LEAGUE leader Cignal and defending champion Go for Gold-Air Force forged a best-of-three Finals series in the 2019 Spikers' Turf Reinforced Conference after surviving their respective do-or-die semifinals Game Three on Tuesday at the Paco Arena.
Cignal fought its way back from a 1-2 deficit before outlasting Sta. Elena in a five-set thriller, 25-16, 28-30, 20-25, 25-21, 18-16, to set a Reinforced Finals rematch with defending champion Air Force.
The sixth encounter of Cignal and Air Force in the Finals fires on Friday, 7 p.m., at the same venue
After forcing a fifth set, which went toe-to-toe for both squads tied at 14, HD Spikers’ four-time MVP Marck Espejo and Ball Hammers’ rookie Nico Almendras exchange attacks after attacks keeping the fifth set tied at 16.
But Espejo, who was playing through shoulder injury, put Cignal back at match point, 17-16, with an off-the-block attack before nailing the Finals-clinching ace that eliminated Almendras and Sta. Elena.
The former Ateneo superstar unleashed 19 points laced with 33 excellent receptions and eight digs. His teammates were also instrumental with Rex Intal putting up 15 points built on 10 attacks, three blocks, and two aces, Ysay Marasigan having 13 points, while Jude Garcia and JP Bugaoan added 10 and nine hits, respectively.
Cignal coach Dexter Clamor also credited setter Vince Mangulabnan, who dished out 42 excellent sets to go along with four points.
"Nabago yung diskarte ng setter [Vince Mangulabnan], nagkakaroon kasi ng emosyon e, may pagtatalo sa loob ng court, part kasi ng game yun, na may mag aaway [sa team] kasi pare-parehas silang gustong manalo. Buti na lang nakarecover,” Clamor said.
Rookie Almendras was the toughest among the Ball Hammers putting up 29 points off 23 attacks, five blocks, and an ace while Edward Camposano had 20 points.
Meanwhile, Bryan Bagunas powered Go For Gold-Air Force to sweep PLDT Home Fibr Power Hitters, 25-20-25-23-25-22, in Game Three.
Bagunas rose to the occasion with 23 points from 22 kills including 19 excellent receptions, while veteran setter Jessie Lopez paced the squad with 28 excellent that also benefitted Fauzi Ismail, who had 13 points, and Kim Malabunga adding 10 points built on six attacks, three blocks, and an ace.
“Do-or-die game kasi, lagi naman kaming ganun ng PLDT, so sabi ko matira matibay. Kung sino talaga yung willing manalo, yun ang mananalo,” said Air Force head coach Rhovyl Verayo, whose wards only had 16 errors compared to their 35 miscues in their Game Two loss.
Josh Umandal led PLDT with 12 points, while John Vic De Guzman chipped in eight markers.
The losing teams of the semis, PLDT and Sta. Elena clash in a bronze series also starting on Friday at 5 p.m.