MANILA, Philippines -- National University-Sta. Elena emerged as new kings of the Spikers' Turf after a hard-earned victory over former champions Cignal HD in Game 2 of the Open Conference Finals on Saturday evening at the Paco Arena.
The Nationals clawed out of a fourth set deficit to come away with a 25-18, 23-25, 25-23, 25-23 triumph in front of a packed crowd.
Michaelo Buddin scored the match winner, blasting a kill off two Cignal HD blockers to complete their comeback from a slim 22-20 deficit and end the HD Spikers' two-conference reign over the pioneering men's volleyball league.
Cignal HD had ruled the Reinforced and Open Conferences in 2019, before the Spikers' Turf went on a break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Upon the league's return, the youthful NU-Sta. Elena squad showed that they were ready to battle with club teams and out-played the veteran crew of Cignal HD in the Finals. The Nationals had swept the semifinals before also sweeping the HD Spikers in two games in the championship series.
Leading the way for NU-Sta. Elena was league MVP Nico Almendras and Best Setter Joshua Retamar, while Buddin showed that he is a player to watch in the coming UAAP volleyball tournament.
The HD Spikers looked as though they were on their way to forcing a fifth set as they seized a 22-20 lead off an Ysay Marasigan hit, but a Kennry Malinis hit made it a one-point game, and Buddin scored on back-to-back rallies to shift the lead to NU, 23-22.
Peter Torres forced the last deadlock of the match at 23, but the HD Spikers were called for a net violation in the ensuing rally to put NU-Sta. Elena at match point, 24-23. Buddin made sure that there would be no comeback for the HD Spikers, firing the match-winner.
Buddin finished with 22 points to earn Finals MVP honors, while Almendras added 18 markers. Retamar had 20 excellent sets as NU-Sta. Elena fired 52 kills past Cignal HD. The Nationals also got 31 free points off the HD Spikers' errors.
On the other hand, Marasigan scored 17 points while Marck Espejo and Louie Ramirez had 16 each, as Cignal HD settled for their first silver medal since 2018.