MANILA, Philippines – Ateneo-Motolite recovered from two sets down, then pulled through in a fifth set gauntlet to overcome BanKo-Perlas and advance to the finals of the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) Open Conference on Sunday at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
The young Lady Eagles squandered a huge lead in the fifth set, and had to save three match points before hacking out a 21-25, 23-25, 25-17, 27-25, 21-19 triumph.
Ponggay Gaston sealed the deal for Ateneo-Motolite, firing a down-the-line hit that finally ended the marathon fifth set that took nearly 30 minutes to complete.
"We didn't expect to get this far, and we didn't expect to make it to the finals," an emotional Gaston said afterward. "So we're going to do a lot of preparation. Simula ngayon, right after this, magpe-prepare na kami."
"We're gonna be prepared. Whether we win or we lose, we're gonna give it our all," she guaranteed.
The Lady Eagles will face off against powerhouse Creamline the best-of-3 finals.
Five players scored in double-digits for Ateneo-Motolite, led by Kat Tolentino who had 20 points on 17 kills and 3 blocks. Gaston finished with 15, while Maddie Madayag scored 7 of her 14 points on blocks. Bea de Leon added 13 points, and Jules Samonte had 12.
BanKo-Perlas, coming off a three-set loss to Ateneo-Motolite on Saturday, appeared poised to book the championship ticket after surging to a 2-0 lead.
But the Lady Eagles dominated the third set, then pulled off a tight 27-25 win in Set 4 to force a deciding frame. The nip-and-tuck battle in the fourth set was only a preview of the thrilling fifth, however.
Ateneo led 11-8, before veteran Sue Roces sparked BanKo-Perlas' comeback. The Perlas Spikers even reached match point first, 14-12, before the Lady Eagles mounted their own rally to tie the set.
In the end, Gaston delivered the clutch hit that sent the Lady Eagles to the finals.
She later acknowledged that they would be the underdogs against the Cool Smashers, a team that features former Ateneo stars Alyssa Valdez and Jia Morado, and is coached by Tai Bundit.
"Siyempre, mga veterans pa rin ang mga kalaban naming, tapos yung former coach namin, former teammates namin, so we're just gonna give our best, you know. We're gonna put our faith and our trust, and all our hope in the Lord," she said.
Nicole Tiamzon led the way for BanKo-Perlas with 28 points, while Dzi Gervacio added 18. Roces finished with 17, while Kathy Bersola added 16 markers. However, the Perlas Spikers committed 31 unforced errors in the game.
Game 1 of the best-of-3 finals is on Wednesday, also at the San Juan venue. BanKo-Perlas, meanwhile, will play Petro Gazz for third place.
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