Just like what happened throughout the season, it was the defense of the University of Santo Tomas Tiger Softbelles that pushed them to victory.
In a crucial tiff for the semifinal race, UST turned back the University of the Philippines Lady Maroons, 6-1, and kept their hopes alive for a possible twice-to-beat advantage, Monday at the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium.
Both teams struggled to break through the opposing defense as either team’s starting pitcher went to work for three innings. UST’s Ann Antolihao struck out three batters, while UP’s Cochise Diolata fanned five, including three straight in the third.
However, in that same span, CJ Roa was able to squeeze in a single to center field. Knowing they could somehow hit Diolata’s deliveries, Hannah dela Torre tested the UP pitcher at the fourth inning and succeeded. Dela Torre slapped the ball to almost the same spot as Roa for a huge double. Celestine Palma then sent her second baseman home with a long fly to the left for the breakthrough run. Another double from Mallows Garde and a base hit from Arlyn Areglado drove in another run for UST for a 2-0 lead.
UP then attempted to overhaul the deficit at their side of the fourth frame, but only Swing Dela Cruz managed to defy the defense with a base hit. With Maroons Team Captain on base, UST returned the favor for Dela Cruz and caught the rookie stealing second base for the third and final out.
After another scoreless inning, UST padded onto their lead in the sixth frame. After dela Torre flyed out to left field, Palma reached first base as she was hit by pitch. Roa then fired a rolling grounder to score her catcher. The floodgates opened as another mistake by UP, a passed ball to Garde, saw Roa crossing the plate herself. Areglado then registered her second RBI of the match with a sacrifice hit to the pitcher to score Garde, who earlier also plucked a single to gain base.
The Tigresses threatened to score more as Charm Oria and Shiela Perales advanced to scoring positions. Fourth-year player Rachel Secor was able to hit the ball, but it only went as far as UP shortstop Jhen Alinsod, who threw to third baseman-for-the-day Angie Palacol to dismiss Oria for the last out.
Sensing some urgency, the Lady Maroons pulled one run back in their end of the sixth inning. Senior Gelai Penales carved UP’s second hit of the day, a single, to start off the offense for a two-out rally. Chanty Bongat, who was hitting for MJ Abanes, then fired a hot grounder that Perales failed to catch. In the sequence, Perales beat the throw home and scored UP’s lone run. UST, however, took that last out and denied the opponents some lease for life.
The Thomasians then registered an insurance run at the top of the seventh as Lacupa reached home to peg the final count. The graduating left fielder reached first on four balls before two fielder’s choice occurrences sent her to scoring position. A Roa base hit sent the veteran to the plate.
As what happened two innings before, Dela Cruz pulled off another grounder to the left as she attempted to jump start a comeback for the Maroons. Nonethless, the vaunted UST defense showed their might as they finished off the last year’s runners-up and the ball game.
“Since last game, hindi ko pa sila kinakausap,” head coach Sandy Barredo admitted. “Ayaw nila ko magalit e kaya they performed really well.”
Fortunately for the Tiger Softbelles, Barredo shared that he is still proud of the team’s performance in the game. “Bawing-bawi naman sila. Kung matalo kami dito, kami babagsak sa fourth,” he disclosed.
Garde led UST’s offense with 2 hits on 3 at bats. The fourth-year Thomasian also scored 2 of UST’s 6 runs. As usual, Antolihao had a fantastic outing on the mound after allowing only 3 hits and 1 run for the Lady Maroons. On the other hand, Dela Cruz fired 2 hits for UP, while Penales plucked the other hit and the lone run.
Looking forward to their final game of the season, the mentor is pessimistic about their chances against the defending champions. “Instead na sitting pretty kami sa second, we go up pa sa Wednesday na big assignment pa,” he said. “So most probably drop na kami to third place tapos si UP bumaba pa with La Salle.”
The UST Tiger Softbelles play their final game of the elimination round against the Adamson Lady Falcons on Wednesday, March 2. On the other hand, the UP Lady Maroons face the Ateneo Lady Eagles earlier in the day.
If the UST Tiger Softbelles defeat the Adamson Lady Falcons, there will be a Final Four with top seed Adamson facing either UP/DLSU/UE. UST will then have to face the NU Lady Bulldogs will then face each other on Saturday in a virtual best-of-three series.
A UST loss though drops them to third seed.
a.) A UP win and a DLSU loss gives the Lady Maroons automatic fourth seed.
b.) A UP loss and a DLSU win eliminates the Lady Maroons from the tournament.
c.) A UP win and a DLSU win ties them for fourth seed with both squads facing each other in a playoff on Saturday, March 5.
d.) A UP loss and a UE win/DLSU loss complicates things as UP/UE/DLSU will be tied at fourth with a 4-8 slate. The quotient system will be applied with the bottom two teams facing off in a do-or-die game with the winner advance to face the top quotient team.
|UST (3rd, 7-4)||2||3||1||6||8||1|
|UP (T-4th, 4-7)||2||1||2|