CAGAYAN DE ORO, March 8, 2004  (STAR) By Nelson Beltran - Alaska Milk held its ground as Purefoods unraveled a college brand of play in a sort of desperate move following the early ouster of its import and ace local, carving out a pulsating 91-89 win in the Gran Matador PBA Fiesta Cup eliminations at the Araneta Coliseum last night.

The Aces turned to young players Brandon Cablay and Mike Cortez to counter the rah-rah-rah game of Purefoods’ youth brigade, gaining a share of third place with the Barangay Ginebra Kings on their identical 2-1 win-loss slates.

"Richard Yee, James Yap and Paul Artadi put in tremendous effort in there but I have to commend my own boys. We could have fallen with our backs against the wall but my boys showed some character we’re trying to build," said Alaska coach Tim Cone.

True enough, the Aces showed character, gallantly fighting back from a six-point deficit in the last three minutes of play despite losing their import Galen Young on fouls and going flat for over four minutes midway in the fourth quarter.

A triple each by Cablay and Cortez highlighted a spirited Alaska chase down the stretch that sent Purefoods reeling to its third straight defeat.

For a while, the Hotdogs appeared on their way to duplicating their stirring win over the Coca-Cola Tigers in their tournament debut as they survived the early exit of import Lenny Cooke on an ACL tear.

The Hotdogs had a chance to beat the Aces but Yap missed a three-point attempt in the closing seconds.

Jun Limpot left the game ahead of the others after suffering a sprained left ankle with 1:16 left in the third quarter. Reggie Butler followed Limpot seven minutes later after committing his sixth foul on a rebound play.

But the Hotdogs never lost their composure. Instead, they waged a whale of a fight, running and gunning with Artadi at the point as they surged ahead at 87-81.

Even Cone was amazed at how Artadi put energy on Purefoods’ game. But the Alaska mentor thought the referees nearly ruined the contest.

"For the fans, it was a good game. But from coaches’ standpoint, it was horrible. The refs were whistle-happy today. They turned the game into a free-throw shooting contest and I’m just glad because we won the game," rued Cone.

"It’s not good when you disrupt the flow of the game," Cone added.

Despite fouling out with 3:27 left, Young led all scorers with 34 points. He also made eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals.

Limpot also paced his team with 17 points despite taking the early exit due to his injury. Noy Castillo also finished with 17 on top of three rebounds and two assists.

As in his first outing in the local pro league, Butler concentrated on the boards, pulling down 17 rebounds that went with 11 points, two blocks and one assist.

Purefoods board representative Rene Pardo said they’re still looking for a replacement to Butler.

Ato Morano banged in a crucial three-pointer coming off the bench down the stretch and Coca-Cola defused a searing Sta. Lucia Realty rally for a 95-89 win in the nightcap.

The Tigers also improved to 2-1.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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