As she felt her right foot starting to cramp up, Gretchel Soltones fell on the ground and winced in pain.
Suddenly, the whole San Sebastian faithful at The Arena in San Juan held their breath, thinking the development could ruin what had been a remarkable run toward an upset.
But showing heart and maturity well beyond her years, the 17-year-old rookie sensation stood up and decided to fight on, leading the SSC spikers to a thrilling 26-24, 26-24, 22-25, 27-25 victory over defending champion University of Perpetual Help in Game One of the NCAA women’s volleyball Finals on Saturday night.
With the morale-boosting win, the challengers have not only drawn first blood in the best-of-three title series but also pulled within a win of conquering their 2011 Finals tormentors. They go for the clincher on Monday.
“Ayaw ko sila iwan kasi kung ano yung mga players sa simula, yun pa rin dapat sa huli,” said Soltones, who was helped off by two teammates on the way to dugout after the game that lasted more than two hours.
The Lady Altas had been in a midst of a comeback in the fourth set when Soltones got injured. After taking the third set to avoid their first shutout loss of the season, the defending champions seemed ready to benefit with Soltones’ absence.
However, Soltones, who was coming off an NCAA season high-tying 31 points in the semifinals a few days ago, simply refused to let the Lady Altas force a deciding fifth set despite the injuy.
Shrugging off the cramps, Soltones, a pride of Cebu, delivered upon her return as she scored five of her team-high 16 points down the stretch to help San Sebastian complete the stunning triumph.
“Sa Finals, hindi na skills ang pinaguusapan kasi kaya ka nga nasa Finals kasi parehas kayo ng skills,” SSC coach Clint Malazo said. “Magkakaiba na lang sa adjustments at determinasyon.
“At pinakita namin yun ngayon.”
Honey Royse Tubino and reigning MVP Sandra delos Santos were at the forefront of Perpetual’s incomplete fightback as they finished with 19 and 18 points, respectively.