Allein Maliki of Meralco shoots a jumper over Billy Mamaril of San Miguel. (PBA Images)

Meralco refused to make its playoff return a short one after pushing defending champion San Miguel Beer to the limit with a 78-71 win Friday night in the start of the PBA Philippine Cup quarterfinals at the Angeles University Foundation Sports and Cultural Center.

Veteran Reynel Hugnatan and rookie Aaron Black sealed the win with key shots in the homestretch as the Bolts extended their stay inside the Smart Clark Giga City bubble by forcing a literal win or go home affair.

Their match is set at 6:45 p.m. Sunday with the winner advancing to a best-of-five semis against top seed Barangay Ginebra San Miguel or No. 8 Rain or Shine.

The Bolts won their first quarterfinal game in the All-Filipino tournament since 2015 while also giving coach Norman Black a belated birthday present.

“Our guys played with a lot of heart tonight. We really didn’t shoot the ball well but our defense held up,” said Black, who turned 63 on Thursday.

Hugnatan scored 16 points while Black added 14 as the two sealed the deal for Meralco after SMB closed in at 71-67 on a basket by Paul Zamar with under five minutes remaining in the fourth.

Both teams went cold before Hugnatan scored a jumper before Black knocked down a three with under two minutes to go to make it 76-67.

Baser Amer scored 12 points, Chris Newsome had 11 points and nine assists while Bong Quinto and Cliff Hodge grabbed 13 and 10 rebounds.

Meralco’s defense also forced SMB to make just 5-of-32 triples after being ranked fifth in the elimination in shooting percentage from downtown with a 34.0-percent clip.

Mo Tautuaa had 14 points and 11 rebounds but it was not enough for the Beermen, who missed the services of Alex Cabagnot due to a tight hamstring.

The scores:

MERALCO 78 — Hugnatan 16, Black 14, Amer 12, Newsome 11, Quinto 9, Hodge 6, Maliksi 4, Faundo 4, Jamito 2, Jackson 0, Almazan 0, Caram 0.

SAN MIGUEL 71 — Tautuaa 14, Lassiter 12, Ross 10, Escoto 10, Zamar 8, Santos 8, Alolino 6, Gamalinda 2, Mamaril 1, Pessumal 0, Comboy 0.

Quarters: 21-11, 40-31, 59-51, 78-71.

Source: Manila Bulletin (