Nueva Ecija leaned on Hesed Gabo’s timely explosion to subdue Zamboanga Family’s Brand Sardines, 81-75, in the opener of their OKbet-MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) 4th Season Presented by Xtreme National Finals Friday night at the jampacked Nueva Ecija Coliseum in Palayan City.
The crack guard poured in 18 of his game-high 22 points in the fourth quarte47 seconds left.
Gabo, a former Mapua Cardinal, also grabbed 6 rebounds and issued 6 assists to earn best player honors and frustrate the Zamboanguenos, who gamely battled the favored Rice Vanguards from the get-go.
John Bryon Villarias Villarias also shone for Nueva Ecija with 19 points while Michael Mabulac contributed 14 points and 5 rebounds before fouling out with 1:25 to go. Will McAloney also did his part with 11 points and 5 rebounds for the Rice Vanguards of Coach Jerson Cabiltes.
Nueva Ecija unleashed a 9-1 run closing the third quarter for a 56-48 lead.
Zamboanga, however, retaliated with a 7-point bomb, through Jaycee Marcelino and Jhapz Bautista, to tighten the game once again, 55-56.
Zambanga forged the last deadlock at 60, only to be met by a Villarias triple and 2 charities by Gabo that set the tone for the finish.
Mabulac became the 13th member of the MPBL 1000-point club and was given the ball he used to score the vital points by Commissioner Kenneth Duremdes.
Zamboanga got 15 points and 6 rebounds from Chris Dumapig and 12 points each from Marcelino and Jhapz Bautista, while Jayvee Marcelino chipped in 11 points.
Jaycee Marcelino also handed 8 assists, snared 7 rebounds and pulled off 2 steals for Zamboanga Coach Vic Ycasiano.
Hundreds of Nueva Ecija fans who could not be accommodated in the venue contented themselves watching the game via a giant screen at a nearby open space provided by the Local Government Unit led by Mayor Rianne Cuevas.
Nueva Ecija will try to make it back-to-back against Zamboanga in Game 2 on Monday at the same venue before the best-of-five playoffs fly to Zamboanga on December 9.