MANILA, Philippines – Far Eastern University leaned on veteran open hitter Bernadeth Pons to surge past Adamson University in four sets and advance to the finals of the Premier Volleyball League Collegiate Conference.
After missing their past four games to play in the UAAP Season 80 beach volleyball tournament, Pons returned with a vengeance in FEU's do-or-die Game 3 and towed the Lady Tamaraws to a 21-25, 25-20, 25-22, 25-18 over the still undermanned Lady Falcons on Monday at the FilOil Flying V Centre.
The Lady Tamaraws thus advanced to the finals of the Collegiate Conference for the first time since Season 11, when the league was still known as the Shakey's V-League. There, they will take on Jaja Santiago and the two-time defending champion National University.
"Sabi ko sa mga players ko, kailangan ang labanan dito ay kung sino 'yung may desire to win," said FEU coach George Pascua. "Matagal na silang magkakasama, matagal ng magkakalaban."
"Kumbaga, 'yung willingness nila, tsaka ang labanan na lang dito ay 'yung character nila at 'yung puso nila, kung paano lumaban. Kasi 'yung skill level, pantay-pantay," he added.
The first two games of the best-of-3 semifinals series both went to five sets, but in the deciding Game 3, Pons gave the Lady Tamaraws the added scoring punch that they sorely lacked.
With the match tied at 1-1 and FEU trailing 19-21 in the third set, Pons highlighted a backbreaking 5-0 run that allowed the Lady Tamaraws to seize control. It was her clever drop shot that gave FEU the lead for good, 22-21.
Adamson did not help their cause as four of FEU's points in the crucial 5-0 run came off their errors, the last of which was a brutal mishit by Eli Soyud to put the Lady Tams at set point, 24-21. A quick hit by Joy Dacoron allowed the Lady Falcons to save a set point, but Pons wrapped up the win for FEU with an unstoppable down the line hit in the next rally.
"Si Pons, andito siya, malaking bagay," Pascua acknowledged.
It was Pons who helped FEU to break the game open in the fourth set as well. After a service error by Jeanette Villareal allowed Adamson to tie the frame at 7, Pons scored back-to-back kills to anchor a 6-1 blast that put the Lady Tams on top, 13-8.
The Lady Falcons were able to come as close as one point, the last at 14-15, but the Lady Tamaraws pulled away anew after the second technical timeout, and Adamson would go on to succumb to their own unforced errors in the closing stretches of the game.
"Noong una, sobrang nahirapan din ako kasi ngayon lang din ako ulit nakahawak ng bola sa indoor," said Pons, who finished with 15 points in the game. "Pero naka-adjust din noong kalagitnaan."
Czarina Carandang, the breakout star for FEU, scored a team-high 16 points on 13 attacks and three kill blocks, while Toni Rose Basas added 10 points.
FEU outgunned Adamson, 45-40, and also had more blocks, 9-4, and service aces, 7-5.
Soyud had 16 points, all of which came on attacks. Chiara Permentilla added 10 points for the Lady Falcons, who have now lost back-to-back games since opening the conference with six consecutive victories.
Game 1 of the best-of-3 Finals is on Wednesday at the same San Juan venue.
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