And high up they fly!
The Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles overcame four straight do-or-die ties, the latest of which is a 3-2 decision over the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, to reach the Finals after three years of hiatus, Sunday morning at the Rizal Memorial Badminton Hall.
Jan Mangubat opened the day with a two-game sweep of graduating Maroon Miggy Leonardo, 21-9, 23-21. The Ateneo sophomore wasted no time to waylay the latter in the first frame with a barrage of points.
In the second game, Mangubat continued to lead before Leonardo made a game out of the frame. The Loyola-based sophomore climbed from a 16-18 deficit and shook off two wasted match points to eventually close out the match.
In the second singles match, JM Bernardo reasserted his mastery of fourth-year Ateneo stalwart Clarence Filart in two games, 21-9, 21-16.
The newbie Maroon was just too much for the former Ateneo skipper as the former connected even on near-impossible returns. Errors compounded Filart’s woes as Bernardo cruised past the first frame.
It was the same in the second game as JM Bernardo eventually won the game and the match with better execution on court. Filart had his spurts, but the senior Blue Eagle could not string up the points to save the match.
However, the Blue Eagles regained the lead with Mangubat and Hanz Bernardo winning over Wakee Deato and Vinci Manuel in two hotly-contested 21-18 games in the first doubles match.
The Super Sophomores of Ateneo overturned early leads from the Maroons in both games. The two frames saw an exchange of spurts, which, eventually went the Blue Eagle’s way. It all boiled down on who made the crucial shots in the end.
Nevertheless, the Fighting Maroons had other plans.
Team captain Betong Pineda and the graduating Jojo Malelang made short work of Patrick Gecosala and Carlos Remo in two games, 21-16, 21-18.
The two UP seniors just too much for the Ateneo pair in the opening game as they scored from almost every shot. Errors from UP and Gecosala’s power hits brought some life to Ateneo in both games, but in the end Pineda and Malelang smartly ended the match with a well-place slice.
It was up to national team mainstays, Joseph Lopez of UP and Hanz Bernardo of Ateneo to send their team to the Finals.
Brimming with confidence, Bernardo took it one point at a time, before carving out massive 21-15, 21-12 wins in two games to end Ateneo’s two-year Finals drought. The Ateneo sophomore was just relentless, firing from all cylinders to close out the match and the tie.
Head coach Kennie Asuncion could not hold her tears as she expressed her happiness on her team’s performance.
“I’m so, so happy. I am so proud of the boys. Each single one of them really wanted; they gave everything they got,” she said.
Asuncion shared that it was their strategy of having the team peak at the right time that worked for them and she hopes that “it will help us in through the championship.”
The Best-of-Three Finals series between the Blue Eagles and the reigning back-to-back champions National University Bulldogs will start on Wednesday, October 12 at the same venue.