MANILA,  October 6, 2004  (STAR) By Nelson Beltran - PBA commissioner Noli Eala called the mauling charges filed against three PBA players "a case of misunderstanding and wrong identity" after Jeffrey Cariaso, who was in the scene of the incident, cleared the three of involvement in the fight.

Cariaso said he was with Asi Taulava, Eric Menk, Rudy Hatfield and some other players to celebrate the birthday of Andy and Danny Seigle’s younger brother Mark in a Makati bar a week ago. The Coca-Cola stalwart said Taulava, Menk and Hatfield were not involved in a scuffle that happened in the bar.

"As far as the PBA is concerned, tapos na ang kasong ito. We don’t see reason to take actions against Asi Taulava, Eric Menk and Rudy Hatfield who were implicated in the incident," said Eala.

"Jeffrey Cariaso volunteered information that showed the three implicated players were really not involved in the incident. And I’m satisfied with the statements given by the players. First, there’s a legitimate reason for them to be there. Second, they’re there with their wives and girlfriends. Third, they gave enough reasons to believe there was a misappreciation of the case," Eala added.

The PBA commissioner, however, said he doesn’t want to preempt the investigation being done by the police.

"Basta as far as the PBA is concerned, this is a close case," said Eala.

A bar patron filed a case against Taulava, Menk and Hatfield whom the supposed victim accused of ganging on him.

Enrico Villanueva, meanwhile, got away with just a strong warning and advice from the commissioner for punching a Korean rival that triggered a free-for-all in Red Bull Barako’s game versus the Koreans in the recent Sultan Cup invitational basketball tournament in Brunei.

"I don’t have enough evidence to find Enrico to have committed impropriety. We’ve gotten a tape of the game but we didn’t see how the fight started," said Eala.

"Enrico said he was grossly provoked. Still, I told him a punch is a punch and I gave him a strong warning and advice. His temper should keep in step with his fast maturing game," Eala added.

Meanwhile, Fiesta Conference titlist Barangay Ginebra is upbeat and highly motivated as it starts its campaign in the Gran Matador PBA Philippine Cup versus Purefoods today at the Araneta Coliseum.

Coach Siot Tanquingcen said their biggest motivation is the opportunity to deliver the franchise’s first ever back-to-back championships.

"We know it’s tough, for one, because everybody wants our neck since we have just won a championship. But the opportunity is there, so we’ll try to achieve it," said Tanquingcen.

No team has earned the feat since San Miguel Beer won the Commissioner’s Cup then the Governors’ Cup in 2000.

Ginebra had poor showings in tuneup games but Tanquingcen hopes his Kings will pick up their game in the tournament proper, starting with their 7:20 p.m. tiff with the Hotdogs tonight.

Coca-Cola and Shell play in the 4:30 p.m. curtain-raiser while San Miguel Beer and Sta. Lucia Realty leave for Zamboanga City where they figure in the tourney’s first out-of-town tussle at 6 p.m. tomorrow.

The Ginebra-Purefoods match is a duel between the champion and last placer in the recent Fiesta Conference.

Tanquingcen, however, is not taking Purefoods lightly, saying the Hotdogs have the materials to compete with the best teams in the league.

A team which has been in a slump for two years now, Purefoods suffered severe beatings in its stint in the recently concluded Sultan Cup invitational tournament in Brunei.

After an atrocious showing in the Fiesta Conference where they won only four of their 19 games, coach Ryan Gregorio made little changes in their lineup, taking in Mike Hrabak and veteran Zaldy Realubit.

"Although kulang pa rin kami sa ceiling, at least lumakas kami ngayon sa two (off-guard) and three (small forward) spots," said Gregorio.

Hrabak, formerly of Shell, alternates with Rey Evangelista at small forward while rookie James Yap and Noy Castillo take turns in playing the off-guard position.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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