KIM Malabunga and Rex Intal proved the Philippine men's volleyball team is more than just about Bryan Bagunas and Marck Espejo.
The two middle blockers stepped up when it mattered most to help the Philippines bring down mighty Thailand on Sunday night and reach the gold-medal match of the 30th Southeast Asian Games.
Though Bagunas and Espejo nailed the big hits to complete a come-from-behind five-set win, Malabunga and Intal, roommates since the Tokyo training, played big roles in assuring the team its first podium finish in 28 years.
Malabunga delivered clutch blocks and attacks that made the fourth and fifth set comeback possible before Bagunas capped it with his winning shots.
“Iniisip ko lang is para makatulong talaga sa team na kailangan ko patayin 'yung bola. Kasi minsan ka lang bigyan ng pagkakataon na makapalo,” said the SEA Games first-timer, who unleashed 16 points including six of the 16 team kill blocks.
“Kasi 'yung talagang (role) namin is mag-block lang talaga. So pag binigyan ka ng opportunity na set-an ka, patay mo talaga 'yung bola.”
Intal, on the other hand, checked in during the second set for starter Francis Saura and made the most of his opportunity.
“Ready si Rex. Lahat naman ng players namin, kahit sinong ipasok, nire-ready namin,” said National team head coach Dante Alinsunurin on his back-up blocker. “Di naman bigla siyang ipapasok nang wala sa sitwasyon. Kaya alam ko, tiwala ako sa team ko na kung sino man yung gagamitin ko, siguradong gagana.”
The younger brother of PBA star JC Intal, in his second SEAG campaign since 2015, finished with six points.
“Sakto, gutom na gutom na ko maglaro at binigay ko na lahat noong game na 'yun, buti nalang lumabas yung game,” Rex said. “So, laking thank you ko sa teammates ko, sa coaches namin at sa mga fans.”
Whether he start or come off the bench in the gold medal match on Tuesday against Indonesia, the Ateneo standout vowed to give the finals his best shot.
“So ngayon, hindi pa tapos yung laban, paghihirapan pa namin 'yung finals. Siyempre gusto namin bumawi, babawi lang kami,” Intal said.
Malabunga agreed: “Nandito na tayo sa finals e, mahirapan na to sundan ulit.”