PLAYING amid not-so-ideal conditions because of the pandemic, the Magnolia Pambansang Manok Hotshots are proud and thrilled to be competing in the finals of the PBA Philippine Cup. — PBA IMAGES

By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

THE Magnolia Pambansang Manok Hotshots are back in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) finals and they are thrilled about it, seeing it as a product of the sacrifices they have collectively put in amid not-so-ideal conditions the tournament is in.

Defeated the Meralco Bolts, 93-85, in Game Six of their best-of-seven PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series on Friday at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga, the Hotshots completed the closeout of the Bolts, 4-2.

The win thrusted them to their first final appearance since 2019, where they lost to the San Miguel Beermen in seven games in the Philippine Cup.

Magnolia is seeking their 15th PBA title in franchise history, and seventh All-Filipino crown.

“It feels really good to be back in the finals, especially how we go through a lot here,” said Game Six player of the game Ian Sangalang in Filipino, noting of being away from their families to play in the PBA semi-bubble amid uncertainties and danger brought about by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic as among the sacrifices they have to make.

The Hotshots are one of the more consistent teams in the ongoing PBA tournament, a steady top-half team in the classification phase and go-getting in the playoffs.

“Credit to the players for bringing us here (finals). They really worked hard for this,” said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero, who is angling to give the team its second title under his watch after the 2018 PBA Governors’ Cup championship.

In barging into the finals anew, the Hotshots needed to buck another tough challenge by the Bolts in Game Six.

They played catch-up in the early goings and had to hang on tight in the end as Meralco showed no letup in its push.

Mr. Sangalang had a solid double-double of 19 points and 14 rebounds in the win. He also dished out six assists.

Mark Barroca and Rome Dela Rosa also came up big with 16 points apiece.

“Meralco put in a solid effort and they made us earn our place in the finals,” said Mr. Victolero.

Magnolia was awaiting the outcome of the other semifinal series between the TnT Tropang Giga and San Miguel Beermen in a Game Seven sudden death later on Sunday. The winner of the contest meets the Hotshots in the best-of-seven finals.

Mr. Sangalang said they have no preference on who they want to face since either way, they expect another grind of a championship series.