Bataan Risers, Manila Stars set up MPBL north Final Four showdown

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POWERHOUSE teams Bataan Risers and Manila Stars arranged an explosive Final Four encounter in the northern division of the MPBL Datu Cup after prevailing over their respective rivals late Wednesday night at the San Andres Gym in Manila.

The Risers ran roughshod against the Caloocan Supremos, 83-71, and completed a sweep of their best-of-three quarterfinals series. The Zetapro-backed Risers turned to Richard Escoto who finished a rebound away from posting a double-double performance.

Escoto finished with 17 points and nine rebounds as the player Bataan waited all long until he wrapped up his commitments with his college team, FEU, proved to be worth the wait.

“I know Richard ever since when he was with FEU for the last three years,” said Bataan head coach Jojo Lastimosa. “Although when he was with FEU, he wasn’t hitting a lot of three-point shots as well as a post guy. Now, I’m trying to help him to play the No. 3 position to prepare him once he turns pro.”

Also making key contributions were Gab Dagangon who contributed 15 markers, including three triples, while Gary David and Alfred Batino each had 13 markers for the Risers.

Bataan will face Manila, a 92-83 winner over Bulacan, in the other game.

Three players ended up with a double-double showing for the Stars, whose overpowering performance allowed them to sweep the Mighty Sports-supported Kuyas, who bowed out of the quarterfinals for the second straight season.

Aris Dionisio tallied 17 points and 12 rebounds, ex-pro Marvin Hayes had 16 markers on top of 10 boards while promising frontliner Mark Cruz had 12 points and 10 rebounds as the Stars big men outplayed their counterparts.

Manila outhustled Bulacan by grabbing nine more rebounds, 53-44. The Stars also got 56 points from inside the shaded lane compared to only 44 for Bulacan.

Chris Bitoon led all scorers for Manila with 20 points but got ample support from the rest of the team members who are equally determined in steering the powerhouse squad to a Final Four stint in the tough northern division. — Rey Joble