The last four teams standing begin their best-of-three semifinals series in the 2022 PBA D-League Aspirants’ Cup Friday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Apex Fuel-San Sebastian and Marinerong Pilipino collide at 9 a.m., while EcoOil-La Salle tries to extend its mastery against Adalem Construction-St. Clare at 11 p.m.
The Golden Stags, the unlikely top seed this conference, are coming in well rested, but coach Egay Macaraya remains weary acknowledging the tough challenge they have to hurdle.
“Mabigat pa rin silang kalaban kaya dapat prepared pa rin kami lalo na sa depensa,” said the Apex Fuel-San Sebastian mentor who will lean on his motley crew of Romel Calahat, Rhinwil Yambing, and Ichie Altamirano.
Macaraya’s fears are substantiated given that the Skippers are only one of the two teams to score a victory over the Golden Stags this conference, taking the 86-64 win last July 9.
But Marinerong Pilipino coach Yong Garcia also knows well that the Apex Fuel-San Sebastian crew they are facing in the semis is different from the one it played way back in opening day.
“Mas mahirap silang kalaban kasi solid na team talaga sila at kita mo naman dun sa five-game win streak nila,” said the mentor, who will once again bank on Juan Gomez de Liano, Jollo Go, and Kemark Carino for the clash.
The fourth-seed Skippers, though, are well prepared after their big 75-66 win over Centro Escolar University last Friday to earn their seat in the semis.
“Sana lang ‘yung na-build naming momentum, madala namin dito,” said Garcia.
Meanwhile, the second-seed Green Archers are heavily favored over the Saints on the strength of their 72-69 win against the same team last July 27 in the eliminations.
Kevin Quiambao, Michael Phillips and new recruits Evan Nelle, Mark Nonoy, and Schonny Winston remain the key pieces for La Salle.
Still, coach Derick Pumaren refuses to rest on his laurels, acknowledging that games are won on the court and not on paper.
“St. Clare is still a tough team and as much as we come in as the two-seed, we have to respect our opponents.”
The Saints also understand that they are the underdogs in this matchup which only motivates the squad led by Johnsherick Estrada, Joshua Fontanilla, and John Rojas.
“We’re ready sa kung ano yung bibigay nila sa amin. Basta ma-guide lang ng tama itong mga players, bibigyan namin sila ng magandang laro,” said coach Jinino Manansala after Adalem-St. Clare hacked out a 90-87 win over Builders Warehouse-UST on Wednesday in their do-or-die quarterfinal clash.