MANILA, Philippines – Top-seeded Cignal averted disaster as they outlasted a gutsy Sta. Elena-NU team in five sets, to claim the other finals spot in the 2019 Spikers' Turf Reinforced Conference, Tuesday at the Paco Arena in Manila.
Pushed to the limit by Sta. Elena, the HD Spikers hacked out a 25-16, 28-30, 20-25, 25-21, 18-16 triumph in the do-or-die Game 3 of their semifinals series.
"First set, 'yun talaga yung laro namin eh, biglang nabago," said Cignal coach Dexter Clamor.
"Nabago 'yung diskarte ng setter [Vince Mangulabnan], nagkakaroon kasi ng emosyon e, may pagtatalo sa loob ng court, part kasi ng game 'yun, na may mag-aaway [sa team] kasi pare-parehas silang gustong manalo. Buti na lang naka-recover," he revealed.
Marck Espejo unloaded 19 points, which included 15 attacks, while also tallying 33 excellent receptions and eight digs. Rex Intal played his best game in the series with 15 points built on 10 attacks, three blocks, and two aces.
After a series of breathtaking rallies in the fifth set, both teams found themselves in a tight 14-all deadlock. From there, it was an all-out battle between star hitters Nico Almendras and Espejo.
Espejo bucked a shoulder injury to convert a crosscourt hit that put Cignal at set point, 15-14. Almendras knotted the count at 15, before Espejo delivered an offspeed hit to push Cignal ahead again, 16-15.
Almendras tied the match for the last time before Espejo's off the block hit gave Cignal its third match point, and the five-time UAAP MVP then delivered an ace to put an end to the Ball Hammers' gallant run.
This will be Cignal and Air Force's sixth encounter in the finals. The HD Spikers are seeking their fourth crown.
The Finals series begins on Friday, July 19, at 7 p.m.
Cignal team captain Ysay Marasigan provided 13 points, while Jude Garcia and JP Bugaoan converted 10 and nine hits, respectively.
Mangulabnan drove the HD Spikers' offense after dishing out 42 excellent sets to go along with his four points, while Manuel Sumanguid led the defensive chores with 23 excellent receptions and 17 digs.
Despite taking the first set with ease, the HD Spikers lost their grip in the game and dropped the second and third sets.
Cignal regained its form at the right moment, taking advantage of Sta. Elena’s attack and service errors to take a 20-17 lead in the fourth set. Intal, Bugaoan, and Espejo took turns in delivering the differential hits to extend the game to a fifth set.
Almendras led the Ball Hammers' tough stand with 29 points on 23 attacks, five blocks, and an ace, while Edward Camposano fired 20 points, 17 of which came from hits.
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