11 October 2012

Bolts 93, Aces 86

Cliff Hodge
A new face is emerging as Meralco's poster boy and his name is Cliff Hodge.

The energetic rookie proved this by coming up with his first pro career double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds and leading the Bolts to a 93-86 win over Alaska Wednesday (10 October 2012) in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Hodge, just a shade under 6-foot-4, battled, scraped and clawed his way against some of the Aces' taller and more experienced players. He often found himself sprawled on the floor, but he did enough damage.

The 24-year-old scattered 12 of his points during a third quarter breakaway that broke Meralco out of a tight game and focused on rebounding and defending the rest of the way to draw the most praise from coach Ryan Gregorio.

"It's unusual to have a rookie dictate our effort level and we're just fortunate to have drafted Cliff Hodge," said Gregorio of the Pensacola, Florida-born forward tabbed at No. 4 overall.

"He brings excitement, does the dirty work inside and he's also scoring," added Gregorio. "When we drafted him I thought he is just a defensive player, a loose-ball diver and rebounder. Now, after two games he's averaging close to 20." Hodge had 19 points and eight boards in a 110-112 overtime loss to Talk 'N Text last Friday.

"It's a good relief job for us, having a guy like him," stressed Gregorio.

Macmac Cardona, Ronjay Buenafe, Sol Mercado and even No. 17 pick Kelly Nabong made significant contributions, but Hodge remained the most luscious apple in Gregorio's eyes.

"Whenever I happen to lack a motivational tool, I point out Hodge and tell his teammates: 'Mahiya naman tayo kay Cliff, nagpapakamatay sa loob,'" related Gregorio.

No such spark could be had by Alaska as it dropped its second game in as many outings was relegated to the cellar with GlobalPort.

Cyrus Baguio had 19 points while Sonny Thoss, Gabby Espinas and Jayvee Casio wound up with at least 12 points each, but the Aces found no neutralizer for Hodge.

Espinas would have been it, as he scored eight of his 15 points in the fourth period and led Alaska's charge back from a 48-63 third quarter deficit. But the rugged forward incurred an offensive foul on Hodge and a technical for throwing an elbow on the rookie's chin still 5:08 left in the game.

League commissioner Chito Salud hinted the technical could be upgraded to a higher penalty and added he is summoning Espinas to his office Friday.

Buenafe's technical free throw and Mercado's ensuing elbow jumper made it an 88-74 game and Alaska had little trouble cruising the rest of the way to the win.

Meralco won trouble-free despite missing the services of Chris Ross, who is nursing a torn right meniscus and listed as day-to-day.

The likes of Mercado and Paul Artadi alternately manned the Bolts backcourt and the former wound up with nine assists to go with his 10 points.

Cardona added 16 points and eight of those came late in the third period that enabled Meralco to go into the payoff canto with a 76-64 spread.

Even in that stretch Hodge was making his own mark, too. His six straight points ended the quarter much like the way he started it, pulling the Bolts away from a 53-46 count and into a 15-point spread. (NC)

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