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Pampanga, South Cotabato, Manila overcome MPBL foes

MANILA, Philippines – Defending champion Pampanga trounced Negros, 104-81, on Thursday to extend its hot streak in the 6th MPBL (Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League) Season at the Alonte Sports Arena in Binan, Laguna.

South Cotabato shared the limelight following a come-from-behind 82-81 victory over Binan Tatak Gel Beast Motorcycle Game X in the nightcap of another elimination round triple bill of the 29-team tournament.

Exploiting their height and firepower advantage, the Giant Lanterns sped beyond reach, 92-63, en route to their 10th straight win after an initial loss, staying close to 9-0 pacesetters San Juan Knights, Quezon Huskers and Nueva Ecija Vanguards.

Showing why he's the reigning MPBL Most Valuable Player, the 6-foot-8 Baltazar chalked up 18 points and 17 rebounds that enabled Pampanga to rule the boards, 67-46, and pull down Negros to 4-8.

Encho Serrano backed Baltazar with 20 points, four rebounds plus two assists; and so did Jeff Viernes with 16 points plus four assists; and Archie Concepcion with 13 points, four rebounds and two assists.

The Muscovados got 30 points, six assists, five rebounds and two steals from Renz Palma; 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals from Alvin Capobres; and 12 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks from James Paul Una.

While the Giant Lanterns had a blast, the South Cotabato Warriors needed the heroics of Christian Fajarito to crawl out of a 48-64 hole before squeezing out their fifth straight win for a 9-3 sate.

South Cotabato still trailed Binan, 62-73, when Fajarito poured eight in a 12-point spurt to put South Cotabato ahead, 74-73.

Binan regained the lead, 81-78, but Jammer Jamito knocked in two charities and Fajarito drilled in a one-handed floater with 10.7 seconds left for the final count that relegated Binan to a 6-3 card.

Fajarito wound up with 19 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals, while Jamito posted 13 points plus 11 rebounds.

Other Warriors who delivered were Nico Elorde with 10 points, eight assists and two steals; Val Acuna with 10 points, two rebounds plus two assists; and Enzo Joson with nine points, seven assists, five rebounds and two