MANILA, Philippines -- Imus and Philippine Army claimed hard-earned wins on Sunday to open their campaigns in the 2023 Spikers' Turf Open Conference at the Paco Arena in Manila.
The Imus AJAA Spikers needed to recover after losing a third set thriller before taking a 25-22, 28-26, 29-31, 25-16 triumph over Santa Rosa.
A new team composed of seasoned campaigners, the AJAA Spikers regained their bearings in the fourth set and did not give the Lions a chance to respond. Louie Ramirez, who joined Imus from Cignal HD, led the way with 17 points.
The AJAA Spikers came up short in the third set that was marred by mishits and service errors from both sides. The young Santa Rosa side couldn't build on the momentum of their win, however, falling apart in Set 4 as Imus took advantage.
Imus produced 16 kills in the fourth set and got seven free points off the Lions' errors. Middle blocker Kim Malabunga finished with 14 points while Josh Villanueva added 11 markers for the Cavite-based spikers
"Frankly, I'm not satisfied with the performance of my team. It's great we won but we still struggle trying to get all the players in training," said Imus head coach Sammy Acaylar.
"Actually, we only had two days to prepare with eight players only. So ngayon lang kami nakumpleto. They are all good, I respect their skills kaya sabi ko lang sa kanila buoin lang natin para makita natin kung saan tayo nagkukulang," he added.
Meanwhile, Army battled from a one-set deficit to stun Navy, 25-23, 19-25, 20-25, 25-22, 15-12.
Nico Ramirez's superb playmaking made the difference for the Troopers in the last two sets, as he set up Jaylo Labide, PJ Rojas, Antonio Torres and Kevin Liberato for key hits.
Army rallied from 18-20 down in the fourth set behind Labide's power hits, to go with stout net defense against veteran Greg Dolor. The Troopers took the first five points in the deciding frame off Liberato's back-to-back hits, a Navy error and a Torres block against Dolor.
Dolor ultimately gifted Army the winning point as he committed a service error after putting his team within two points, 12-14.
Rojas led Army's charge with 19 points on 18 kills, while Labide finished with 17 points. The Troopers produced 11 kill blocks and had a 63-52 advantage in attacks against Navy.
Dolor and Marvin Villanueva each had 15 points while Christian Marcelino scored 17 for the Sealions.