Cliff Hodge career-high effort sparks Meralco to 1st-ever PBA Finals stint

Cliff Hodge sparkled with a new PBA career-high 32 points, including a crucial three from the corner as the Bolts held off TNT’s last-ditch rally to pull off a 94-88 triumph, earning the franchise’s first-ever Finals stint Monday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The Bolts, who joined the league in the 2010-11 season, upended the Katropa, the Governors Cup top seed after winning the semifinal series, 3-1.

READ: Cliff Hodge says 1-win total in All-Filipino key to Meralco’s dramatic turnaround

Meralco will face the winner of the other semifinal pairing featuring Ginebra and San Miguel, which will play Game 5 on Tuesday.

Meralco weathered TNT’s last-ditch rally after unleashing a 9-2 burst behind Ranidel de Ocampo’s three-point shooting spree inside the last 1:30 minutes to slice a 10-point lead to just 88-85.

But the 6-foot-4 Hodge, who has dramatically improved his outside shooting this season, buried a corner three-pointer off a kick-out pass by Allen Durham with 49.6 seconds to give the Bolts the much-needed cushion.

“I’m really happy for the team, the players.  We go to work everyday, the guys work hard, they do the extra work and more importantly, they try to embrace the game plan and execute the strategies,” said Meralco coach Norman Black, who moved over to handle the Bolts at the start of the 2015 season.

Black, a former TNT coach, said he’s just happy to see the Bolts rise this season, especially after opening the Philippine Cup with just one win to show.

“We’ve come a long way since the Philippine Cup. I’m very happy to finish the conference with a good note. Though obviously, we’re not done yet because we still have the Finals,” added Black, who won his last PBA title after leading TNT to a 4-game sweep of Rain or Shine in the 2013 Philippine Cup Finals.

The Bolts got an added advantage when Katropa top guard Jayson Castro was tossed out with still 2:20 left in the Game 4 after incurring a second technical foul for elbowing rookie Chris Newsome on the mouth.

READ: Meralco’s win confirmation that TNT is ‘beatable’, says Chris Newsome

Early in the first quarter, Castro was already slapped with a flagrant foul penalty 1 for slapping Newsome on the forehead, while trying to go hard for the layup.

Import Allen Durham finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds for the Bolts, while Reynel Hugnatan, the Game 3 hero added 16, while Newsome had 15. – Richard Dy

Follow this writer on Twitter: @richava

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