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Confessions of a Marked Woman: Soltones’ Game One struggle

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San Sabastian’s Grethcel Soltones is the best player in the NCAA – no case can be made for anyone else.

All season, the Lady Stags looked to the reigning MVP to carry much of the offensive load against taller and deeper teams. Usually, Soltones would pull through with just enough support from her teammates (they went undefeated after all).

But, for the first time this season, Soltones wasn’t enough. In Game One of the Finals last Tuesday at the FilOil Flying V Centre, a determined College of Saint Benilde Lady Blazers finally found an effective way to stop the Lady Stags.

Working off their considerable height advantage, the Lady Blazers shut off Soltones’ strongest attacking angles through double and sometimes even triple blocks, making the league’s best scorer work for every point. It also didn’t help the Lady Stags that their usually solid service reception game liquefied instantaneously from the second set onwards.

NCAA 91 Volleyball CSB vs. SSCR - Soltones spike-0057

The usually positive and all-smiles Soltones turned uncharacteristically agitated. Soltones still managed 27 points but needed 70 attack attempts to convert 26 points. She also didn’t score a single service ace off her dreaded jump serve, as fatigue visibly set in from her virtuoso effort. No other Lady Stag scored in double-digits, with the next best scorer only contributing six points. The Lady Blazers had three players in double-digits, the towering Jeanette Panaga leading the way with 23.

“Nagkagulo kami, then nawala ‘yung communication namin. Tapos nawalan ng tiwala sa sarili hanggang sa wala na sa aming lumalaban,” a visibly worn-out Soltones told Tiebreaker Times after the match.

Having beaten the Lady Blazers in their final match of the elimination round, Soltones could not explain why her team had suddenly struggled. “Nung last game namin, hindi naman ganoon. Nawalan na lang kami ng diskarte.”

Soltones admits that when the fourth set came, she too had given up as the match started to crumble away.

“Umayaw na din ako noong fourth set. Wala e, ganoon talaga ‘yung game. Nandoon kami sa taas then biglang lagapak.”

However, the Lady Stags aren’t in too deep a hole, with the thrice-to-beat advantage they earned after sweeping the elimination round coming in handy.

With the championship now coming down to a virtual best-of-three, Soltones hopes her team can get back in form.

“Pukpukan na lang po siguro kami sa training. Si coach na bahala doon. Tiwala na lang sa sarili sa gagawin namin sa susunod na game. Usap na lang kami ulet about sa game.”

The Lady Stags will try to resuscitate their campaign on Game Two, Friday, 4 p.m. at the FilOil Flying V Centre.

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Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball - from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado's setting.

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Fired-up Von Pessumal on Kiefer Ravena incident: ‘I’m not here to make any friends’

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Will bridges be burned?

Von Pessumal was heavily-scrutinized Friday evening after an incident with fellow Ateneo lifer Kiefer Ravena.

It took place with 9:50 left in the final frame of the San Miguel Beermen’s highly-charged tilt against the NLEX Road Warriors. After Marcio Lassiter launched a trey, Pessumal looked like he was aiming for the rebound. Instead, he simply charged towards Ravena and pushed him down.

Lassiter’s three-pointer counted, while Pessumal, who was blocked by Ravena in a fastbreak and then received a staredown moments prior, was whistled for an unsportsmanlike foul.

It was a surprising sight to see considering the amount of time he and Ravena have spent together — a bond that started ever since they were in high school. Even the second-generation star admitted that he did not expect that from his former running body.

“I did not expect that at all,” said the NLEX rookie.

But Pessumal downplayed such incident despite attempts by scribes to make him elaborate what had really transpired during that moment.

“It’s part of the game. It’s part of the game,” the league sophomore said after the match which they won 109-98. “I don’t wanna say anything, I’m sorry.

“It’s part of the game. Whatever move on. Not a big deal.”

Asked if he was motivated to face Ravena, whom he had shared three UAAP juniors titles, two UAAP seniors crowns, and a SEA Games gold medal with, the 24-year-old shared that he approached Friday’s bout the way he usually does.

“I wouldn’t say motivated [versus Kiefer], I mean, it’s just like any other game. When I play, I don’t see who’s guarding me, I just play,” said the 6-foot-2 swingman.

“I play to win all the time.”

The incident he and Ravena figured in shadowed his performance of 10 points on 50 percent shooting off the bench — the second time he had scored in double figures this season. After Friday, Pessumal is averaging 8.25 points.

“We have to sustain the level of excellence that they (starters) have. Our job is — I wouldn’t say support, but — when we get in, we should bring the level higher so when they come back, the game is easier for them,” he said.

Pessumal was then asked if he and Ravena met each other after the buzzer sounded as the two did not even shake hands after the contest. But, through a short yet strong response, the 24-year-old said that they did not.

“I wouldn’t say anything. I don’t know, after the game?,” he expressed.

“I’m a professional basketball player, I’m not here to make any friends.”

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Yeng Guiao denies using racial slur against Chris Ross

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During the post-game of the San Miguel Beermen’s victory over the NLEX Road Warriors, reigning Coach of the Year Leo Austria said that NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao called Chris Ross the “N” word that caused the commotion.

According to Chris, tinawagan siya ng nigger or ganiyan,” said Austria. “I don’t know but that’s what he explained to me because I confronted Chris Ross because he’s one of the most important players in my team.

“But that’s the thing he doesn’t want to hear so nagflare up yung bata so I cannot blame him.”

