PLDT survives five-set thriller against Army to claim V-League Open Conference title
The PLDT squad laden with young players eclipses the Army side loaded with veterans. Dante Peralta

PERSISTENCE paid off for Alyssa Valdez and the young PLDT squad, turning back league power Army, 25-22, 18-25, 24-26, 28-26, 15-13, to lift the V-League Open Conference crown on Sunday at The Arena in San Juan.

Never allowing frustration to set in when it seemed the tough Army defense had them figured out, Gretcel Soltones and Jaja Santiago came up with the huge hits for PLDT as Valdez was temporarily shut down.

Valdez did manage to get her power spikes across in the early goings, but sporadically, as Army constantly threw three blockers at her. Even when facing just two blockers, the league MVP quite a few times had to settle for offspeed shots, which the Lady Troopers also seemed to have solved.

Then Valdez came out firing when Army seemed to forget about her, the league MVP chalking up the final two points of the fourth set before the Ultra Fast Hitters recovered from a 0-3 fifth-set deficit to capture the crown.

Tied at 13 in the fifth set, Suzanne Roces scored on a quick set before Santiago finished off the match on a tip, setting off the frenzied celebration on court as spectators threw cardboard fans that were given away at the start of the match.

Santiago's patience and smart play also did not go unnoticed, and she was named MVP of the finals.

It was a disappointing end to the campaign of Philippine Army, which won the opener only tro drop the next two matches of the best-of-three series.

The Lady Troopers were also one set away from a back-to-back Open Conference title after winning the third set, 26-24, averting a comeback try by the Ultra Fast Hitters. Philippine Army was also leading 21-19 in the fourth set.

Valdez, however, bounced back from a flat fourth set, scoring two points on kills following a 26-26 tie to send the game into the fifth set to the delight of the PLDT fans although the celebration turned a bit ugly as they threw the cardboard giveways to centercourt.

After a hot start in the fifth set, Philippine Army committed costly errors that allowed PLDT Home Ultera to close in before another Valdez hit put them ahead 13-10.

PLDT looked set to sweep the conference when it won its first 10 matches but ran into a wall that is the veteran Philippine Army squad in the opener of the finals. The loss proved to be a brief setback.

“Lagi ko lang sinasabi sa mga bata, ‘wag niyo pababayaan,” said PLDT coach Roger Gorayeb. “Hindi pumasok sa isip ko na matatalo kami ng four sets. Paabutin niyo lang ng five sets, mananalo tayo.” Gorayeb’s words proved to be true.

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