UAAP: UST downs La Salle in thriller, advances to finals

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 05 2019 06:44 PM | Updated as of May 06 2019 10:33 AM

UAAP: UST downs La Salle in thriller, advances to finals 1
The UST Golden Tigresses are back in the finals for the first time since Season 73. Arvin Lim, ABS-CBN Sports

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE) The long wait is over for University of Santo Tomas (UST).

For the first time since 2011, the UST Golden Tigresses will play for the women's volleyball championship after a stunning five-set triumph over defending champion De La Salle University on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena.

Behind a superb performance from rookie star Eya Laure, the Golden Tigresses weathered a brave La Salle fightback for a 25-19, 25-19, 20-25, 23-25, 15-10 triumph in their UAAP Season 81 Final 4 showdown.

It was UST's second straight victory over the Lady Spikers, as they had downed the defending champions in four sets just last Wednesday to claim the No. 2 seed in the Final 4 -- and with it, the twice-to-beat advantage.

As it turned out, the Tigresses made sure they did not need to use it: they dispatched the Lady Spikers in their first opportunity to advance to the UAAP women's volleyball finals for the first time since Season 73.

"Malaking experience ito para sa next generation ng team. At least, bago umalis itong isa na 'to (Sisi Rondina) at si Rica (Rivera), bago sila umalis, makalaro naman sila ng finals," said UST coach Kungfu Reyes after their historic win. "Hindi lang puro heartaches ang nangyayari sa amin."

Laure unloaded a career-high 25 points, including the last two for the Golden Tigresses, while skipper Sisi Rondina contributed 17 markers. The two got help from Kacey Galdones (11 points) and Caitlyn Virya (10), and UST peppered the Lady Spikers with 53 kills.

It was a stunning defeat for the Lady Spikers, who ended their campaign in UAAP Season 81 with three straight losses. This is the first time since Season 70 that La Salle will not play for the championship, ending an incredible streak of 10 consecutive finals appearances. The Lady Spikers also failed in their bid for a four-peat. 

"Thankful ako na I got these girls," said Rondina, who struggled with her scoring but contributed 10 successful receptions. "Ako 'yung nawala kanina… Nakabalik ako with the help of these girls."

The Golden Tigresses, brimming with confidence, surged to a two-set lead to put the defending champion on the ropes. They clung to a 21-19 lead in Set 2, but got a break when La Salle committed back-to-back errors -- first, a poor serve by Des Clemente, and then a bad set by Mars Alba. An offspeed hit by Ysa Jimenez put them at set point, and a massive down-the-line hit by Laure put the Tigresses on the brink of the finals.

But the Lady Spikers displayed their fighting spirit in the third set, while UST succumbed to their error-prone ways. The Tigresses were ahead, 15-11, when La Salle coach Ramil de Jesus inserted Julia Ipac for Clemente -- a move that worked wonders for the defending champions. The Lady Spikers scored 7 straight points -- three of which were kill blocks by Ipac -- to take an 18-15 advantage. They took a 24-19 lead off a Desiree Cheng kill, before Laure took one back for UST. But a violation was called on the Golden Tigresses -- their 13th error of the set -- that allowed the defending champions to stay alive.

Errors continued to hound UST in Set 4, while the Lady Spikers grew in confidence. Back-to-back errors by May Luna and Cheng gave them a 23-19 lead, before Viray scored off a hit and then off her serve to trim the lead to two points. But she committed a service error to start the next rally to put La Salle at set point, 24-21. Laure again came through with back-to-back clutch hits, only for the Tigresses to again commit a violation in the final rally that allowed La Salle to force a deciding frame.

The Golden Tigresses refused to let La Salle's fightback phase them. They took a 10-5 lead in the fifth set, pouncing on the Lady Spikers' errors. But miscues by UST -- along with clutch plays by Ipac -- allowed the Lady Spikers to make a rally. Ipac's block of Laure, and a hit by Aduke Ogunsanya made it a 1-point game, 11-10.

But the Tigresses would not be denied. Setter Alina Bicar came up with a clutch hit off a broken play, Tin Tiamzon committed a massive error in trying to send a free ball, and Laure came up with two massive kills in the final two rallies of the match to send UST to the finals for the first time in eight years.

"Masaya ako para mga bata," said Reyes. "Sa lahat ng nag-trabaho behind the camera, especially sa UST community."

Rookie Jolina dela Cruz led La Salle with 12 points, while graduating team captain Desiree Cheng and Aduke Ogunsanya each had 10 points. Ipac had 7 points off the bench, including 6 of La Salle's 13 blocks. The Lady Spikers again struggled to convert their shots, however, tallying just 36 kills.

The Golden Tigresses will play the winner of the other semi-finals match-up between Ateneo de Manila University and Far Eastern University. 

Game 1 of the UAAP Season 81 women's volleyball finals is on Saturday at the Araneta Coliseum.

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