Led by National Team main stay, Jeffrey Malabanan, the Philippine Air Force Air Men thwarted the comeback attempt of the Champion Infinity Active Smashers, finishing them off in four sets, 25-20, 25-21, 29-31, 25-22 in the first round of the inaugural season of the Spikers Turf at the San Juan Arena.
Malabanan served up a game-high 21 points off 19 attacks and two blocks while NU’s Tolentino paced the Airmen with 18 points. Champion’s Joven Camaganakan was instrumental in his team’s comeback attempts as the Laguna native led the Active Smashers with 18 points.
Jeffrey Malabanan got his aerial act off early as he bombarded Champion’s dazed defense for seven points in the set leading to an easy first set win for the Airmen.
The Airmen reestablished their dominance in the following set, building a 7-12 lead early. It continued on with Champion’s eight errors in the set, which propelled Air Force to a decisive 2-0 set lead.
The third set unfolded into a wild exchange of attacks that seemed inescapable for both teams. Champion fought hard to keep themselves in contention but a sudden 4-0 Air Force run buried Champion into an 14-18 hole. Champion responded with a late 4-0 run of their own highlighted by two blocks from Roland Tonquin that knotted the set at 21. From there, both exchanged points leading to an extensive deuce where Air Force held three match points but couldn’t convert enough consecutive points to take the match. Champion made good on their only set point chance at 30-29 as Tonquin drove home a quick attack to force a fourth set.
Champion found themselves in another uphill climb in the fourth set but the Airmen quickly pushed them off the cliff building a 6-10 lead and never looking back. Edwin Tolentino was pivotal for the Airmen as his open hits bailed them out of their bad receptions. Tolentino scored seven of his 18 points in the set to clinch the match for Air Force.
Air Force is now tied with PLDT at second place with a 2-1 slate. Champion falls to sixth at 1-2.
Champion looks to even its record on April 21 when it faces IEM while Air Force aims to keep rolling also against IEM on April 23.
Air Force (3) – Malabanan 21, Tolentino 18, Inaudito 12, Alinsunurin 10, Balse 8, Masahud 2, Lopez 2, Hamdan 1, Esteban 0, Dacurong 0, Mosuela (L)
Champion (0) – Camaganakan 18, Laja 13, Antonio 13, Mandani 8, Tonqyin 5, Honrade 4, Espiritu 2, Relata 1, Abdulwahab 1, Gomez 0, Lee 0, Hu (L), Banaga (L)