Portland's Ariel Usher stars as Cignal turns back titleholder Petron in Super Liga Grand Prix opener
The HD Spikers end the 16-match Super Liga run of the Blaze Spikers. Freddie Dionisio 

ARIEL Usher showed the way as Cignal recovered from two sets down to beat Petron, 18-25, 17-25, 25-16, 25-18, 16-14, on Saturday at the start of the Philippine Super Liga Grand Prix at Alonte Sports Arena in Binan, Laguna.

The 24-year old outside hitter from Oregon unloaded 31 points on 29 hits for the HD Spikers, who needed two hours and 31 minutes to turn back the Blaze Spikers, who saw their 16-match Super Liga streak snapped.

The charming 6-foot-1 reinforcement was emotional after the match.

“I know they are the defending champion and I knew it will be a hard game,” said Usher, who dedicated the win to the brother of teammate Neome Pontejos Mullenberg, who passed away right before the match.

“We were down by two sets, we were not scared but we knew we had to fight because we knew that we were evenly matched,” she added.

University of St. La Salle Bacolod recruit Fritz Joy Gallenero debuted with 14 points for Cignal.

“In the third set every single player contributed, every single player did well and they are the real MVP. It’s a sign of an awesome team, we really came together,” Usher said.

Cignal coach Sammy Acayla was pleased to see the locals contribute and help Usher.

“They’re strong and ’yung experience nila sa ibang bansa is a big factor,” said Acaylar of the import. “But then as a coach I belive in my players.”

“Sa second set sabi ko sa kani,a we need to be patient, kunin natin sa fifth set. Eh sanay ako sa mga fifth sets kaya nagwan ko ng paraan,” he added.

“I told them, we should stop Dindin kasi si Dindin ang nagra-rally. Kaya ayun, they obeyed and we stop Dindin and stop Petron.”

Cignal gave away 34 points through errors but the HD Spikers capitalized on Petron libero Jen Reyes’ poor reception.

Reyes only had nine digs and eight of the team’s 29 excellent reception, while Usher and Gallenero had a combined 17 digs and 12 excellent receptions.

Santiago-Manabat scored 16 points, while Aby Marano added 14 for Petron, who last lost in the Super Liga in the final game of elimination of the Grand Prix last year against Generika.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @meilinlozada