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Defending champs Beermen live another day with epic Game 4 OT victory

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The pride of a champion just would not want to lose the series via a sweep.

San Miguel Beermen extends the Finals series to atleast Game 5 after registering an overtime win against Alaska Aces to come within 3-1 in the Smart Bro Philippine Cup at the Philsports Arena in Pasig.

Reserve guard Chris Ross stepped up for the defending champions as he registers an almost triple-double performance with 11 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists. Ross was brilliant in the second half of the game with his pesky defense and timely setup for his teammates especially in fourth quarter and overtime period. Gabby Espinas also made his June Mar Fajardo-impersonation as he contributed 21 points, 14 rebounds as he held ground the front line of the beermen all-game long.

Just as the Aces were starting to look up the rafters for the celebratory balloon rain after a JayVee Casio three-pointer to put his team up 93-84 with 3 minutes 31 seconds left in the game, the beermen unleashed a furious 12-0 run capped by an Arwind Santos follow up layup after his own missed shot attempt until the last minute of regulation to grab a 93-96 advantage.

Calvin Abueva finally stopped the bleeding with a quick layup to bring Alaska within a point, 95-96, but had to give up his last foul to Santos in the ensuing play.

The Captain Beerman uncharacteristically missed both freethrows but Ross was able to secure the offensive rebound and made both freethrows after being fouled to go up 95-98 with 4.5 seconds left in regulation.

Just as the beermen were about celebrate their first win in the series, highflying guard Cyrus Baguio played spoiler as he nailed a buzzer beater three pointer to send the game to overtime.

Finals MVP frontrunner Vic Manuel tried to will his team to the sweep as he opened the extra period with four straight points with a baseline push shot and two freethrows off the last foul of Espinas.

That turned-out to be Alaska’s last surge as SMB, lead by struggling Santos clamped-down on defense to force their rivals to commit turnovers the rest of the way.

Ross answered back with his own four-point spurt with a quick uncontested drive and a tough circus shot against a defender to tie the game. Cabagnot finally broke the tie with a cold-blooded three pointer barely two minutes left in overtime to go up 102-105.

The Fajardo-less team held on to the lead with a Yancy de Ocampo jumper followed by a Cabagnot split freethrow and another two free throw conversions by de Ocampo. Sonny Thoss was fouled at the buzzer which gave the final score of the game at 104-110.

Manuel continues his string of impressive performances registering 20 points and 13 rebounds and had plenty of help with five other Aces scoring double digits but no one gave the kick needed in the extra period. Marcio Lassiter poured in 26 points, while Cabagnot scored 16 points including the go-ahead three pointer in overtime.

Before the game, SMB’s injured slotman June Mar Fajardo was awarded Best Player of the Conference beating out NLEX’s Sean Anthony and Asi Taulava, Ginebra’s Greg Slaughter, and Barako Bull’s Willie Wilson.

Alaska also lead the game as high as 14 points midway the third quarter before San Miguel’s comeback in the last minute of the fourth quarter.

“They accepted the challenge,” said SMB head coach Leo Austria. “They didn’t want to get swept by Alaska and they gave us some space to breathe.” he added.

“This is what we are waiting for, to get a lot of breaks in the end game,” Austria said.

Ross, who admitted to have lost his grandfather this week, pointed out to his team’s pride down the stretch. “It’s pride. It’s just pride. We don’t want to go out on a sweep. We put all our cards out there and prayed for the best,” he said. “I also want to dedicate this game to my lolo who died this week. It has been a tough week for us.” he added.

San Miguel will try to inch closer to a comeback on Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

(AARON JOHN DEL ROSARIO)