NUEVA ECIJA ousted Iloilo while Imus-Buracai de Laiya shocked Bicol-LCC Malls to set up their own semifinals duel in the Chooks-to-Go Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) Invitational early on Wednesday the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

Michael Mabulac tallied 17 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Vanguards’ 84-67 win over Iloilo while Imus rode on the 23-point eruption of veteran Leo Najorda in its big 74-57 upset of the fancied Bicol side.

Nueva Ecija and Imus were to clash for a seat in the finals last night along with Pasig-Sta. Lucia and Basilan-Jumbo Plastic Medical Depot in the other Final Four bracket.

The lucky winners lock horns tonight in the one-game championship for the prestigious crown of the 22-team Invitationals plus a luxurious grand prize of P2 million.

Meanwhile, the MPBL will name the best league mentor after the late San Beda coach Edmundo “Ato” Badolato, who passed away earlier this week due to cardiac arrest.

The “Ato Badolato Coach of the Year” will be given to the head coach of the champion team.

“We hope that through this award, the next generation of Filipino basketball players will get to know who Coach Ato was,” said Chooks-to-Go Sports and Marketing Director Mel Macasaquit, also a former San Beda player.

MPBL’s tribute to Mr. Badolato, who authored San Beda high school dynasty with 16 NCAA champions, was among a bevy of homages given to the legendary mentor that produced the likes of Benjie Paras, Ronnie Magsanac, LA Tenorio and Jvee Casio.

Mr. Badolato, 74, also served as athletic director of San Beda, UAAP commissioner and national youth coach on top of his guidance to the National Basketball Training Center, Filoil Flying V Cup and Fr. Martin Cup. — John Bryan Ulanday