MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE) Already locked into the No. 4 seed in the UAAP Season 81 semifinals, Far Eastern University (FEU) still found a way to shake up the Final 4 picture.
The Lady Tamaraws recovered from a couple of paltry sets to shock defending champion De La Salle University, 25-22, 13-25, 15-25, 27-25, 15-8, on Sunday at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
FEU rallied in the first set, lost their form in the second and third, but showed tremendous grit in the fourth frame to force a decider. In the fifth set, they pulled away early to complete a come-from-behind win -- their first triumph over La Salle since the Final 4 of Season 78.
"No bearing, pero sabi nga namin, labanan ng pride. Kahit na no-bearing siya, importante manalo. 'Yun naman ang mindset ng mga players," said FEU head coach George Pascua, as their team concluded the elimination round with a 9-5 win-loss slate.
Regardless of the result, the Lady Tamaraws were already locked in the No. 4 spot, meaning they will play top seeded Ateneo de Manila University in the semis.
The match was important for La Salle, however, as a win would have assured them of a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final 4. Instead, the Lady Spikers finished the elimination round with a 10-4 record -- tied with University of Santo Tomas for the second and third places.
Thus, the Lady Spikers will take on the Golden Tigresses in a playoff for the No. 2 seed on Wednesday at the FilOil Flying V Centre. Their semis match-up is now a virtual best-of-3 series.
Heather Guino-o led the way for the Lady Tamaraws with 24 points on 20 kills and 3 aces, while Jerrili Malabanan added 15 markers on 12 attacks and 3 aces. Libero Buding Duremdes was credited with 37 digs in the win, which took them two hours and 22 minutes to complete.
"We're really happy and proud of ourselves right now because it's something that we weren't able to overcome for a while," said Malabanan.
La Salle appeared headed for a four-set win after clobbering FEU in Sets 2 and 3, as the Lady Tamaraws barely mustered anything offensively. Still, Pascua made sure to keep his players' spirits up heading into a do-or-die Set 4.
"Application lang ng game plan namin, kasi bago kami maglaro, kung ano 'yung strength ng La Salle, 'yun ang (inaral) namin," he said.
In a marathon fourth set that took 37 minutes, the Lady Tamaraws repeatedly got the better of the defending champions in long, exhausting rallies. They zoomed to a 17-12 lead, and were still on top, 21-18, when the Lady Spikers made their move.
La Salle won five of the next six rallies to claim a 23-22 advantage, as the entry of skipper Desiree Cheng injected them with more energy. Rookie Jolina dela Cruz, unstoppable all game long, punched in the hit that gave the Lady Spikers the lead.
A crosscourt hit by Guino-o tied the count, before May Luna scored off her in the next rally to put La Salle at match point, 24-23. But Guino-o responded with an offspeed hit, and the Lady Spikers committed an error in the next sequence to put FEU in front, 25-23.
Dela Cruz again came to La Salle's rescue with another powerful spike that forced deuce, but Aduke Ogunsanya committed a brutal service error that gave the Lady Tamaraws their second set point, 26-25. A mishit by Des Clemente allowed the Lady Tams to force the final frame.
"Ramdam ko 'yung momentum," Pascua said of their mood after the fourth set. "At saka 'yung gesture ng mga players ko, nakita ko na 'yun ang hinahanap namin during sa training namin… Sabi ko, amin 'tong fifth set."
The Lady Tamaraws, now playing with confidence, took an 8-4 lead with Guino-o leading the way. La Salle cut the deficit to 3 points, 8-5, off a Cheng attack, but FEU proceeded to win five of the next six points to take a commanding 13-6 advantage.
At this point, other FEU players were stepping up, with Jeanette Villareal scoring on a crosscourt hit and France Ronquillo also contributing on offense. They reached match point, 14-7, on another offspeed kill by Guino-o, while Agunsanya saved one point for La Salle with a running kill.
Unfortunately for La Salle, it was as far as they would get. Dela Cruz, who had carried them all game long, went wide on her final attempt to gift the Lady Tamaraws with the winning point.
The rookie still finished with 22 points on 15 kills and a whopping six service aces, while Tin Tiamzon contributed 17 markers and May Luna had 15 for the Lady Spikers.
La Salle scored 16 points off their serve, but gave away 32 points off their unforced errors.
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