MANILA, Philippines – PLDT Home Ultera battled from a set down to hold off an inspired Philippine Army squad in five hard-fought sets to win the do-or-die Game 3 of the Shakey's V-League Season 12 Finals series Sunday inside the jam-packed Arena in San Juan.
Behind another sensational performance from Alyssa Valdez and Jaja Santiago, PLDT hacked out a 25-22, 18-25, 24-26, 28-26, and 15-13 victory that allowed them to claim the best-of-three series, 2-1, and clinch the V-League Open Conference title.
Valdez recovered from a slow start and found her form in the final two sets, while Santiago and Gretchel Soltones were reliable all match long for PLDT, which wrapped up the victory in just under two and a half hours.
"We all worked as a team today, and we gave our best," said Valdez, who led all scorers with 29 points on 25 attacks and three aces, while also adding 10 digs.
After struggling with her hits in the first three sets, Valdez came up big in the fourth frame, scoring PLDT's last two points to send the match – and the series – to a deciding fifth set.
But the two-time UAAP MVP was blocked twice in the early goings of the fifth set and sent another attack sailing out of bounds as Philippine Army opened up a 3-0 lead. Errors by Army, and a solid block by Santiago on her older sister Dindin helped PLDT get back in the game, 5-4.
It was a back-and-forth battle from that point on, as PLDT repeatedly took the lead only to see Army claw their way back.
After Valdez's attack gave the Ultra Fast Hitters a 13-11 lead, Dindin Santiago scored on a quick hit and Valdez committed another attacking error to tie the game for the last time at 13-all.
Off a timeout, PLDT's veteran team captain Sue Roces stepped up, scoring on a quick hit of her own. Jaja Santiago then wrapped up the victory for her team as she blocked former National University teammate Mina Aganon, and on her second jump, quickly dumped the ball as the Army players were caught off guard.
Santiago finished with 17 points and was eventually named Finals MVP.
Despite the loss, the veteran Army squad submitted a tremendous performance, with five players led by Jovelyn Gonzaga scoring in double digits.
After losing the opening set, Army regrouped and took a comfortable victory in the second set, then held off a late rally by PLDT to win an extended third set and come to within one frame of defending their Open Conference championship.
But the Lady Troopers – which had 19 block points against only four by PLDT – could not sustain their charge in the final moments of the fifth set as Roces and Santiago came through with clutch hits for the Ultra Fast Hitters.
DinDin Santiago matched her sister with 17 points on 13 attacks and two aces, while Mary Jean Balse had 13 points, including six blocks.
PLDT finished with 63 attack points against only 49 by Army, and had 12 aces to eight by the Lady Troopers.
The victory capped a dominant campaign for PLDT, which swept the elimination round and looked to be on its way to a perfect season when they were stunned by Army in Game 1 of the best-of-three title series.
The Lady Troopers won the series opener, 13-25, 25-23, 27-25, and 25-22, but PLDT rebounded with a 25-16, 25-22, 19-25, and 25-16 victory last Sunday to force a sudden death match.
Before awarding the champions, the V-League took time to acknowledge the squad that will represent the Philippines in the upcoming Southeast Asian Games. Gonzaga has been announced as the team captain, and will be joined by Valdez, the Santiago sisters, and Soltones in the squad.
Also joining the national volleyball team are Rachel Ann Daquis, Bea de Leon, Jia Morado, Abigail Maraño, Maika Ortiz, Rhea Dimaculangan, and Denden Lazaro.