MARK Barroca finished what he started, helping boost Magnolia Ang Pambansang Manok over Meralco 81-69 Sunday and into just another win of returning to the PBA Philippine Cup finals at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Ian Sangalang and Calvin Abueva each finished with a double-double each, but Barroca's last five points were the biggest for the Hotshots as they completely doused cold water on the Bolts' bid to complete their fightback from as many as 22 points down.
Now with a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven semifinal duel, Magnolia can close the deal with another win on Wednesday and get back in the championship duel where it has been to in the 2018 and '19 editions of the same tournament.
"We have to stay focused pa rin," said Hotshots coach Chito Victolero after the win that came on the heels of their 86-91 loss last Friday, when the Bolts led wire-to-wire.
Barroca was held to just two points, when his mind was also pre-occupied with concerns about his wife about to give birth to their third child without him. But he made up for it this time with nine of his points in the opening quarter that set the tone for his team.
"Nag-struggle ako doon, pero kinausap ako ni coach and ngayon naka-focus ako," said Barroca.
Magnolia's mental toughness as a whole was severely tested when Meralco steadily chipped away at a 42-64 third quarter deficit, finally coming to within 69-74 off a Reynel Hugnatan triple, still 2:34 left.
Barroca then typified the Hotshots' composure by booming in a triple from the left flank, not only stretching their lead but also taking the winds out of the Bolts' sails.
Hugnatan, who turns 43 next month, led Meralco with 21 points and nine rebounds with Cliff Hodge's 13 points and Chris Newsome's 11 the only notable contributions from the rest of coach Norman Black's charges.
Nards Pinto and Noy Baclao, who came up big in the Bolts' Game 3 win, again faded into the shadows this time, combining for only nine points.
Magnolia was not without its own strugglers as Paul Lee, who came into the game averaging 18.4 points, had one of his cold nights and finished with just nine points on 2-of-11 field shooting.
Staring for the first time in the series, Abueva made up for the slack with 17 points and 12 rebounds and so did Sangalang with 17 and 11. (NC)
Magnolia 81 - Sangalang 17, Abueva 17, Barroca 17, Jalalon 10, Lee 9, Ahanmisi 5, Dionisio 4, Corpuz 1, Reavis 1, Brill 0, Melton 0, De Leon 0, Capobres 0, Dela Rosa 0, Pascual 0.
Meralco 69 - Hugnatan 21, Hodge 13, Newsome 11, Quinto 7, Pinto 6, Belo 3, Pasaol 3, Baclao 3, Maliksi 2, Black 0, Jackson 0, Caram 0, Almazan 0, Jamito 0.
Quarters:23-18, 46-35, 68-50, 81-60.