PAMPANGA won the battle between division leaders as it thwarted Bacoor, 78-70, on Saturday in the OKBet-MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) Fifth Season at the Laguna Sports Complex in the provincial capital Santa Cruz.
Justine Baltazar registered his 19th straight double-double with 13 points and 18 rebounds to tow the Giant Lanterns to their 19th win against a loss as the North pacesetters prove superior over the Strikers, the South frontrunners, who skidded to 16-4 in the elimination round of the 29-team tournament.
Others who shone for Pampanga were Encho Serrano with 18 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists, Raymond Binuya with 12 points plus 2 steals, and John Bryle Bahio with 9 points plus 13 rebounds.
With the 6-foot-8 Baltazar and the 6-5 Bahio asserting their height advantage, the Giant Lanterns ruled the boards, 52-43, and produced 52 points inside the paint against the Strikers’ 30.
Bacoor got 19 points plus 9 rebounds from Jhan McHale Nermal and 14 points plus 7 rebounds from Jhaymo Eguilos.
Veteran Mark Yee, however, was held to 6 points and 2 rebounds, while gunner James Kwekuteye settled for 6 points and 8 rebounds.
A one-handed slam by Eguilos pushed Bacoor to within 38-44 at halftime, coming from a 21-34 deficit.
The Giant Lanterns brought along supporters in nine buses to ensure that they won’t be drowned out in the cheerleading department, and it worked.
Iloilo United Royals squeaked past Laguna Krah Asia, 57-55, in the nightcap to boost their playoff drive with a 9-12 card.
Joshua Flores scored on a drive and split his two charities in the last minute to lift Iloilo past Laguna, which seized control, 55-54, following back-to-back triples by Jason Celis and Jerome Garcia.
It was a concerted effort for the Royals, who drew 9 points, 13 rebounds and 3 assists from CJ Catapusan, 8 points, 8 rebounds plus 3 assists from Lorenzo Navarro and 8 points plus 7 rebounds from hoemgrown Omar Larupay.
Laguna, which slid to 3-18, got 14 points from Paolo Pontejos and 13 from Garcia.
Earlier, Imus SV Squad subdued Manila, 72-66, to raise its record to 8-11.
Jaymar Gimpayan posted 18 points and 12 rebounds to power Imus, followed by Carlo Lastimosa with 14, Jimboy Estra with 11 plus 7 rebounds, and NIno Canaleta with 11 points, 5 rebounds plus 2 steals.
Manila tumbled to 3-18 as only James Mangahas delivered with 20 points and 5 rebounds.
The MPBL visits the Caloocan Sports Complex on Monday with a triple bill pitting Marikina against Rizal at 4 p.m., Muntinlupa against Marikina at 6 p.m., and Nueva Ecija against Caloocan at 8 p.m.