MANILA, April 14, 2005 
(STAR) By Nelson Beltran -  Antonio Smith dominated the boards, hauling down the league’s third all-time most number of rebounds with 33, but couldn’t snare the crucial ones down the stretch, allowing Sta. Lucia Realty to check a five-game slump with a 93-92 decision over Purefoods last night in the Gran Matador PBA Fiesta Cup at the Araneta Coliseum.

The Realtors got two key offensive rebounds in the waning seconds, enabling them to take a five-point lead, 91-86, and consequently the win that ended their miserable skid.

"We’re really not a strong team that’s why we really need to work hard and always be aggressive. We did that tonight," said Sta. Lucia coach Alfrancis Chua.

Ryan Fletcher bucked a groin injury to help the Realtors overcome an early 18-point deficit in notching only their second win in seven starts in the season-ending tourney.

Taking the cue from Fletcher, Sta. Lucia’s big three in Kenneth Duremdes, Marlou Aquino and Dennis Espino also gutted out on the floor, helping one another to cancel out Smith’s monstrous showing off the boards.

Smith’s 33 caroms were the highest by any player in the league since Michael Hackett pulled down 45 almost two decades ago. The second highest number of rebounds recorded in the league was 40 by then Mariwasa import Billy Robinson in 1976.

With the Hotdogs down by three at 86-89, Smith, however, couldn’t get the rebounds, yielding two offensive boards to the Realtors with the last one resulting to a foul to Aquino for a trip to the stripe.

Aquino canned in both charities as the Realtors took a five-point cushion which proved enough to scuttle the Hotdogs’ bid.

The Hotdogs, who suffered a third straight defeat and their fourth in eight games, narrowed the gap to one in the end, on back-to-back triples by Noy Castillo in the dying seconds.

Though missing their last practices because of his injury, Fletcher churned out a double-double game with 20 points and 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and the same number of blocks.

But Sta. Lucia rammed into the strong-starting Purefoods squad, needing to dig out of an 18-point hole in the first half as the Realtors posted only their first win after beating the Alaska Aces, 85-77, last March 9.

"We’re still down. But it’s a long tourney and we’re not yet out. We’ll be there," said Chua, confident his team can still contend well in the playoffs.

The Realtors had their first taste of the lead at 74-73 on a triple by Paolo Mendoza at the onset on the fourth quarter.

Purefoods reclaimed the lead at 82-80 on a short jumper by Jun Limpot but the Realtors surged ahead to stay at 91-86 as they suddenly outhustled, outrebounded and outplayed the Hotdogs.

"At halftime, I just asked the boys ano ba ang gusto nila. Dahil talo lang naman kami sa effort. Marlou responded for the team by just clapping his hand then saying Œcome on, let’s go,’ Tapos ayon na, nag-trabaho na sila," said Chua.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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