MANILA,  October 11, 2004  (STAR) By Nelson Beltran - Called on to take charge when the chips were down, Noy Castillo and Kerby Raymundo rose to the challenge, leading the Purefoods Hotdogs to their first back-to-back victories in almost a year.

Castillo and Raymundo combined for 37 points as they triggered, fuelled and capped Purefoods’ mighty charge from a 15-point deficit en route to a 78-76 decision over Coca-Cola in the Gran Matador PBA Philippine Cup at the Araneta Coliseum last night.

The Hotdogs, in a slump the last two years, scored their first back-to-back wins since last year’s season-ending Reinforced Conference as they won their first game versus the Barangay Ginebra Kings last Wednesday.

"Everything turned around after I talked to these guys. I told them I need them to step up especially when we’re struggling, " said coach Ryan Gregorio of the exploits dished out by Castillo and Raymundo.

Barangay Ginebra bounced back from an 87-104 blowout by Purefoods with an 88-84 drubbing of Sta. Lucia Realty in the nightcap.

The Kings squandered a 16-point first-quarter lead but regrouped and outlasted the Realtors with an up-tempo game.

Backcourt players Jayjay Helterbrand, Rodney Santos and Mark Caguioa spearheaded the Ginebra attack, leading the team to its first win after winning the Fiesta Conference championship.

Ginebra beat Sta. Lucia, 69-28, on backcourt scoring with Helterbrand scoring 23 points, Rodney Santos adding 22 and Caguioa chipping in 13.

But coach Siot Tanquingcen was far from satisfied with their performance despite the win.

"Malayong-malayo pa kami in peak form dahil hindi kami nakapag-prepare ng husto during the off-season because of injuries to our players," said Tanquingcen.

Raymundo scattered 11 of his 22 points in a decisive romp that had Purefoods erasing a 54-39 deficit and seizing a 62-58 lead in the third quarter.

Castillo pitched in six points in that run before enjoying his finest moments in the closing seconds with key plays that decided the outcome of the game.

The 5-foot-11 Fil-Am guard came up with a three-point play off Jeffrey Cariaso, pulled down a big defensive rebound following a missed jumper from Poch Juinio and canned in a free throw all inside the last 24.8 seconds.

Before these plays, the Hotdogs teetered on the brink of defeat as the Tigers regained the lead at 76-74 on clutch baskets by Johnny Abarrientos, Gary David and Juinio.

Raymundo said a simple eye-to-eye contact with his coach became his cue in taking charge in the third quarter. "Noong nagkatinginan kami ni coach, naintindihan ko na ang gusto niya na pakialamanan ko na," said the 6-foot-7 former Letran ace slotman.

Raymundo conspired with rookie pointguard Paul Artadi in a 14-0 run the Hotdogs made in a four-minute span bridging the last two quarters that gave the team a 65-58 lead.

The Hotdogs completed the win despite the absence of regular starting small forward Rey Evangelista and James Yap towho suffered a knee injury late in the third.

"We’re tired of losing. We’re no longer thinking about our injuries. There’s no big change in our lineup but there’s a big change in our mentality," said Gregorio.

"With two contrasting wins to start the tourney, we hope this becomes a big conference for us," Gregorio added.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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