By Akio Mananes

Sizzling up their cold first half, Nueva Ecija Rice Vanguards continued their illustrious winning ways after piercing the soles of the hot Marikina Shoe Masters via blowout victory, 99-77, pounding their immaculate record to 14 in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League, Bren Z. Guiao Convention Center, Pampanga, August 15.

Photo Courtesy of MPBL

Byron Villarias spark-plugged Nueva Ecija’s offensive engine as he snagged MVP honors after racking up 25 points, 14 of which were from the second half, and stacking seven rebounds to help maintain their taintless slate.

Pulling off from the opening threshold, Marikina held their ground against the juggernauts as they exposed Nueva Ecija’s cold 6-of-25 start under the basket to post a solid 10-2 run, 19-12.

But as soon as Michael Mabulac’s entry in the second frame, Nueva Ecija smashed Marikina’s hot 10/15 field goal campaign after bouncing back to the ball game with their own 12-5 run to trim the lead down to two, 36-34.

Coming out from the dugout, a new breed of top dogs buckled up for a huge windup as Marikina lost their footing to succumb to an early 12-0 run in the second half, 57-45.

Marikina tried to patch up some holes in their sail but Nueva Ecija pummeled their height advantage off the chart after placing themselves within striking distance to avert a sloppy start to a 25-7 burst in the third canto, 70-52.

Yves Sazon attempted to duplicate his previous 31-point heroics against Bacoor City for Marikina, draining four triples in the stretch to dig the cagers out of the 18-point hole but the lead won't budge.

Sazon posted 22 markers in a losing effort while Marikina got ample support from Dexter Mescallado after draining 10 points.

Meanwhile in the south division, Nikko Panganiban's 14 markers and 10 boards double-double hoisted the Gensan Warriors to hack out a gutsy 75-63 win over the Rene Pacquiao-less Imus Bandera XTREME, who was ejected in the third frame.

Furthermore, in the derby of north and south squads, Pampanga Giant Lanterns saw the light in the raft as they prevailed in a collision course with Bacolod Bingo Plus, eking out a 72-7 squeaker in their OT thriller.

Pampanga leaned on the steel nerves of MJ Garcia as he put down the exclamation fastbreak off a Christopher Lagrama steal, enough to be player of the game with 11 points and six boards to close out the MPBL triple header with the Giant Lanterns as the North Division second seed with 8-4.

Edited by Quian Vencel Galut