THAILAND held three matchpoints in the fourth set against the Philippines in their semifinal duel in the 30th Southeast Asian Games and came a point away from reaching the finals in the deciding set.
Bryan Bagunas simply refused to lose.
Bagunas sparked a heart-stopping fourth-set comeback and delivered the game-winning hits as the Philippine men’s volleyball team dethroned Thailand with a historic 17-25, 25-20, 23-25, 27-25, 17-15 victory on Sunday night.
With a crowd of 6,700 cheering themselves hoarse at the Philsports Arena in Pasig City, Bagunas nailed the go-ahead block, 16-15, before the kill that ended the reign of the four-time SEA Games champions ranked No.39 in the world.
“Tinatak ko sa isip ko na nandoon na ako, bakit pa ako bibitaw tapos eto na yung chance para makalaban kami ng championship,” said Bagunas, who led the Filipino spikers with a personal Games-best of 27 points.
“Talagang tinibayan ko lang sa loob ng court dahil kung ano man yung mangyari, talagang lalaban kami. Parang yun sinasabi nilang, 'Pusong Pinoy.'”
It was a game-winning spike that immortalized Bagunas and this squad in the hearts of fans, raising the profile of the men’s volleyball game which for so long has stayed in the shadow of the more popular women's leagues.
Prayers, Bagunas said, also had something to do with it.
“Para sa akin naman kasama namin si Lord nung naglalaro kasi umaga pa lang sumadya kami sa church para sa game na to kasi sobrang mahalaga tong game na to sa amin,” he said.
“Sobrang nakaka-proud kasi ilang years na sila nagcha-champion tapos tinalo namin sila. Doon lumabas yung skills ng bawat isa talagang, sobrang saya, hindi namin ma-explain yung saya namin.”
The National University standout led from the front and never once backed down from the heavily favored Thais, pumping up the confidence of a side ranked No. 131 in the world with very little international experience.
“Unang una yung iniisip ko yung tiwala ng nga teammates ko lalong-lalo na yung tiwala ng coaching staff, yung binigay nila sa akin sobrang laki,” he said.
Bagunas only had limited practice time with the squad due to his duty as import of Oita Miyoshi in Japan V. League, but he helped the nationals exceed expectations and land their first medal since a bronze in 1991.
The Philippines arranged a gold medal duel with Indonesia on Tuesday, where it has a chance at surpassing its best finish ever - a silver medal in the inaugural SEA Games back in 1977 in Malaysia.
Before he returns to Japan, Bagunas wants to win a gold medal that can change Philippine men's volleyball for the better.
“Kung dito sa semifinals binuhos namin, ano pa sa finals, di ba?” Bagunas said. “Talagang bubuhos na namin yung makakaya namin para sa Pilipinas.”