GENERAL SANTOS CITY — There’s a new Cinderella squad in the MPBL — and they’re the Bacoor Strikers.
The Strikers swept their southern swing assignment and eventually, disposed of the General Santos City Warriors in their best-of-three quarterfinals series to advance into the Final Four of the south division of the tournament.
Who would have thought the Strikers would go this far?
The Strikers had a roller-coaster ride on their way to the playoffs. They had back-to-back wins in their last game in the elimination round — the last one was the resumption of the extra period of their match against the Parañaque Patriots, who decided to forfeit their game.
Bacoor ended up at No. 5 and found itself in a head-on collision course with General Santos City, a formidable squad in the south division, which brought down crack teams, including top seed Davao Occidental Tigers.
But in the southern swing, the Strikers were able to stun their more fancied rivals.
In Davao, Bacoor turned to top MVP contender Gab Banal, who scored 31 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, but got plenty of help from the supporting cast, most notably Mark Montuano, who had his best game of the season and finished with 23 points.
With Banal and Montuano in charge, the Strikers were able to take the head start in their best-of-three series.
Despite pulling one off in Davao City, there were doubts whether the Strikers could repeat over the Warriors, who will play host on Saturday’s Game 2.
The Strikers turned their doubters to believers instead as they practically dominated the game.
Banal and Montuano carried much of the offensive load, but they also got plenty of help from Ricky Acidre, who exploded for 12 points, all coming in the fourth period and buried all of his four triples that finally put away the Warriors in a highly-physical encounter that saw three players ejected and one Bacoor player injuring his nose.
In victory, Bacoor also produced the unsung heroes, players like King Destacamento and Eric Acuña.
Destacamento, a frozen talent in Laguna, went back to serve his hometown Bacoor where he had the opportunity to shine. Slowly but surely, the reed thin, young center was able to show his true potential.
Acuña, a promising guard, provided the spark off the bench. His hustle and ball handling skills has become essential for the Strikers. These young turks had become a revelation for head coach Leo Isaac, who also found a sanctuary in the MPBL via Bacoor after he was released by his long-time squad, Blackwater, in the PBA.
The cinderella run has just started for the Strikers and how far this team can go remains to be seen. The team will face the formidable Davao Occidental Tigers in the second round of the best-of-three playoffs. This series will be a true test, not only for Bacoor as a team but also a measure of Banal’s worth for the MVP plum.
In Davao Occidental, he will be going up head-to-head with another MVP candidate in Mark Yee, making the series more interesting and compelling.
For now, Bacoor is cherishing its entry to the Final Four of the southern division and savoring the moment.
Rey Joble is a member of the PBA Press Corps and Philippine Sportswriters Association.