CIGNAL and Go-for-Gold-Air Force inched a win shy from a Finals rematch as they took down separate foes in Game 1 of their respective semifinals series on Thursday in the 2019 Spikers’ Turf Reinforced Conference at the Paco Arena.
The league-leading HD Spikers survived Sta. Elena in a tight three-set encounter, 31-29, 25-23, 25-18, despite their stars playing sparingly due to the recent bronze finish of the men’s national team in the Thailand Open Sealect Tuna Volleyball championships.
Jude Garcia and Ysay Marasigan scored 13 points apiece stepping up when it mattered most for Cignal providing the finishing touches in the neck-and-neck first two sets. National team star Marck Espejo came off the bench but still managed to score with 10 points and 12 excellent receptions.
Rex Intal had six blocks in limited minutes, Peter Torres sat out in Game 1 as Cignal exacted a sweet revenge from its lone loss in the eliminations against Sta. Elena.
“Unfortunately, hindi nakahabol ‘yung mga players namin sa National team [sa practice],” said Cignal coach Dexter Clamor. “Buti na lang nagdeliver, ‘yun ang maganda doon, nag-deliver sila kahit hindi sila nakapagensayo para sa semifinals.”
Nico Almendras had 13 points all coming from attacks for the Ball Hammers, who are on the brink of being relegated for the battle for third.
Meanwhile, there was no break for national team hitters Ranran Abdilla and Bryan Bagunas as they powered Go-For-Gold-Air Force in beating PLDT Home Fibr, 22-25, 25-19, 25-19, 21-25, 15-12, and moved a win closer from Finals berth.
As the Jet Spikers flirted with disaster droppig the fourth set, Abdilla, who is fresh from a bronze medal finish in the Thailand Sealect, came to the rescue in the fifth set embarking a 9-4 start before the Power Hitters trimmed it down to just one, 12-13, but he nailed the back-to-back winning attacks.
Abdilla put up 25 points, to go along with 15 excellent receptions, while fellow national team star Bagunas had 23 points.
“Sinabihan ko si Ranran na hindi na pwede sakin ‘yung hulog hulog, gusto ko paluin mo lang ng paluin, wala akong pakialam kung ma-block nila, [edi] sa kanila. ‘Pag hindi nila ma-block, [edi] sa atin,” said Air Force head coach Rhovyl Verayo said. “Kailangan mo rin talagang bigyan ng kumpyansa ‘yung tao eh,” said Verayo about Abdilla.”
National team member Kim Malabunga had 13 points built on eight attacks, three blocks, and two aces, while Madz Gampong added 13 points and eight digs. Veteran setter Jessie Lopez paced them with 27 excellent sets while tallying three points.
“Talagang mabigat din na team ang PLDT. ‘Yun nga ang sabi ko, may the best team win, kasi talaga lahat gusto manalo so sabi ko itong semis na ‘to, pahirapan talaga ‘to
hanggang sa makarating ka sa finals,” Verayo added.
Joshua Umandal led the gallant stand of PLDT with 21 points, as well as Paolo Pablico, who had 11 points laced with nine digs, and 11 receptions. National Team stalwarts Mark Alfafara and John Vic De Guzman played sparingly.
Cignal and Air Force try to close out their respective semis series on Sunday to forge another Finals series.