(UPDATED) MRT-Negros squandered a two-set lead but recovered in time to hack out a thrilling victory over the Sabong International Spikers in the Philippine National Volleyball Federation (PNVF) Champions League for Men.
In what was the first game for both teams, it was MRT-Negros that snatched the victory, 25-22, 25-16, 21-25, 21-25, 15-12.
MRT-Negros appeared headed for a quick triumph after taking a comfortable win in the second set, but Sabong International turned things around with their energetic play.
They were still in control, 10-7, in the fifth set when MRT-Negros skipper Christian Marcelino came alive.
A standout from the University of St. La Salle-Bacolod, Marcelino fired a crosscourt hit that trimmed the deficit to one point, 10-9. After a kill by Sabong International, Marcelino scored off the Sabong blockers for an 11-10 count, and an unforced error by the Sabong International spikers knotted the count at 11.
MRT-Negros' net defense pushed them ahead, 12-11, as they rejected Sabong's Mark Rocamora. Marcelino took over from there with back-to-back hits to put his team at match point, 14-11.
A quick hit by Sabong's lanky middle blocker Charles Absin momentarily stalled MRT-Negros, but Jet Nonoy made sure that there would be no comeback as he unleashed a powerful crosscourt hit in the next rally to wrap up the win.
"I know we can compete. These players will give their 110 percent best in this tournament," said MRT-Negros coach Ralph Savellano, who celebrated his birthday on Monday.
"I told the boys it's all about the will to win attitude. That's why I kept them on pushing until they brought back the intensity in their game," he added.
Savellano is a product of the highly successful University of Perpetual Help System Dalta volleyball program, headed by former national team coach Sammy Acaylar.
Marcelino finished the game with 16 points and 10 digs, while Nonoy had 12 points and 11 digs. Jian Matthew Salarzon, a 18-year old standout from Bacolod's Living Stone International School, led the way with 18 points including five blocks and three service aces.
Absin had 15 points, while Rocamora shook off an ankle injury in the fourth set to finish with 14 points for Sabong International. Ramil dela Cruz added 13 markers.
Both teams are back in action Tuesday, with MRT-Negros facing Team Dasma Monarchs, while Sabong International battles Global Remit.