The Nueva Ecjia Rice Vanguards used a huge fourth quarter rally to take down Imus-Buracai de Laiya, 82-76, and arrange an MPBL Invitational Finals showdown against Basilan-Jumbo Plastic Medical Depot on Wednesday, Dec. 22 at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.

MPBL Photo

The Rice Vanguards used a blistering 19-3 run at the start of the final frame which turned an 55-58 disadvantage into a 74-61 lead with 3:55 left in the game.

Byron Villarias, who scored eight of his 13 points during that back-breaking run, connived with MPBL Invitational MVP Michael Mabulac who unloaded a double-double performance of 17 points and 15 rebounds to dispatch the gritty Imus squad.

Imus unleashed a last ditch 13-4 spurt behind Kurt Reyson and Ian Melencio to cut the deficit down to just four, 78-74, with a 1:27 left in the clock.

Renz Palma, though, scored on a huge layup that stretched the lead back to six before Villarias iced the game with two free throws.

Imus missed the services of mythical team member Adi Santos who only played four minutes due to right ankle injury. Leo Najorda and Melencio though carried the load for the squad with 24 and 22 points respectively although the efforts went down the drain as their comeback bid fell short.

JP Sarao provided support for the Rice Vanguards with 13 points while Chris Bitoon also added 12 markers.

Nueva Ecija will now battle Basilan for the title on Thursday, 8:30 p.m., while the battle for the third spot between Imus and Sta. Lucia Pasig Realtors will happen early in the day at 1PM.

Source: Manila Bulletin (