot-11 guard from North Cotabato scored six of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, including the game-winner with 5.8 seconds left in the clock.

The Tigers had a chance to steal the win but rookie Jemal Vizcarra’s desperation shot from way behind the three-point arc missed the target as time expired.

"Even if we have many talented players, we still recognize people who are open to take shots. That I think is the key in this game," said Fash mentor Junel Baculi, who is eyeing a seventh PBL title.

Sunkist seized a 59-51 lead late in the third period as American guard Alex Compton exploded with 14 of his 24 points in the quarter.

But as Compton took a brief rest, Allan Salangsang and Larry Fonacier made their own moves, fuelling a blistering counter-attack that had Fash regaining an 81-78 advantage midway in the last canto.

Vizcarra gained his shooting touch, firing six unanswered points, as Sunkist snatched the lead anew, 84-81.

After Salangsang scored on a lay-up and Simon on a short jumper, Alwyn Espiritu answered with a basket underneath on an assist by Compton as Sunkist took the lead, 86-85, for the final time.

Another muffed triple by Salangsang almost cost the Liquid Powers the game but Fonacier calmly recovered the ball and fed a wide open Simon for the clincher.

"Basta ginawa ko lang ang magagawa ko sa game na ito," said Simon, one of the leading candidates in the race for the season’s MVP award.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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