PHILIPPINES – The Manila Sharks have again secured the No. 1 spot heading into the semifinals. But will the Sharks be able to prove everyone they are the team to beat in the Dunkin’ Donuts Baseball Philippines Series 6 and erase a stigma of losing in the games that mattered the most.
Behind a strong game, the Big City batters completed their near-flawless elimination round by beating host team Forward Taguig, 7-1, Sunday in front of a big-sized crowd at the Felino Marcelino Baseball Stadium here.
The pitching prowess of Charlie Labrador and Jonjon Robles coupled with the support from the offense, the Manila batters easily brushed aside the Patriots to end their elimination round record with four wins and one defeat.
Although the Sharks would end up tying the Cebu Dolphins, they will gain the No. 1 seeding thanks to the win-over-the-other rule. In their lone meeting, they were able to beat the Dolphins 9-8 three weeks ago.
Thus, Manila arranged a semifinal duel with the No. 4 Alabang Tigers on Saturday, also in Taguig, with the former holding a twice-to-beat advantage. But will the third time be a charm for the squad of coach Jhoel Palanog. The squad has earned two No. 1 seeding twice since they were formed in 2007 only to end up in disappointment.
In Series 2, Manila posted an 8-2 record and reached the finals against Cebu. But the Dolphins won the title highlighted by an unforgiving 20-5 rout in the deciding third game.
A tournament later, or what is called as Series 3, the Sharks rolled to a 10-1 record and eventually faced the Dumaguete Uni-Bikers in the semifinals with a twice-to-beat advantage. However, the Uni-Bikers, bannered by ex-collegiate and national team standouts, some of them in their late-30′s or early-40′s, showed some gutsy determination to stun Manila.
Palanog and the rest of the crew hopes to erase the ghost of the past. It will be a rematch of Series 5′s semifinal series. The Sharks won 11-10 to advance to the finals but not after a grueling 14-inning marathon.
Labrador and Robles, who once were teammates for the RP national team during the Asian Baseball Championships and the Southeast Asian Games in 2007, combined for nine strikeouts and allowed just five hits to put the Patriots at bay.
The right-handed Labrador easily cruised past home squad retiring the first 15 batters and struck out six in seven innings pitched before Robles fanned three in the last two frames to finish the job.
Roel Empacis and Christian Galedo had two RBIs each for the Sharks to highlight the team’s solid offensive production.
The Patriots finished off their elimination round campaign with a 1-4 record thus missing the semifinals for the second straight tournament.
CEBU DOLPHINS 11, BATANGAS BULLS 8
The Cebu Dolphins are lucky to have scored five runs in the fifth inning to survive one last push of the Batangas Bulls to settle the outcome. And now they are one win away from getting back to the finals.
Cebu got the big hits from its key players to repulse Batangas, 11-8, to wrest the last twice-to-beat bonus in the Dunkin’ Donuts Baseball Philippines Series 6 at the Felino Marcelino Baseball Stadium.
After wasting an early lead to trail 2-1 entering the fifth inning, the Dolphins took over. First baseman Miggy Corcuera, despite making three consecutive baserunning blunders, put the Dolphins ahead for good when he smashed a two-run hit that eventually propelled the team to the win.
With that, Cebu won the opening game of this virtual best-of-three series with Batangas. The official semifinal series begins on Saturday also in Taguig.
The Dolphins finished with a 4-1 record tied with Manila for the lead but the latter gained top spot because of the win-over-the-other rule. The Sharks won 9-8 in their lone elimination round game.
The Bulls ended their stint with a 3-2 record. But nonetheless, this series is expected to be a close affair as both teams have the championship experience accounting for two titles each, the most in the three-year history of the league.
It will be the second straight time and third overall that Cebu and Batangas met in the semis. All of those meetings have been won by the Bulls in Series 3 and Series 5 but not before a stiff challenge by the Dolphins.
Jonas Terrado is the chief writer for the Philippines League
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