UAAP: UST one win away from finals after beating La Salle

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 01 2019 05:57 PM | Updated as of May 01 2019 06:51 PM

UAAP: UST one win away from finals after beating La Salle 1
The UST Golden Tigresses secured the No. 2 seed by beating La Salle. Arvin Lim, ABS-CBN Sports

MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE) University of Santo Tomas (UST) is one win away from a trip to the finals, after an impressive four-set triumph over defending champion De La Salle University on Wednesday at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan.

Buoyed by a massive crowd that cheered them on from official warm-ups all the way to the final whistle, the Golden Tigresses claimed a 25-14, 25-23, 23-25, 25-19 triumph over the Lady Spikers to secure the No. 2 seed in the UAAP Season 81 women's volleyball Final 4.

With the victory, the Sisi Rondina-led Tigresses have secured a twice-to-beat advantage in the semifinals. Another win over La Salle on Sunday's Final 4 match will send UST to the best-of-3 championship series for the first time since UAAP Season 73.

Rondina was unstoppable, putting up 29 points on 25 kills, 2 blocks, and 2 aces in the victory. Rookie star Eya Laure added 17 points on 15 kills.

"Maganda 'yung experience," said UST head coach Kungfu Reyes. "Sobrang tagal na panahon, ganoon pala 'yung experience na may playoffs. Masarap sa pakiramdam na naglalaro ka, at mas masaya na nanalo ka sa game."

"Luckily, kami ang nanalo," he added.

This is already the second time in Season 81 that UST had beaten La Salle: the Golden Tigresses also shocked the defending champions in the first round, 25-20, 25-22, 25-17. 

It was also the second straight loss for the Lady Spikers, who had absorbed a stunning five-set defeat to Far Eastern University last Sunday that allowed UST to force a playoff in the first place.

The Golden Tigresses got off to a roaring start, crushing La Salle in a dominant opening set. They rode that momentum in the second frame, with back-to-back hits by Laure putting UST at set point, 24-18.

But La Salle worked its way back, scoring 5 unanswered points sparked by kills from May Luna and Des Clemente. Back-to-back attack errors by Laure helped La Salle's cause, and an ace by Luna made it a one-point game, 24-23.

UST would not be denied, however. Laure added a long rally by burying a crosscourt hit, even as La Salle complained about an uncalled net violation towards the end of the lengthy exchange.

"Kanina, we're just focused lang talaga," said Rondina. "Anytime naman kasi, pwedeng mawala sa amin ang laro na 'yun. Always kong ginagabayan ang mga bata."

La Salle finally struck back in the third set, outlasting the Tigresses in a tight finish to the frame. The Lady Spikers were ahead, 22-20, when Rondina scored back-to-back points -- first with an off-the-block hit then an ace -- before Clemente was called for an overreach to put UST ahead, 23-22.

But Clemente made up for her error with a quick hit, then Aduke Ogunsanya pounced on a poor first ball to put the Lady Spikers at set point for the first time all game. An attack violation by Laure allowed La Salle to force an extension.

Rondina was quick to huddle her teammates after they dropped the third frame.

"Nanalo sila ng isang set, ang sabi ko, ilaro lang natin kung paano tayo nanalo noong first two sets," she said.

Taking their cue from their captain, the Tigresses displayed their tenacity in the fourth set. After La Salle seized a 12-11 lead off a Desiree Cheng kill, UST won 8 of the next 9 rallies to pull away. Rondina shone in the run, burying back-to-back hits as her team claimed a 19-13 advantage.

UST cruised to victory from there, reaching match point, 24-18, off a Rondina ace as their fans showered her with M-V-P chants. A swipe by Clemente saved a point for La Salle, but Laure was there to bury another attack to seal the remarkable win for the Tigresses.

"Whatever it takes," said Laure after the game. "'Yun lang ang ginamit namin sa game na 'to. Whatever it takes, gagawin namin lahat talaga. Sabi nga ni Ate Sisi, wala namang mawawala sa amin -- gawin lang natin ang kaya natin as a team."

UST's overwhelming offense spelled the difference for them, as they unloaded 52 attack points against only 33 for La Salle. The Lady Spikers had 8 kill blocks to 5 for the Golden Tigresses, but UST had an 11-9 lead in service aces. 

Rookie Jolina dela Cruz was limited to 12 points in the loss, and no other Lady Spiker reached double-digits in scoring. 

UST and La Salle face off again on Sunday, with the Tigresses needing just one more win to advance to the UAAP volleyball finals for the first time since Season 73. The Lady Spikers, meanwhile, are hoping to force a decider in a bid to return to the championship round for the 11th season in a row.

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