Guiao though denied that he blurted out racial slurs against San Miguel’s Chris Ross.

“Hindi. Hindi ko tinawag na N-word. Ewan ko kung may nakarinig. Pero hindi,” clarified the fiery tactician moments after their 98-109 defeat, their third straight after starting the 2018 Philippine Cup with two straight wins.

That tussle, according to Guiao, was just filled with trash talking against each other, as he felt the need to retaliate. In fact, Guiao was even caught by the TV camera saying “son of a bitch” towards the Filipino-American point guard.

“Daldal siya ng daldal eh. Eh sa akin naman kapag ganon, siguro respeto nalang. Lumayo ka nalang tutal mananalo naman na kayo,” he said. “I didn’t understand what he was saying, what he was talking about.

“Nakipagtrash-talking din ako sa kanya.”

Furthermore, the 58-year-old was also caught by the cameras flipping the bird — in one quick motion — also against Ross.

“Oo. Kasama na rin yun.

“Pero ano naman eh, it’s part of, siguro, psychological warfare. Malakas din siya mang-asar. Hindi lang naman sa amin. Everytime naman na mga ganoong skirmishes, he also knows what he’s capable of,” the seven-time champion coach furthered.

But more than this scuffle, it really has become a stressful time for Guiao and the Road Warriors. They have now went down to 2-3 in the team standings, and the mentor sees the great need to end this slump immediately.

“We have to arrest it very soon. Ang susunod na laro namin ay versus Rain or Shine sa Friday. So we need to go back to 50 percent win-loss level para at least may chance ka na maka-playoffs. That’s going to be a crucial game for us,” he stressed.

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Kiefer Ravena shocked with Von Pessumal’s shove: ‘I did not expect that at all’

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Kiefer Ravena and Von Pessumal have been teammates ever since they were in high school, winning three UAAP juniors crowns together. They won two championships together in the seniors level and even played together in Gilas. They were inseparable.

Friday evening however, they were playing for separate camps.

Ravena admitted that he never expected a shove to come from Pessumal during the NLEX Road Warriors’ clash with San Miguel Beermen.

In an off-ball situation, Pessumal charged at Ravena, sending the rookie down to the floor with 9:50 remaining in the final frame. He was then whistled for an unsportsmanlike foul, and Ravena sank one from the line.

“I did not expect that at all,” admitted Ravena after the match in which they lost, 98-109 — their third straight defeat after a 2-0 start. “But hopefully Von doesn’t take it personal.

“I’m just doing my job. They won the game.”

Ravena insisted that there wasn’t any physicality between him and Pessumal prior to that, but he thinks that his former Gilas teammate may have gotten irked by his staredown after blocking him on a fastbreak play early in the fourth.

“When that fastbreak happened — the same exact possession na I challenged him, I looked at him, and after that yun na yung nangyari,” said the 23-year-old guard. “But I never instigated something to provoke Von to do that.

“Probably nung tinignan ko siya.”

Moreover, the second overall pick of the 2017 PBA Rookie Draft felt that that incident “started all the commotions during the end game (laughs). Yun yung pinaka-una eh. And with that, the team got fired up and it worked for them.”

He may be right, for the game saw more skirmishes after that: from teammate Michael Miranda kicking Chris Ross to the groin, and with his head coach Yeng Guiao figuring in a heated verbal war also against Ross.

But then, Ravena made it clear that it was never a plan of his to put down somebody, especially someone like Pessumal who he sees as a brother for life.

“You know, Von and I, we go way back. Things like this hopefully don’t become too personal.

“I have no intention na ipapahiya yung tao or sasaktan mo yung tao. Wala namang ganun. Laro-laro lang,” said NLEX’s leading scorer.

It was somehow a night to remember for Ravena, but for all the wrong reasons. After Friday’s loss that sent their card to 2-3, the veteran internationalist now sees the need for him and the Road Warriors to push the panic button.

“‘Di na pwedeng sabihin palaging kailangan namin matuto eh. Pangatlong sunod na,” the second-generation cager expressed.

“Kailangan siguro naming umaksyon.”

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Downcast Chris Ross chooses to stay mum after heated altercation with Yeng Guiao

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Through wins or losses, Chris Ross has always accommodated the members of the press asking for interviews and fans requesting for photo ops every after game. But Friday evening, the nine-year pro was despondent.

Visibly agitated with the events that had transpired during the San Miguel Beermen’s tilt against the NLEX Road Warriors, Ross, with his hoodie covering his head, left the Cuneta Astrodome without saying a word.

The reigning Defensive Player of the Year had figured in physical play after physical play and verbal exchange after verbal exchange with the frustrated Road Warriors.

Ross and Alex Mallari were both slapped with technicals after a confrontation with 9:06 left. This was just the start of many things to come for the Filipino-American defensive specialist

After knocking down a triple and receiving a taunt from Ross, Michael Miranda was assessed a disqualifying foul for an apparent kick to the groin against Ross with 4:35 left.

The tip of the iceberg came with 1:46 left to play and the game all but settled.

Yeng Guiao and Ross figured in a heated word war that resulted in Ross’ second technical foul for the game. Referees and players from both sides had to separate the two to prevent things from escalating.

San Miguel coach Leo Austria alleged that the fiery NLEX mentor said the “N” word, while some said Guiao called Ross a “bitch”.

Ross finished the game with four points, eight rebounds, and four steals in 37 minutes of action.

For sure, penalties and suspensions will come out of this game.

And it was better for Ross to stay silent.

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