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Army dispatches perennial rival Cagayan, sets up Finals date with PLDT

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Coming off a heart-breaking five-set loss, the Army Lady Troopers ended the Cagayan Valley Lady Rising Suns’ season in straight sets 25-23, 26-24, 25-17, in their final elimination match, barging into the Shakey’s V-League Finals at the FilOil Flying-V Arena, earlier Tuesday afternoon.

Army’s Jovelyn Gonzaga was especially disruptive in their triumph, topping the scoring list with 16 points, including a season-high six blocks. The Lady Troopers out-performed their rivals in every offensive category especially on the attacking end, where Army had a 48-25 advantage. Army also out-blocked Cagayan, 10-8, but their true defensive brilliance was shown in their overwhelming number of block attempts, 71-50.

The Lady Troopers had substantial early leads in each of the first two sets of the match that Cagayan was able to slowly trim down. In the first frame, the Lady Troopers built a hefty 23-16 lead before their service reception went down the drain, allowing Cagayan to get consecutive break points. Cagayan ran off six straight points that includes three Army attack errors and two Chie Saet aces. But Army woke up in time to regain control of the set, as Jovelyn Gonzaga followed a Dindin Manabat kill with an off-the-block score that sealed the first set.

The following frame saw Army ahead comfortably once more before Cagayan came storming back. Army broke away from a dizzying exchange of points and took a 23-20 lead. The Lady Rising Suns responded after a timeout and notched the following four points, 24-23, highlighted by tremendous effort at the net by middle blocker, Ria Meneses. Still, Army managed to nab the second set as their revitalized floor defense allowed them to setup two Dindin Manabat running attacks and a Rachel Anne Daquis open hit that Cagayan could not counter.

The loss of two heart-breaking sets tooks it toll on the Lady Rising Suns in the final set. Cagayan head coach, Nes Pamilar tried to inject some life into his offense by shuffling his pieces, opting to put Aiza Maizo-Pontillas in Janine Marciano’s open hitter slot and sliding their starting middle blocker, Pau Soriano to the opposite hitter position. He also subbed in middle blocker, Wyneth Eulalio for Janine Marciano completing the Soriano-Saet-Eulalio-Meneses-Pontillas-Vargas third set lineup that Cagayan only used this match. However, the lineup shuffling still didn’t remedy their offensive futility as Army ran them over midway through the set. With Cagayan flailing away attack errors, Army built its largest lead of the match, 21-13 and the Lady Rising Suns could not produce another late push, ending their season in a straight set loss.

FEU product, Rosemarie Vargas topped all Lady Rising Suns with 11 markers while Aiza Maizo-Pontillas managed only eight points.

With the win Army will now face the PLDT Home Ultera Ultra Fast Hitters in a best-of-three series. Army head coach Rico De Guzman emphasized the importance his team’s improved service reception in facing the only team they weren’t able to beat throughout the season, PLDT. “Basta maganda ‘yung service reception namin, makakagawa kami ng play. ‘Yun naman ‘yung naging problema naming sa mga unang larong namin against PLDT, kaya nagdo-double time kami sa ensayo sa reception ngayon,” De Guzman said.

Kaya naman maganda ‘yung blocking naming kanina against Cagayan, mas madaling basahin ‘yung mga palo ng kalaban. Ang kailangan talaga namin lahat kami maganda lang ‘yung blocking, di lang sila Gonzaga,” De Guzman responded when asked about Jovelyn’s tremendous effort.

Army will face the PLDT Home Ultera Ultra Fast Hitters in the Finals with Game One of the best-of-three on Thursday at 4 p.m. Meanwhile, Cagayan battles Meralco for third place in another best-of-three also on Thursday at 2 p.m.

The Scores

Army (3) – Gonzaga 16, Tubino 14, Balse 11, Manabat 10, Daquis 8, Salak 4, Bautista 0, Gonzales 0, Torres (L), Agno (L)

Cagayan (0) – Vargas 11, Pontillas 8, Meneses 7, Saet 5, Vargas 4, Marciano 3, Sy 1, Eulalio 1, Benito 0, Pineda (L)

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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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