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Alaska edges Meralco, sets up finals duel with Magnolia

The Alaska Aces will return to the PBA finals after edging the Meralco Bolts, 99-92 in Game 4 of the Governors' Cup semifinals on Saturday at the Cuneta Astrodome.

The Aces, who last reached the finals in the 2016 Commissioner's Cup, set up a best-of-seven finale against Magnolia, which dethroned Ginebra in the other semifinal pairing.

With the PBA giving way for the fifth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, the series starts on December 5.

Returning to the finals after bowing to Rain or Shine in the mid-season conference two years ago, Alaska coach Alex Compton struggled to find the perfect words after the victory.

"I'm so proud of my guys. We played hard. I'm just a little emotional right now. So proud," Compton said.

The Aces got into groove in the final minutes and built a 10-point lead on a 13-3 rally capped by Mike Harris' free throws, 86-76 in the 3:55 mark.

But Meralco, runner up in the last two editions of the conference, didn't go down without a fight, showing composure to keep the game close. Allen Durham scored on a layup with 1:27 remaining to pull to within three, 90-87.

The Aces canned six free throws after that to take a comfortable 96-87 cushion. Durham muscled his way to the basket for a layup in the ensuing play, while Garvo Lanete made a three-pointer to try to keep the Bolts in the game with 18.5 remaining.

It was all Alaska from there, though.

"We're not perfect but we played hard," said Compton.

Harris, the hero of the pivotal Game 3 victory, finished with 27 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, and three steals. JVee Casio chipped in 14 points on 2-of-3 shooting from the three-point area.

Kevin Racal, Jeron Teng, and Vic Manuel added 10 points each.

Meralco's starters all finished in double figures, with Durham leading the way for the team with 31 points on top of 14 rebounds, three assists, and two blocks.

Reynel Hugnatan fired 13 points, Chris Newsome scored 12, while Nico Salva and Baser Amer had 10 apiece for the Bolts, who led by as much as 14 points in the opening period.

THE SCORES

Alaska 99 - Harris 27, Casio 14, Racal 10, Teng 10, Manuel 10, Banchero 9, Enciso 7, Thoss 4, Baclao 4, Pascual 4, Exciminiano 0, Potts 0.

Meralco 92 - Durham 31, Hugnatan 13, Newsome 12, Salva 10, Amer 10, Caram 7, Lanete 7, Hodge 2, Faundo 0, Dillinger 0, Canaleta 0, Tolomia 0.

Quarterscores: 21-28, 47-48, 68-60, 99-92.

EXTRA DRIBBLES

-- Jared Dillinger, who returned late this conference from injury, hobbled on his way to the bench after driving against Mike Harris in the opening period.

-- Alaska played without Chris Banchero, who is the running for the Best Player of the Conference award, in the last two minutes after getting his sixth foul.

-- The last time Alaska and the Magnolia franchise faced in the finals was in 2010. The then Purefoods team led by James Yap beat the Aces in the series.