Gab Banal once again proved his worth for Go for Gold, steering the two-seed to a dominant 103-75 thumping of Marinerong Pilipino-TIP for a sweep of their semifinal showdown in the 2018 PBA D-League Foundation Cup on Thursday at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.
The former GlobalPort forward, who leads the Conference MVP race, pumped in 24 points, 19 rebounds, and had 10 assists to carry the Scratchers to the Finals.
Banal also became the seventh player to accomplish the feat, following Bobby Ray Parks, Mike Tolomia (twice), Jeron Teng (thrice), Kent Salado, Prince Eze, and teammate Matt Salem.
"I know Gab wants the MVP and he deserves it," remarked coach Charles Tiu. "He's been our best player all conference long. He's very smart, very unselfish, and he helped us get to the Finals."
Jerick Canada also had his share of the limelight with his flawless 6-for-6 shooting from deep to register 18 points, three assists, and two boards off the bench.
Kris Porter chipped in 13 points and two rebounds, Jai Reyes unloaded 11 points and six assists, and Salem had 10 points, three boards, and two dimes in the win.
The win finally gave Tiu a sense of relief after a rollercoaster ride this conference for his side.
"The guys kept telling me, 'Coach, relax.' We'll be all right in the playoffs and they proved themselves right," he said.
The Scratchers now await the victor of the Che'Lu Bar and Grill-CEU semi-finals series for their date in the best-of-five championship duel. Go for Gold went to work early, as Banal and company built a big 51-34 halftime lead that brought Marinerong Pilipino-TIP to its knees. The Scratchers kept pounding on to take a 28-point advantage, 101-73 in the waning seconds of the game.
Abu Tratter paced the Engineers with 20 points and 15 rebounds, while Trevis Jackson was limited to just 13 points, five boards, four steals, and three dimes.
Marinerong Pilipino-TIP bowed out in the semifinals for the third straight conference.
In the second game, Rich Guinitaran hit a huge triple with 42.2 second remaining as Centro Escolar University held off Che'Lu Bar and Grill, 81-76.
Guinitaran eventually finished with 20 points to share scoring honors with Orlan Wamar, who sealed the victory with a corner jumper to extend the lead to 81-76 with 16.7 left in Game 2.
Game 3 is Tuesday at 5 p.m. also at the Ynares Arena in Pasig City. The winner will face Go for Gold in a best of three titular series.
Che'Lu Bar and Grill had hoped to get the job done after a dominating performace in Game 1 but struggled to get its rhythm going in Game 2 and trailed for most part of the game.
"That was our battlecry today. We're not thinking of Tuesday, but we're trying to stay alive," said acting coach Derrick Pumaren. "Either you die or you live and today, we refused to lose."
The Scorpions led by as much as 11 points but lost all it midway in the fourth quarter. A 12-0 blast capped by Jeff Viernes' triple put the Revellers up, 68-67 with 3:29 to play.
"We became tentative. We played not to lose," noted Pumaren. "We manned up. The playoff is a man's game and that's what we did. We stood our ground, took what they gave and fought."
And fought they did.
Guinitaran cornered the rebound after Wamar badly missed from beyond the arc and pulled a for three to put the Scorpions ahead. After a turnover by Che'Lu, Wamar nailed his shot from the corner for a five point CEU lead.
Viernes led all scorers with 25 points but committed a costly turnover in the closing seconds.
Chris Bitoon chimed in 14 points, but he hit the showers early after being called for a flagrant foul penalty two for an apparent low blow on Wamar with 7:01 left to play.
GO FOR GOLD 103 - Banal 24, Canada 18, Porter 13, Reyes 11, Salem 10, Publico 7, Tolentino 6, Wong 6, Dennison 5, Pili 3, Castor 0, Gaco 0.
MARINERONG PILIPINO-TIP 75 - Tratter 20, Jackson 13, Palencia 11, Manalang 9, Medina 8, Thiele 6, Ndiaye 3, Enguio 2, Napoles 2, Johnson 1.
Quarters: 26-19, 51-34, 70-56, 103-75.
CEU 83 - Guinitaran 20, Wamar 20, Chan 10, Ke. Caballero 6, Formento 6, Fuentes 6, Uri 5, Rojas 4, Ko. Caballero 2, Intic 2, Oloume 2.
CHE'LU BAR AND GRILL 78 - Viernes 25, Bitoon 14, Hernandez 12, Collado 9, Melano 7, Sta. Ana 5, Ruaya 4, Siruma 2, De Joya 0, Mallari 0, Taganas 0.
Quarters: 18-19, 35-29, 55-47, 83-78